It may be January 15th, but it feels like July in the baseball world. The 2020-2021 international signing period kicks off today after a six-month delay from the usual kickoff date of July 2. Teams are officially able to begin signing amateur talents from countries outside of the United States and Canada. The signing period extends from today until Dec 15, 2021, providing teams with an 11-month window to spend their international prospect pool funds. Prospects aged 16 and up – born after Sept. 1, 2004 – 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) and Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. As ever, Badler provides an abundance of information on expected destinations/bonuses for the top free agents in the 2020-21 class. Sanchez provides his own Top 30 with free scouting reports (and likely destinations).
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 typically 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. This season, however, teams are not able to trade international bonus pool space.
Penalties from the previous international signing periods carried over with the new system, but those have all now run their course. There is one team that continues to face limitations on spending, for a different reason. The Braves continue to operate under significant long-term penalties as punishment for violating international spending guidelines. They have been 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. 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.
This year’s international spending pool amounts were announced back in June. For those who missed it, this year’s allotments are…
- The Brewers, Reds, Marlins, Rays, Tigers, and Twins have the highest availability at $6,431,000.
- The Cardinals, Pirates, Diamondbacks, Padres, Rockies, Indians, Royals, and Orioles are next at $5,899,600.
- A dozen teams (Astros, Athletics, Mariners, Rangers, Red Sox, Blue Jays, White Sox, Mets, Nationals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants) can spend $5,348,100.
- The Angels and Phillies are capped at $4,372,700, while the Yankees are limited to $4,232,700.
- The Braves bring up the rear because of their penalties, limited to a spending cap of $1,572,700.
This post was adapted from a prior post written by MLBTR’s Steve Adams.