Trying To Make Sense Of MLB’s New International Rules

Major League Baseball is scrambling to put together rules on the fly to regulate domestic and international scouting during a global pandemic.

Putting measures in place that are in the best interests of the public health and that help protect the lives of club employees has to come first. It’s a chaotic process, though, and given the mechanics of the international signing process, it’s complicated, with new rules that seem to contradict each other.

Unlike the domestic draft, which starts on June 10, international signings happen 12 months a year. The current 2019-20 international signing period began last year on July 2 and is open through June 15, followed by a two-week closed period before the 2020-21 signing period opens on July 2 and the bonus pools reset.

MLB notified clubs on March 16 that all domestic and international scouting activities are temporarily prohibited, though teams are still allowed to sign eligible international players.

On March 19, MLB sent clubs a follow-up with more rules, one of which is that clubs are prohibited from speaking with trainers or agents about any international players, including players eligible to sign right now and players in future signing classes for July 2, 2020 and beyond.

However, MLB has also said that while scouting activity is prohibited, signings are not banned.

So the rules essentially boil down to:

1. Teams are still technically allowed to sign eligible players.

2. Teams can’t contact a player, his parents, his trainer or agent, so there’s no practical way for a team to sign an eligible player.

It’s a contradiction—at least for now. Contacting players and their trainers is part of the international scouting process, so MLB made that off-limits. But to sign a player—which technically is allowed—teams obviously have to be able to talk to the player, his parents or his representatives.

MLB’s focus is on trying to slow down all scouting activities while it sorts out everything. For the moment, it doesn’t look like there will be any eligible players signing contracts, but another set of guidelines is likely to come out in the near future as MLB consults with more international club personnel and figures out the best way to proceed from here with international signings.

The league has much bigger aspects of the game to work through, and if it takes a couple of weeks for MLB to figure out a best practice and clearer rules regarding eligible international players, that shouldn’t be a huge issue.

At some point, though, it will have to figure out a solution to a potentially frozen three-month window closing out the 2019-20 signing period. Last year from March 17 through June 15, teams signed 219 international players for a combined $12.9 million. We’re not talking about the top prospects like Yankees outfielder Jasson Dominguez or Dodgers outfielder Luis Rodriguez, but it’s a window that affects hundreds of players and a lot of teams that still have space left in their bonus pools. That bonus pool space forces teams to use-it-or-lose-it, so it doesn’t carry over to the next signing period.

Everyone is operating through an unprecedented situation, but it’s an issue that clubs and players will want more clarity on in the coming weeks.

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