July 2. It’s just another day to most folks, marked at best by its proximity to the Fourth of July. But to baseball nerds, it’s a sacred day: it’s the open of a new International Free Agent period.
International Free Agency, unlike typical free agency, deals with younger, international amateurs being signed to the first contracts of their career. And much like NBA and NFL free agency, things get nuts right away when the period opens up, because many of the young players already – wink wink – have a good sense of where they’re signing.
By way of reminder, every organization in baseball has a certain pool from which they can toss out signing bonuses to these players. That pool, which is a little bigger for small market teams and a little smaller for large market teams, is fixed. There’s no blowing out your budget and paying a tax anymore. The only way to spend over your bonus pool limit is to trade with another MLB team for additional bonus pool space.
The Cubs’ bonus pool for this period is just about $4.98 million, and much of that will be gobbled up immediately today when agreements the Cubs are expected to finalize put into place.
The Cubs have been attached to some of the best prospects in the class, though it remains to be seen how MLB’s abrupt shift on signing players from Mexico will impact the Cubs’ strategy. It also remains to be seen whether Cuban outfield prospect Victor Victor Mesa (not a typo, and the best Cuban prospect since Yoan Moncada) will be fully eligible to sign very soon, and which clubs will trade for bonus pool space to make a run at him. If you want to get excited about the chance the Cubs can land him, then you want to see them come out of the gate trading for bonus pool space.
Otherwise, you will see movement all around baseball on this day, not only as players finalize deals with international prospects, but also because of bonus pool trades, and sometimes you also see larger trades go down that have international bonus pool space attached as only a minor component.
You know … like this one:
The Orioles have acquired RHP Scott Feldman & CA Steve Clevenger from the Cubs in exchange for RHPs Jake Arrieta & Pedro Strop.
— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) July 2, 2013
Note, though, that the whole thing doesn’t play out today, alone. There are a number of top prospects who haven’t yet turned 16, so they aren’t eligible to sign until later this year. Moreover, there are a number of Cuban prospects besides Mesa who become available later on, and those prospects out of Cuba tend not to have the same wink-wink handshake deals already long in place before this day comes. In other words, their pursuits tend to be a little more traditional free agency-like.
In any case, the fun starts today. And the Cubs should land some excellent new prospects.
UPDATE (Michael): We’ll have more comprehensive information on all of the Cubs signings later on today, but in the meantime, it begins …
So far, among MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 International Prospects, the Cubs have signed right-hander Richard Gallardo (#5, $1M), outfielder Jose Lopez (#17, $1.5M), and left-hander Joel Machado (#28, $850K).
Outside of the top 30, according to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez, the Cubs have also signed shortstop Rafael Morel ($850K) and outfielder Yohendrick Pinango ($400K).
By my count, that means that the Cubs have already used up roughly $4.6M of their $4,983,500 bonus pool. So if they don’t want their IFA signings to end here (let alone having any shot at Victor Victor) they’ll have to make some trades for more bonus pool space.