July 2 of every year begins a new international signing period. This is the time of year when teams sign eligible players from outside the United States. Most of the time it’s players from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba. Eligible players are those that are 16 years of as as of July 2, but are under the age of 23 and have played in fewer than three seasons in a professional league. The majority of players signed in the coming days will be close to 16 years old.
Of course, it’s not as simple as just signing a player. Teams are allotted a bonus pool from which they can spend money to sign players. Each team is given $700,000 plus four slots each with their own value. The total of those four slot bonuses plus the $700k is what each team is allowed to spend. But it’s not like a draft. Teams don’t have to select four players for those slots. It’s just a general pool. For example, two years ago the Brewers used their entire pool to sign SS Gilbert Lara.
One extra wrinkle with the slot bonuses is the ability to trade them. Teams are allowed to acquire up to 50% additional cap space. That’s why it’s important to have a value attached to each slot bonus. If teams go over their pool allotment they face penalties which include tax on the overage and signing limitations during future int’l singing periods.
This year the Brewers have the fifth largest bonus pool: $4,098,500. The Phillies have the largest pool with $5,610,800. Perhaps it’s this fact that makes it so disappointing that it doesn’t seem as though the Brewers will be spending big for the second year in a row.
Teams aren’t allowed to sign players until July 2 and technically they aren’t allowed to negotiate with these kids until the 2nd either. But they all do. It’s normal for most of the top talent to have handshake agreements in place months before July. And of course these agreements aren’t the best-kept secrets in the baseball world. So we already have a pretty good idea where most of these kids are going.
MLB Pipeline, Baseball America, and FanGraphs each have their own top international prospect lists. The Brewers are linked to two players—that I’ve read about anyway—outfielder Pablo Abreu and middle infielder Jean Carlos Campos. Abreu is ranked 30 by Pipeline and 44 by AB. FanGraphs gives him a future value of 35. Campos isn’t ranked by Pipeline but he ranks 20th on the BA list. FanGraphs gives him a future value of 35 as well.
It feels pretty underwhelming. But spending big doesn’t always equal success. And it’s certainly possible the Brewers tried very hard to sign some of the bigger names. That’s something we’ll never know. But the Brewers could still get good value if they spread the money out and sign a bunch of young players. We’re talking about 16-year-old kids, so it’s very hard to project them. And it’s entirely possible the Brewers will end up with a gem.
It’s also entirely possible the Brewers will end up with some of the higher tier talent. Some players still haven’t been publicly linked with a team, especially those from Cuba. July 2 is just a day away so it won’t be long before we start finding out who the Brewers end up with.