As a Braves fan, I’ve enjoyed reading the capsules on the top July 2 prospects. Seems like most of the top players are already tied to a team. I’m obviously aware that Atlanta is unlikely to sign any of them because of the sanctions imposed by MLB. My question is this, how can players, under 16, be tied to a team already and the MLB team go unpunished? What’s the difference between that and what the Braves or Red Sox were doing?
There seems to be a common misconception that the Braves and the Red Sox were punished for coming to unofficial terms with players in advance of the July 2 signing deadline.
So far, Major League Baseball has done nothing to punish any team for agreeing to deals before the signing deadline. The Red Sox were sanctioned for making package deals. A package deal is where a team signs multiple players from the same trainer. While that can be completely above board, MLB determined that the Red Sox used package deals to circumvent bonus restrictions.
The Red Sox signed five players for $300,000 apiece that were declared free agents. MLB determined that the team was paying above market price for other players who were represented by the same trainers in order to land those players for less than their market price. Because the Red Sox were limited to signing players for $300,000 or less at that time, these package deals were being used to avoid bonus restrictions.
Once the players were declared free agents, Albert Guaimaro and Simon Muzziotti in fact received bonuses significantly larger than $300,000 from the Marlins and Phillies.
Package deals had occurred before the Red Sox were punished, both before the bonus pool existed and since they were introduced in 2012. But MLB’s punishment signaled to every team that they would strictly scrutinize potential package deals going forward.
That’s what made the Braves attempts to circumvent the same rules so surprising. MLB investigators determined that they had done some of the same things that had led to the Red Sox being punished.
MLB said that it found that the Braves paid older international players who were not subject to international bonus limitations to inflated bonuses to ensure they could sign other international players for smaller bonuses. That kept the Braves from exceeding their bonus allotment in the 2015-2016 signing period, which would have kept the Braves from signing any player for more than $300,000 in 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 signing periods.
After the Red Sox had already received their penalty for signing players in package deals, MLB said that the Braves did package deals again. The Braves agreed to sign other players from the same trainer to inflated bonuses to land Dominican shortstop Robert Puason in the 2019-2020 signing period. This is probably where fans have been confused. The Braves were not punished for agreeing to a deal far in advance of Puason’s signing class. They were punished because MLB found that they were paying other players inflated bonuses in a package deal in order to land Puason.
The Braves also signed three other players in package deals, as laid out in Manfred’s statement: “In addition, the Braves entered into additional ‘package’ agreements in 2016 and 2017 in which they signed Brandol Mezquita, Angel Rojas and Antonio Sucre for reduced amounts, and provided additional money to those players’ agents by signing other players affiliated with their agents to contracts with inflated bonuses.”
The Braves were also penalized for offering Korean shortstop Ji-Hwan Bae “extra-contractual compensation.” MLB found that the Braves were illegally paying Bae under the table to convince him to sign with them, something that was obviously against MLB rules.
Teams will continue to come to agreements with players well in advance of the July 2 signing deadline. No teams has ever been punished for doing so. But the severity of the punishments the Braves received is a reminder that MLB will act severely against teams that try to game their bonus pools with package deals.