The international signing period begins every year on July 2nd. Teams are allowed to sign international prospects 16 years and older but there are restrictions. Teams are allotted a certain amount of money and they're not supposed to go over that amount. That pool is derived from a base of $700,000 plus four slot values that are issued much the same way draft picks are in the MLB draft. Teams are allowed to trade these slot values but can only add cap space equal to half their original allotment.
Much like the MLB draft, teams may go over their allotted cap but if they do they suffer similar penalties. Teams that go up to 5% over simply pay a 75% tax on the overage. Teams that go 5% over or more pay a 100% tax and will not be able to sign international prospect for more than $300,000 in the next one or two signing periods depending on how much they go over. The Rays, Angels, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, and Yankees are under such restrictions this time around. Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs reports the Cubs, Dodgers, and Royals are expected to blow past their allotments this year and face the signing restriction for the 2 years that follow.
There's a method to their madness though. It's widely believed that in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (which will be negotiated next year) some kind of international draft will be created which will restrict the type of prospect that is available to some teams. It will also mean that instead of facing signing restrictions, these teams will likely just lose their first two draft picks in any draft that takes place during their two year penalty period.
McDaniel also notes the Blue Jays, Phillies, Braves, Mets, Twins, Rangers, and Mariners are teams that are expected to spend as much money as they can without going into that penalty range. So we know the teams that went over and are under signing restrictions, the teams that plan to spend as much as they can without going into the penalty range, and the teams that plan on blowing past their pool allotment. Notice anything disappointing?
The Brewers were not mentioned at all by McDaniel. FanGraphs has a sortable J2 board which lists over 40 prospects and which team they are expected to sign with, if that information is available.
Of the Top 30 prospects listed only 1 is not linked to a team; Top 40 only 4. In total 77 prospects are listed and only 23 don't have handshake agreements in place. In other words, there isn't much of note left. Of course that doesn't mean there isn't value to be found. Miguel Diaz is arguably a top 10 prospect in the Brewers system and he was a low profile signing.
If you want some glimmer of hope, Andy Ibanez (Ranked 29th by FanGraphs) is your guy. Back in February the Brewers were mentioned among interested teams. He is a second baseman who defected from Cuba. It was once thought he could command a multi-million signing bonus but McDaniel projects him for around $800,000 which is well within the Brewers pool allotment. He's 22 now so depending on how polished he is, he could move quickly through a farm system. His potential ceiling doesn't seem very high though.
There is one thing that I'm still holding out hope for. Next year's crop of international prospects is supposed to be better than this year. A large number of teams, including the ones that are usually the biggest spenders, will be unable to sign prospects for more than $300,000. A savvy team could be saving their money and biding their time for next year when they plan to clean up and spend a lot. Some team will do this. Of course I have no idea if the Brewers would do this nor do I have faith Mark Attanasio would or even could spend the money required.
As for this year, it is possible they decide to trade away one or more of their slot values. One of the teams listed above that plan on spending as much as they can but want to avoid going into the penalty range will likely be looking to make such a trade. It is interesting that the Blue Jays are among that group. They've had reported interest in Francisco Rodriguez and recently Brewers broadcaster Brian Anderson mentioned he's seen more Blue Jays scouts at Brewers games than any other teams' scouts.
Here are the Brewers slot values this year:
The Blue Jays total allotment is $2,324,100 so they could acquire an additional $1,162,050. The Brewers first two slot values total $1,215,500 which would be more than enough. If they wanted to sign Andy Ibanez for $800,000 they could trade any and all of their slot values save one (remember each team has a base of $700,000). The problem is that these slot values haven't been shown to have much trade value in the past.
Last year the Brewers were on the acquiring end of things. They traded for the Athletics second slot value ($339,000). The player they traded was Rodolfo Fernandez, a 24 year old reliever that had only pitched in low-A ball stateside. He doesn't appear to have played at all this year and I don't know what his status is. It's so strange. Even if you weren't planning on using the slot value why would you want a player with that profile? Maybe it's just one GM doing a solid for another?
Regardless of what the Brewers do, I'll save judgment until they actually do it. There are a lot of variables going on that we know nothing about. I will admit though, it's a little disappointing they're not in on one of the better prospects yet again. It feels like a step backward even though there might be a good reason behind it. Ultimately, we might not know their true intentions until next year's signing period. If they go big that year then it will be worth it. Also, if they include slot value to grease the wheels of a K-Rod trade I'm in favor of it.