The new Collective Bargaining Agreement includes language that specifically targets what Major League Baseball considers to be circumvention of the international bonus pools.
Per the CBA’s International Amateur Talent System regulations, under a heading labeled “Circumvention,” no team or player may enter into any understanding, agreement, or transaction, or make any representation, whether implied or explicit, that is designed to defeat or circumvent the provisions of the International Amateur Talent System.”
The CBA then lists “a non-exclusive list of conduct that will subject Clubs (and Club personnel) to sanctions.” Some of the examples:
• Teams can’t pay or promise a player, his family, his trainer or the team/federation representing him anything under the table (or, as the CBA puts it, “anything of value other than the compensation and benefits contained in the Minor League contract.”)
• Teams can’t “make any payments to, or provide anything of value to, an individual advising, representing or training a player.”
• Teams can’t cut package deals with a player’s trainer. That includes “signing other players represented by the advisor or trainer, as consideration for a player entering into a contract with a Club.”
All of those have been relatively common practices in the world of international signings, even prior to the start of the bonus pool era in 2012, though the artificial constraints of the bonus pools did creative more incentives for such agreements for teams to stretch their international dollars.
Other examples of illegal behavior include:
• Promising a player he will be on the major league roster by a certain date.
• Releasing a player as part of a scheme to exclude his next contract from being subject to the bonus pools.
• Promising to sign a player to a major league contract in the future.
• Promising a player a higher minor league salary during future years under his minor league contract.
So, let’s say Shohei Otani were to become available to MLB teams after this season. Since he would be subject to the international bonus pools, a team by rule can only offer him a minor league contract with a signing bonus, and it would be against league rules to have a handshake deal to deliver him a major league contract after he signs.
The punishments for bonus pool circumvention, according to the CBA, include:
• A ban on international signings of up to one year
• Or a team having its bonus pool decreased by up to 50 percent for up to five years.
On paper, MLB is taking a proactive approach toward enforcing the integrity of its bonus pool system. That didn’t happen under the previous CBA, and while the Red Sox were punished with a one-year signing ban and having five players removed from their organization for what MLB considered “package deals” and bonus pool circumvention, as one international director said, “It wasn’t only Boston that did that. They got penalized, but probably half the teams did it.”
How MLB will enforce its circumvention policy remains to be seen. Teams often sign multiple players from the same trainer. Sometimes it’s for reasons beyond just the talent level of each player, but sometimes it’s just the normal course of business. In the draft, teams often pick players from the same schools or who have the same agents as well.
In practice, it will probably boil down to: If you’re going to do this stuff, don’t be obvious about it.
Here’s the full text from the CBA on the MLB Players Association website:
“No Club or player (including their designated representatives) may enter into any understanding, agreement, or transaction, or make any representation, whether implied or explicit, that is designed to defeat or circumvent the provisions of the International Amateur Talent System. Any Club (or its representatives) that is found to have engaged in circumvention or attempted circumvention will be subject to sanctions by the Commissioner, including fines, suspensions, non-approval of the transaction(s) or contract(s), and loss of future signing rights. A non-exclusive list of conduct that will subject Clubs (and Club personnel) to sanctions includes:
“1. Providing, paying, or promising a player, his advisor, his foreign league or federation, his trainer or his family members anything of value other than the compensation and benefits contained in the Minor League contract.
2. Making any payments to, or providing anything of value to, an individual advising, representing or training a player.
3. Agreeing to enter into any business transaction with a player’s advisor or trainer, including signing other players represented by the advisor or trainer, as consideration for a player entering into a contract with a Club.
4. Promising, representing, or committing that a player will be placed on the Club’s Major League roster by a particular date.
5. Releasing a player as part of a scheme to exclude a Signing Bonus contained in the player’s next contract from being charged to a Club’s Signing Bonus Pool.
6. Promising, representing, or committing to sign a player to another Minor League contract or a Major League contract in the future, or to provide additional compensation or benefits under the extant contract (such as a higher salary in future years of the Minor League contract).
“Any Club that is found to have willfully circumvented the requirements of the International Amateur Talent System by providing, directly or indirectly, more compensation or other consideration to a player than is permitted under the System may be disciplined by the Commissioner, up to and including a prohibition on that Club signing any International Players for up to one (1) year or having its Signing Bonus Pool decreased by up to 50% for up to five (5) years.”