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MLB Changes Rules For International Signings

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Osiel Rodriguez (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Major League Baseball has implemented significant rule changes for international players.

Among the major changes:

  • Amateur players are allowed to enter team facilities at earlier dates, beginning 18 months prior to when they become eligible to sign.
  • Teams can pay for travel expenses earlier in the process for international players, which in particular could have an impact on where and how clubs evaluate Venezuelan players.

In August 2014, MLB changed its rules to limit when players could enter a team’s academy in the Dominican Republic. Those rules banned international players from entering a team facility until they were either 16 years old or until six months before they became eligible to sign, whichever came first. The rules were ostensibly an attempt to slow down early signing commitments, but that did not work, and the rules were unpopular among both teams and trainers.

Four years later, MLB’s newest rules are a reversal of course, giving clubs earlier access to players at team facilities, with that access increasing as a player gets closer to his signing age. The ability to pay for a player’s travel expenses earlier in the scouting process is another change several international scouts have requested for years to make it easier and safer for them to scout players from Venezuela.

Facility Rule Changes

Here are the rules on when players—now referred to by MLB as international tryout players—can enter a team facility. Clubs must notify MLB by the end of a day when a player checks into or out of a club facility, and MLB informed teams that commissioner’s office staffers will be increasing visits to club facilities to ensure compliance with the new rules.

18+ months from signing eligibility: Players can’t be at a team facility.

12-18 months from signing eligibility: Players can enter a team facility for up to seven days.

6-12 months from signing eligibility: Players can enter a team facility for up to 15 days in any 90-day period.

0-6 months from signing eligibility: Players can enter a team facility for up to 15 days in any 45-day period.

Specific to each signing class, here is when players can start to enter a team facility.

2018 players: Players currently eligible to sign can enter a team facility for up to 15 days in any 45-day period.

2019 players: Players can currently enter a team facility and can be there for up to 15 days in any 90-day period. Beginning on July 1, 2019, they can enter a club facility for up to 15 days in any 45-day period.

2020 players: They are not allowed to enter a club facility yet. From Jan. 1, 2019 through July 1, 2019—in other words, starting 18 months from when they become eligible to sign—teams can start bringing those players into their facilities for up to seven days. From July 2, 2019 through Dec. 31, 2019, players can be at a team facility for up to 15 days in any 90-day period. From Jan. 1 through July 1, 2020, players can enter a team facility for up to 15 days in any 45-day period.

Club facilities include a team’s academy in the Dominican Republic (every team has one there) or Venezuela. Any time a club holds a workout for a player at the Polar facility in Venezuela (a tryout center complex for many clubs) or hosts a tryout for Venezuelan players in Aruba or Colombia, that would also count as a club facility visit. For the Tricky League, an informal summer league for recent July 2 signings who can’t play in the Dominican Summer League yet, if a team plays a Tricky League game against amateur players at a trainer’s field, those amateur players would count as having been at a team facility for one day as well.

Showcase Impact

Teams can’t host international tryout players at facilities in the United States, Canada or Puerto Rico, unless it’s for an open showcase available to every club. So a team can’t bring over an international tryout player to its spring training complex to get looks at him there, but if a trainer-organized league wanted to have a showcase there, that would be permissible, as long as MLB gives its approval. In that case, the host team would also have to share any TrackMan or Statcast data it collects with the other 29 clubs.

Those trained-organized leagues, including the Dominican Prospect League, International Prospect League and JDB Baseball, among others, could also potentially host their events at team facilities in the Dominican Republic, as long as they receive MLB’s approval. Prior to the 2014 rule change, those leagues used to have their games at team academies in the Dominican Republic, but over the last four years they had to stop doing that and instead have mostly hosted their events at trainer facilities.

Under the new rules, since those events are open to all 30 clubs, the host team would not need to count the participating players as having spent a day at their team facility. In addition, since those events are open to all 30 teams, players who normally would not be allowed at a team facility for a tryout—such as 2020 and 2021 players today—would be allowed to participate in those events at a team academy. That’s important, since showcases now regularly include 2020 players and soon will include more 2021 players.

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Travel Expenses

Teams are allowed to pay for “reasonable transportation, room and board” for international tryout players and one family member or guardian. Players can travel with their trainer or agent, but the club can’t pay for the trainer or agent’s travel, unless that person is a player’s family member. Teams can host the player and one family member or guardian at either a club academy or a hotel.

Prior to travel in connection with a tryout at a club facility, teams have to fill out a travel authorization form request to MLB at least three business days before the trip. After the tryout, within 30 days, the club must submit to MLB an accounting of travel expenses provided to a player or his guardian, including air or ground travel, hotel and other expenses (meals, etc.).

One of the reasons for the travel policy is to help with the safety concerns several scouts have about traveling in Venezuela, including concerns from Venezuelan scouts. Teams can pay for Venezuelan players to fly in to their academies in the Dominican Republic so that clubs can evaluate them there. Teams were already allowed to do that under the previous rules, but they could only do so once a player was either already 16 or within six months of signing. Under the new rules, teams now get a window 18 months out from when a player is eligible to sign to pay for that travel.

A few teams have academies in Venezuela still, so those clubs can now host those players for overnight stays earlier. Teams could also pay for travel expenses for players to arrive and potentially stay overnight at one central location in the country that’s more convenient for the club. Teams can pay for travel expenses for international tryout players in the Dominican Republic as well, as long as its in connection with a tryout, which could alleviate costs especially for players from the northern part of the country traveling to the team facilities in the south. All travel reimbursements would be subject to MLB approval.

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