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As MLB Investigates Red Sox, Package Deals Are Nothing New For International Players

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The international signing rules and process can be complex and even convoluted. For those who don’t closely follow the international market, it’s understandable how information about even the basics could be misconstrued. In Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Red Sox international signings, the investigation centers around whether the package deals the Red Sox used to sign several Venezuelan players could constitute a circumvention of the international bonus pools.

When a team signs multiple players together from the same program at once, that team is signing a package of players from the same representative. These deals are in compliance with MLB rules and are commonplace in Latin America. While package deals can at times have nefarious intent—as can any standalone signing—doing so in no way means the team, players or their representatives are automatically engaging in nefarious behavior or are in violation of any MLB rules.

Package deals even pre-date the bonus pools, which began in 2012. Just last year, there are several examples of a team signing multiple players from the same trainer. The Reds have signed many players over the years from Ciro Barrios’ program in Venezuela, including three last July—shortstop Miguel Hernandez for $650,000 and catchers Elvis Gomez and Carlos Reina for $250,000 each. The Marlins signed two players to six-figure deals from the trainer in the Dominican Republic known as "Papiro.” If we move on to the Cuban market, the Dodgers signed two pool-eligible players—outfielder Yusniel Diaz ($15.5 million) and second baseman Omar Estevez ($6 million)—on the same day in November from Javier Rodriguez.

Before the bonus pools were even in place, the Rangers signed Dominican outfielder Nomar Mazara for $4.95 million and signed two other players from the same trainer in a package deal. That same day, the Pirates signed multiple players from the same representative when they signed Colombian outfielder Harold Ramirez.

These contracts were all approved by MLB and, unless proven otherwise later, the signings are all compliant with MLB rules. It’s particularly common for teams to sign a package of young players from the same Mexican League team, with Mexican League officials explicitly referring to the signings as package deals. The Dodgers signed Julio Urias in a package deal from the Mexico City Red Devils in 2012. Last year, the Cubs signed righthander Jose Albertos and lefthander Faustino Carrera from Tijuana. They paid six-figure prices to a pair of players—righthander Javier Assad and catcher Kevin Zumido—from the Yucatan team.

The Reds signed outfielder Sebastian Elizalde from the Monterrey team in 2013, then the next year went back and signed two more players from the club in June 2014 and another the next month.

When the Rangers signed Edgar Arredondo from Quintana Roo in 2013, it was a package deal as well. We could go on and on and on with a cavalcade of examples, but the truth here is already self-evident. Let’s take an even stricter definition of a package deal: signing one player as a contingency for signing another player. Well, that happens all the time.

Here’s an obvious one. If a team wants to sign a 16-year-old pitcher for $1 million, and the pitcher asks that the team signs his 18-year-old brother who plays third base for $25,000 so they can start their careers together, that’s a package deal; the older brother is signing as a consideration for the team signing the younger brother. MLB doesn’t quash those deals.

Here’s another example. A trainer has a shortstop. The two teams with the most interest in signing the shortstop are the Red Sox and Yankees, both of whom are limited to signings of no more than $300,000 as a result of exceeding their bonus pools the previous year. Both teams have offered the player $300,000. The trainer tells the Red Sox, look, the player and his parents like the Red Sox, you have a strong track record with Latin American players, you treat your players well, we have a good relationship and we trust you. But we feel the same way about the Yankees, and the kid’s favorite player is Alex Rodriguez. But, the trainer says, the player’s best friend since he was six years old is the center fielder in my program, and they want to sign together, if they can. I’m looking for $200,000 for him, but the center fielder and his family say he would accept $150,000 to sign with the Red Sox, and the shortstop is on board with signing, too, if it means he can stay with his friend. He’s a 16-year-old kid who is going to be away from home for the first time and living in a foreign country—whether it’s playing in the Dominican Republic or the United States—so the kid and his family would like to have a familiar face there for him, if possible. The Red Sox say, yeah, we like the center fielder too, if that’s what it takes to sign the shortstop we love but can’t offer any more than $300,000, we’ll sign both of them. It’s a package deal. The Red Sox get the shortstop they want. The shortstop gets his $300,000 bonus, he helps his friend get signed and they get to stay together. The trainer is better off because he gets two players signed instead of one. Everyone wins. The players aren’t funneling each other money or getting taken advantage of in any way. There is no attempt to circumvent the bonus pools or violate any rules. This is a hypothetical scenario, but it is based on real-world examples.

Here’s one international director a few years ago on one of his international signings: “He was one of those package deals. He doesn’t have the same upside as (the other player), but more than anything, it was a package deal to get both of them.”

Of course, let’s not be naïve. Package deals, as I have written before, can sometimes be used for teams to get around the bonus pools. Other teams have signed players in package deals split up over multiple signing periods. The team signs an eligible 17-year-old player in January for $200,000, even though he’s a marginal prospect. Then when the new signing period kicks in on July 2, they sign a much better 16-year-old player from the same program at a discounted price to save money against their bonus pool for that signing period. That has happened since 2012 and MLB has approved those contracts.

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If MLB believes a team is signing players in a package deal in a maneuver that the league judges to be circumvention of the bonus pools, it’s well within its rights to investigate such a case. But signing international amateur players in package deals is nothing new, nor is it against MLB rules to procure multiple players from the same program.

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