The 2018-19 international signing period kicks off this morning, meaning that from now until next June 15, teams are officially able to begin signing amateur talents from countries outside of the United States and Canada. Prospects aged 16 and up (assuming they turn 16 by Sept. 1 of the current period) are eligible to sign minor league contracts with teams for signing bonuses that fall within the constraints of a league-allotted bonus pool.
Those looking to brush up on the top prospects this class has to offer will want to look at the invaluable work put into the subject by Ben Badler of Baseball America (subscription required), Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com and Kiley McDaniel & Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs. Badler’s Top 50 ranking has full scouting reports and expected destinations/bonuses for the top free agents in the 2018-19 class, while Sanchez has his own Top 30 with free scouting reports (and likely destinations). McDaniel and Longenhagen have scouting info and projected bonuses/teams on their top 35 prospects.
After all of that — here’s a quick primer on the specifics of the international free agency system.
Unlike the system that was in place from 2012-16, in which teams would routinely shatter their international bonus pools and take two-year signing penalties in exchange for one enormous haul of amateur talent, the system under the 2017-21 collective bargaining agreement contains a hard cap that cannot be exceeded. Teams are still permitted to trade for up to 75 percent of their originally allotted bonus pool, however, and any team is free to trade away as much of its pool as it wishes. International pool allotments must be traded in increments of $250K — unless it includes the last remainder of a team’s pool.
That said, penalties from the previous international signing periods still carry over to the current one. As such, the Athletics, Astros, White Sox, Braves, Cardinals, Nationals, Padres and Reds are all still barred from signing any one player for more than $300K during the current signing period. The Braves, in particular, are facing significant long-term penalties following last November’s punishment for violating international spending guidelines; they’ll be limited to a hard cap of $10K per player in 2019-20 and will be stripped of half their league-allotted bonus pool in the 2020-21 period.
The Competitive Balance lottery that awards 14 teams with additional picks based on market size and total revenue also has an impact in international free agency. The teams that were awarded Competitive Balance picks in Round B (between rounds two and three of the draft) will have the largest bonus pools in 2018-19. Teams that were awarded selections in Competitive Balance Round A (between rounds one and two) will have the second-largest pools.
Beyond that, free agency itself can have an impact. Teams that sign players who have refused a qualifying offer (QO) are subject to forfeitures in their international bonus pool in some instances. Specifically, a club which exceeded the luxury tax threshold in the previous season and also signs a QO free agent surrenders $1MM of its international pool in the following period. Teams that did not exceed the luxury tax but also did not benefit from revenue sharing will forfeit $500K of international pool for each QO free agent signed.
That means that in 2018-19, the Marlins, Athletics*, Rays, Reds*, Brewers and Twins will have the largest base pools — a total of $6,025,400.
The Pirates, Orioles, Padres*, Diamondbacks, Royals, Indians and Rockies all receive bonus pools totaling $5,504,500 for the 2018-19 period.
The Cardinals*, who had a Competitive Balance pick in Round A but also forfeited $500K for signing Greg Holland after he rejected a QO, are the lone team with a pool of $5,004,500.
The Angels, Astros*, Braves*, Blue Jays, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Mets, Nationals, Rangers, Red Sox, Tigers, White Sox and Yankees are all allotted with the standard bonus pool of $4,983,500.
The Phillies, too, are in their own tier after spending tier after forfeiting $500K for each of Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta. They’d been allotted the standard bonus pool and, as such, will have a total of $3,983,500 to spend on this year’s class.
* = Team is barred from spending more than $300K on any single signing.
2018-19 international bonus pool amounts were first reported by Baseball America’s Ben Badler back in late March.