Although the Chicago Cubs have signed a handful of international free agents so far, with a bonus pool near $4 million and a penalty cap on how much the Cubs can spend on individual players ($250,000), they seem like a prime candidate to trade one of there bonus slots.
You can read more about the IFA rules here, but the gist for the Cubs: they’ve got four bonus pool slots that make up their bonus pool, and they can trade each of those slots if they feel they can’t use them. Of the Cubs’ four slots, for reasons more completely articulated in that article there, the Cubs will likely be able to trade only the three smaller slots (the four are worth $2,288,700, $458,000, $309,300, and $206,700). That’s nearly $1 million in pool space that the Cubs can trade.
With a number of teams planning to blow out their IFA budget, the Cubs would seem to be primed to deal their slots. Yet, with two slot deals going down yesterday, the Cubs were not involved in either. Are the Cubs going to be out of luck on dealing their slots? And what can the deals yesterday tell us about the evolving valuation of those slots on the trade market?
To the first question, I think the answer is: not necessarily. The two deals did involve teams that pretty much had to pick up pool space – the Brewers and the Rays – but at least one of them may still need space. The Rays are essentially maxed out on space after their deal, so they cannot acquire any more IFA pool space. But the Brewers can, and probably will, acquire more space. Further, the Red Sox and Yankees have gone well beyond their pool in terms of guys expected to sign, so getting pool money to them is like picking up actual cash (since whatever space they pick up reduces their tax penalty burden dollar for dollar). If those teams have actually inked the deals to take them over the limit, they are no longer eligible to add space – but it’s unclear if these deals are all totally signed, or just wink-wink-nudge-nudge done.
It’s a little complicated, and the details on which teams could still pick up space are a bit fuzzy (such is the nature of IFA signings and rumors), but suffice it to say, the Cubs probably still have some teams out there to whom they could deal pool space.
So that takes us to the second question: how do the deals that went down yesterday define the asset value of IFA pool slots?
First, the A’s traded $339,000 in pool space to the Brewers for 24-year-old A-ball pitcher Rodolfo Fernandez. Although he is a Cuban defector who has only been playing in the States for a year and a half (which partly explains his age and level), there doesn’t appear to be much upside for Fernandez. He is generally not considered a top 20/30 prospect in a relatively weak Brewers system.
So, judging by the A’s/Brewers trade, the value of $339,000 in pool space is very small.
The second trade, however, was slightly more encouraging. The Marlins traded three slots worth $1,000,800 in pool space to the Rays for 24-year-old AA reliever Matt Ramsey. Again, it’s not a huge return, but Ramsey is a legit relief prospect with a huge arm (but with the control problems that frequently attend such players).
So, judging by the Marlins/Rays trade, the value of $1,000,800 in pool space is small, but relevant.
The Cubs have about $1 million in pool space that they can plausibly trade, so, on its own, that should have some relevant, Ramsey-ish value. The Cubs may, however, choose to hold into their slots for a little bit longer, because the highest and best value they provide might be merely as a little extra incentive to get a decent prospect when the Cubs are otherwise trading a complementary player.