What follows is mostly good news for the Chicago Cubs, but is also pretty dense international prospect stuff. Let me get through some necessary background info first.
The Cubs were in the international free agency penalty box for a couple years after blowing out their bonus pool back in the 2015-16 signing period. That means, in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 periods, the Cubs could spend no more than $300,000 on any individual prospect, which, in turn, meant the Cubs were excluded from having a realistic shot at most of the top prospects.
But the Cubs had established a robust presence in Mexico, where signing players was a little bit different: there, players were already associated with Mexican League teams, which kept up to 75% of the bonus paid to players when they were signed by MLB teams. And only the amount that went to the player counted for IFA rules, which meant that the Cubs were able to sign several “million dollar” players out of Mexico when they were in the penalty box.
But MLB recently shut down all signings from Mexico amid allegations of fraud and corruption, and we learned that MLB’s efforts could wind up in consequences for the Cubs. One of the club’s top signings last year was righty Florencio Serrano, who’d received a $1.2 million signing bonus (only $300,000 of which was supposed to go to him, and count against the Cubs’ IFA signing limitations). But earlier this year, there were rumors that he was no longer with the organization, and now we know why:
This is an unusual story.
The Cubs lost their top 2017 international prospect. Here’s what happened, and why it led to a significant change for international signings: https://t.co/Jw6dyiqJ3H
— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) August 14, 2018
Badler’s piece is premium content, so I won’t share too many of the details – it’s worth reading for the whole background on this odd story and also the nature of signings in Mexico.
It appears MLB’s investigation into Mexican signings was at least somewhat related to (if not sparked by) the Cubs’ signings in Mexico. They were not skirting the rules, mind you, just aggressively taking advantage of them. But, very importantly, the Cubs did not engage in any rule-breaking or fraud (it appears that was all happening without their knowledge on the Mexican team side of things).
Thus, although the Cubs lost Serrano, they were compensated by having $300,000 added to their IFA bonus pool this year.
For me, there’s a lot of relief there. Although this wasn’t a Page One story for a lot of folks, I was wondering if we were going to be surprised by some finding by MLB that the Cubs were skirting the rules, and then get absolutely hammered like the Braves did for their IFA misdeeds. Instead, it seems like MLB concluded the Cubs kinda got screwed and tried to make things right.
Serrano, like other Mexican prospects, is in limbo right now while MLB works on a new agreement with the Mexican League for the transfer of players (you can tentatively expect it to be similar to the systems that allow players from other professional leagues to come to MLB). If that gets sorted out before the next signing period opens up in July, the Cubs could be a slight advantage to get some new prospects signed, since it appears that they’ll still have some of their bonus pool left, while many other clubs have already done all the signing they’re going to do.