The deadline to complete deals in the 2015-16 International Free Agent signing period is tomorrow. Against that backdrop …
Big-time Cuban infielder Yulieski Gurriel left his home country to pursue a career in MLB earlier this year (February, to be exact). And now – here in mid-June, just four months later – he stands by as a free agent, ready to sign with any team in baseball, before making a significant and immediate impact on someone’s playoff aspirations.
Unlike Yulieski Gurriel, fellow Cubans Norge Ruiz (May 2015), Cionel Perez (May 2015), Jorge Ona (July 2015) and Adrian Morejon (October 2015) have not yet been declared free agents by the Commissioner’s office, despite leaving upwards of a year prior to Gurriel. That sort of delay and inconsistency might seem, at most, frustrating, but it actually is far more impactful than that.
Many of those players are still subject to the International Free Agency restrictions given their age and professional experience. So, if they are not cleared to sign almost immediately, certain teams (like the Chicago Cubs) won’t be capable of signing them for more than $300,000. As it turns out, that may ultimately be the case.
According to Ben Badler of Baseball America (and, well, the IFA rules), the 2015-2016 international signing period closes tomorrow (Wednesday), before a two week moratorium in which no signings are allowed. Then, on July 2, the 2016-2017 period opens up and teams are once again allowed to sign eligible players. The rub, of course, is if your team exceeded its pool in the previous period by a sufficient amount, it may be artificially restricted in its spending ability for two straight years.
For example, once tomorrow comes and goes, the Blue Jays, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, and Royals won’t be able to spend more than $300,000 on any one player subject to the bonus pool, having overspent in the previous period. That’s bad for those teams, of course, that would otherwise want to sign more players, but that’s the nature of the beast. The real problem here, is how bad it is for the players that hope to effectively market themselves to the biggest possible audience.
Had any of these international free agents been granted free agency as quickly as Gurriel has been, they would have been able to negotiate with many more big-IFA-players like the Cubs and Dodgers, who have been among the most IFA-spending teams in the league. Instead, the players could be forced to work with a much smaller market (less competition) full of smaller market teams (less spending abilities), which will inherently drive down how much money they can receive. Bummer, right?
For the Cubs, in particular, it’s something of a double bummer. They’ve been to connected to a few of these players, especially pitcher Norge Ruiz in the past, and they just finished an MLB Draft in which they did not have a pick in either of the first two rounds. Their minor league system may look a lot different had players like Ruiz been granted free agency a bit faster.
But, according to the Commissioner’s Office, it was not their fault. Apparently (and perhaps understandably), each individual player/case is different and there are far more factors to consider beyond their departure date from Cuba. Sometimes, it’s about when a player’s paperwork was actually submitted, sometimes it’s about the accuracy or veracity of the paperwork itself and still, other times, there are just regular, legal obstacles to overcome that are inherently slow in nature.
To that end, it’s understandable, but not any less frustrating, for everyone involved. Undoubtedly, a player like Norge Ruiz would rather have two IFA giants like the Cubs and Dodgers bidding over his services than smaller market teams (and you can bet the Cubs and Dodgers wish they could, as well). It’s one thing to be limited by a strategy you willfully undertook, but a whole different beast when an unforeseeably long delay in red tape is the cause. With the deadline expiring in just about 24 hours, though, it looks like this may be the end of the line.
The Cubs do still have plenty of talent in the system, though, and they did acquire a ton of talent in the now-expiring IFA period. They’ll survive.
[Brett: But if a player like Ruiz proves to be a star down the line … I’ll be fairly salty. (And I’ll also conveniently ignore that the Dodgers almost certainly would have spent way over the top to sign him anyway, given that their spending in this period comically dwarfs that of any other team (and that post was before they also signed Yaisel Sierra!).)]