If a team wants to pick off the best prospects in the international market, 2016 is the year to strike. We already have 10 teams that won't be allowed to sign pool-eligible players for more than $300,000 next year, with five clubs from last year (the Angels, Diamondbacks, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees) that will be in their second year of penalties and five new teams going over this year.
With the Orioles, Marlins and Athletics all shying away from seven-figure bonuses--and especially with the Marlins and A's both in position for top five bonus pools next year--that essentially wipes out nearly half the market as contenders for the top high-profile international prospects next year, with many of the traditional big spenders like the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers and Cubs on the sidelines.
It's why some teams are already thinking about blowing out their bonus pool next year. The Braves seem determined to do so, with talk that the Nationals, Rangers, Twins and Padres could take the same approach.
Even I had a hard time wrapping my mind around all the slot values being traded as soon as the 2015-16 signing period opened on July 2, but thankfully Matt Eddy has done a tremendous job of organizing each team's trade actions and up-to-date bonus pools in one chart, complete with all the marginal, long shot prospects who were traded for slots values.
With that in mind, let's look at the teams that are going to be over their bonus pools and face future signing restrictions, along with the clubs that were able to trade up to avoid any future signing limitations.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Giving $16 million to Cuban righthander Yadier Alvarez alone put them over their bonus pool. They added two Top 30 international prospects in Dominican outfielder Starling Heredia and Dominican shortstop Ronny Brito, then snapped up several other Dominican prospects as well. The Dodgers were so far over that they decided to take up a strategy I espoused last month before July 2, which was to trade away their slot values to get prospects in return. The only thing losing their slot values costs the Dodgers is more money they have to pay in the overage tax, which is nothing for that franchise. So they traded three of their international slots (worth $1,071,300) to the Blue Jays for righthander Chase DeJong and second baseman Tim Locastro, then got outfielder Jordan Paroubeck and righthander Caleb Dirks from the Braves for their No. 3 slot value ($249,000), leaving them with just a $700,000 bonus pool. They essentially just bought those four players, all for the price of a $1,320,300 check to the commissioner's office.
San Francisco Giants: The Giants pulled a July 2 surprise, giving $6 million to shortstop Lucius Fox out of the Bahamas on his 18th birthday. Fox wasn't a standout hitter or even the shortstop on his high school team, but he was well-regarded for his speed, athleticism and chance to hit, though I'm not sure what it says when a price tag reaches the point where even the Dodgers say, "Hey, that's a little rich for us." They signed Venezuelan catcher Ricardo Genoves too, but they mainly went over their pool to land Fox. Now watch out for them targeting pool-eligible Cuban players, especially with ownership wanting the team to be more involved in that market. Other clubs have pointed to them as a team to watch on Cuban righthander Vladimir Gutierrez.
Chicago Cubs: Technically, the Cubs are not over their pool yet, since they haven't signed their big-ticket international players to official contracts. However, with so many deals in place, they're going well over their bonus pool. Once Aramis Ademan, Yonathan Perlaza, Miguel Amaya, Jonathan Sierra and Christopher Martinez along with others all officially sign, the Cubs are likely going to end up spending more money on 16-year-old July 2 prospects than any team in baseball, including the Dodgers. The Cubs did make one small trade, picking up a $149,700 slot value from the Angels along with lefthander Manuel Rondon in exchange for catcher Rafael Lopez, so we might see them acquire more slot values this month to lighten their overage tax.
Kansas City Royals: Nothing fancy here. The Royals loved Dominican outfielder Seuly Matias and Dominican shortstop Jeison Guzman, with those two Top 30 international prospects putting them over their bonus pool, along with other lower-tier signings.
Toronto Blue Jays: While the teams above all went into the maximum penalty territory by going more than 15 percent over their bonus pools, the Blue Jays did it a little differently. They acquired three international bonus slot values from the Dodgers worth $1,071,300, bringing them to a $3,395,400 pool. Then they signed outfielder Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the No. 1 international prospect on the market. That puts Toronto 14.86 percent beyond its pool. The penalty for going 10-15 percent over your pool is that you can't sign any pool-eligible players for more than $300,000 in the next signing period, so thanks to the trade, the Blue Jays will only face one year of signing restrictions instead of two. They will also have to pay a $504,600 tax on their pool overage. If Guerrero turns into their future cleanup hitter, it will be well worth the penalty. It also might be worth it to them to blow out their pool altogether to pursue some of the Cuban talent available.
TRADED TO SAY UNDER
Atlanta Braves: It was a furious week of trades for the Braves, who had to pull off a series of maneuvers to bring in Dominican shortstop Derian Cruz ($2 million), Dominican outfielder Christian Pache ($1.4 million) and then Venezuelan shortstop Juan Morales ($450,000) for a combined $3.85 million to avoid future signing restrictions. They picked up two slot values from the A's, two from the Rays and one from the Dodgers, boosting their pool up to $3,687,600. As we expected before July 2, the Braves are still slightly over their pool, but just by 4.4 percent, which means they just have to pay a 100 percent overage tax of $162,400 and won't face any future signing limits. That's key for the Braves because they're planning to drop a big pile of cash on international prospects in 2016.
Philadelphia Phillies: A lot of teams assumed the Phillies were simply going to blast through their international bonus pool, but it was never that clear cut. They started with one of the biggest bonus pools in the game ($3,041,700) and added to it significantly, sending pitchers Chris Oliver and Josh Taylor along with their top slot value ($1,352,100) to the Diamondbacks for the No. 1 overall slot value ($3,590,400). That would add $2,238,300 in slot values to Philadelphia's pool, but a team is not allowed to acquire more than 50 percent of its original bonus pool in additional slot values. In that case, the team’s bonus pool gets reduced to 150 percent of its original bonus pool, which takes the Phillies to a $4,562,500 pool.
Yesterday, the Phillies made their signing of Dominican slugger Jhailyn Ortiz official, landing him for a $4 million bonus. That left them enough pool space to sign Venezuelan catcher Rafael Marchan and avoid future signing restrictions. That's huge for the Phillies because they're in position to have the No. 1 bonus pool next year. On the other hand, for a team that's rebuilding, exceeding the pool to land a top Cuban player like Gutierrez, righthander Norge Ruiz or infielder/outfielder Randy Arozarena would be smart investments too.
Texas Rangers: The 2014 season was a disaster for the Rangers, but it did give them advantages in the 2015 international market. They signed two of the best international prospects, Dominican center fielder Leodys Taveras for $2.1 million and Venezuelan center fielder Miguel Aparicio for $500,000, along with Dominican shortstop Cristian Inoa and Mexican righthander Rodolfo Garcia. Then they stunned people around the game when they were able to pull in Cuban second baseman Andy Ibanez for just $1.6 million, trading righthander Jason Hoppe to the Angels for two slots (worth $879,500) to stay under their pool. Expect them to be very aggressive in 2016.
New York Mets: The Mets signed two of the six best prospects for July 2, and all they had to do to stay under was acquire a $239,400 slot value from the Angels. That inflated their bonus pool to $2,770,700 and allowed them to secure Venezuelan shortstop Andres Gimenez for $1.2 million and Dominican shortstop Gregory Guerrero for $1.5 million, with a little breathing room if they need to make any more trades. That's a great haul for any team, especially one working with the handcuffs of the Mets' ownership.