While Sierra may not be a recognizable name for some, he was at one point a highly sought-after international free agent. Sierra defected from Cuba in 2015 and established residency in the Dominican Republic, at which point he was declared an international free agent. Because of his professional experience in Cuba, he was exempt from international bonus pools and able to sign with the highest bidder. Both the Cubs and Marlins were reported to have made offers, but the Dodgers landed Sierra by signing him to a six-year, $30MM Major League contract in Feb. 2016.
Obviously, that deal looks regrettable in retrospect. The now-30-year-old Sierra has yet to pitch in the Majors and has scarcely pitched above the Double-A level. He tossed 16 1/3 innings with the OKC Dodgers this season but was clobbered for 25 runs on 36 hits (six homers) and 12 walks. Sierra did punch out 18 batters in that time, but he also threw a staggering 11 wild pitches in those 16 1/3 frames. Overall, he has an 8.36 ERA in 37 2/3 Triple-A innings and a 5.43 ERA in just 179 total minor league innings.
Sierra was just one of many high-profile Cuban defectors to sign large deals with the Dodgers as they flexed their financial might in what was, at the time, a far less-restricted international market. While clubs still had international bonus pools for international amateurs, the penalties for exceeding those pools was a dollar-for-dollar tax and a temporary ban on signing players for more than $300K in subsequent international periods. The qualifications for a player to be considered a professional rather than an amateur were also less stringent than they are presently, which was important in the case of players like Sierra due to the fact that professional players are exempt from bonus pools (hence his Major League deal and $30MM guarantee).
Sierra, Yadier Alvarez, Hector Olivera, Alex Guerrero, Erisbel Arruebarrena, Yusniel Diaz and Yasiel Puig all agreed to signing bonuses or Major League contracts that promised them $15MM or more with the Dodgers, who came away with little to show for that spending spree. Puig, of course, paid dividends as the team’s primary right fielder for several years. Diaz was the centerpiece of the trade that netted the Dodgers Manny Machado back in 2018. The rest of that pricey group, however, hasn’t panned out in the manner the Dodgers hoped.
The Dodgers certainly weren’t the only team spending aggressively in this arena, but they definitely led the charge, likely contributing to the much more restrictive guidelines for international free agents in the 2017-21 collective bargaining agreement. Currently, players must have at least six years of professional experience and be at least 25 years of age to be exempt from international bonus pools. Further, bonus pools for amateur signings are now hard-capped.
Additional changes to international free agency has been an oft-discussed topic in recent years. Talk of an international draft hasn’t been as prominent of late given the other topics expected to be on the table in this offseason’s collective bargaining negotiations, but it’s certainly still possible that we’ll see some alterations to the regulations regarding teams’ paths to talent acquisition on the international market once a new CBA has been finalized.