2014 International Free Agency
I’m still catching up on the latest developments in the international free agent market, and it turns out there’s a few to cover, including a big one: The Yankees have decided to go all out on this year’s class. Kylie McDaniel had the story back on December 30th, and ESPN New York belatedly followed. The Yankees are making the same noises as we heard from the Cubs last July: this is a banner class and we want in, etc…
A source with direct knowledge of the Yankees plans says they aim to spend $12-15 million in bonuses on international amateurs this year, which would trigger penalties of about $10-12 million per to the 2-year old rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that limit international spending.
For reference, a total of $97 million was spent last year by all teams combined. There’s a good chance that number stays constant or even decreases this year due to increased penalties, so $12-15 million will likely account for a huge chunk of overall spending.
McDaniel further reports that the Yanks have already come to an agreement with no less than six prospects already, including a $3 million dollar agreement with Dominican shortstop Dermis Garcia*. This isn’t just a possibility; it’s already in motion. Though teams can’t officially sign prospects until July 2nd, these agreements are being made right now, as is typical in this market.
*For reference, man-child Eloy Jimenez received the largest bonus last year at $2.8 million.
So, where does the impending Yankees binge leave the Cubs?
Given the amount the Cubs have spent thus far in the 2013-2014 period, the team will not be allowed to sign any one player for more than $250,000 in 2014-2015. They will, however, have a large bonus pool again (probably a bit over $4 million), meaning that they can either distribute that money on a swarm of lower-level prospects or trade it to a team in need of additional space. Quoth Theo, last August:
We can take a different strategy (in 2014-2015), where we really need to replenish some of our organizational pitching depth and can stretch some of the money around with lower-level investments. That might match up better with the talent available, at least what it looks like early, in next year’s class.
In a vacuum, there will be more of a market for trades this year, as penalties have been increased. While spending pools haven’t yet been announced for the 2014-2015 period, the Yanks will likely be "allowed" on the order of $2.5 million. In order to stay under their cap, they would need to acquire the equivalent of all of the Marlins’ and the Astros’ spending slots. They obviously don’t have the farm system to make that happen, which is why they are planning to spend this freely in the first place. And as a rule, trading for extra space when you know you will be in the max penalty makes no sense. So they are out as a trade partner.
What about the rest of the league? In theory, the competition will increase demand for the Cubs’ excess space. And maybe it will, but I’m not completely convinced. At least, it’s likely the Yankees will sign the players that they want, and leave the rest for everyone else. When you’re willing to spend $35 million more on Mashahiro Tanaka than anyone else, what’s an extra million on a particular prospect to supplement your barren farm system? What remains to be seen is what other teams think of the remaining talent.
Elsewhere in IFA
One team to watch is the Brewers. McDaniel is reporting that they have agreed with Dominican third baseman Gilbert Lara to the tune of $3.2 million dollars, meaning they will probably need some extra space. Keep an eye on McDaniel’s twitter feed for other high-dollar agreements. The Cubs aren't going to have any high profile signings, but the teams that do will be potential trade partners.
Underreported aspect to the Yankees July 2nd bonus bonanza: 2 DSL & 2 GCL teams make it easier to play all the new premium talent.
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) February 8, 2014
Last year, the Cubs, having just completed a massive, state of the art facility in the Dominican, decided to drop their second Dominican Summer League affiliate. I thought that was a curious decision at the time (though it was balanced by the addition of a Venezuelan Summer League affiliate). Uncertainty around talent levels gets much higher the further down one goes into the minor league ranks. Sixteen and seventeen year-olds are really far removed from where they will end up, so it makes sense to have multiple affiliates at the lowest levels. The occasional Miguel Cabrera will be highly regarded from birth to death, but for every one of those guys, there are a dozen who come out of nowhere.
Having great scouting and development people is nice, but why not play the odds, as well? Sign a dozen 16-17 year-olds who may have slipped through the cracks at $10,000 a piece, and let them play. Given the league-wide restrictions that have been put into place on draft and international spending, it seems like a no-brainer to me. And if they really do end up spreading their money around widely in the coming period, that’s all the more reason to bring back the second unit. Along with the Yankees, the Pirates, Astros, Mets, and Rays all now have nine total affiliates while the rest of the league is at 7 or 8. It's a genuine opportunity for a small edge.
Though in the latter case, someone would have to clone Arizona Phil.