Major League Baseball sets July 2 as the day when teams can begin to sign eligible international players. This mainly includes players from Latin America and the Caribbean. The Atlanta Braves agreed to sign two top hitting prospects this July 2, but to do that they had to trade away four other prospects to stay under the spending cap imposed by MLB without incurring a penalty. It’s a confusing process with a web of rules that some teams respect and others intentionally break. Here are the main points to understand:
- Each team has an international bonus pool of money comprised of slots that are assigned monetary values. Full list of pools and slots at Baseball America.
- Teams can trade their slots, with the money that is assigned to that slot being removed from their total pool and reassigned to the acquiring team’s pool.
- Players don’t have to be signed for the value of a slot, they can be signed for any amount of money.
- Teams must stay under their bonus pool or else face current taxes and future restrictions for exceeding their pool.
There are a few more details around those rules, but those are the basics. Here is how the Braves are staying within the rules this year:
- The Braves signed SS Derian Cruz for a $2 million bonus.
- The Braves signed OF Christian Pache for a $1.4 million bonus.
- Atlanta’s bonus pool total as assigned by MLB is $2,458,400. With just Cruz and Pache as the only two players signed so far, the team exceeded their bonus pool by $941,600.
The Braves would need to trade for additional pool space or face penalty, and they did that with these
three four trades:
- RHP Cody Martin traded to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for international bonus slot No. 53, worth $388,400.
- RHP Caleb Dirks and OF Jordan Paroubeck traded to the Dodgers in exchange for international bonus slot No. 87, worth $249,000.
- RHP Garrett Fulenchek traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for international bonus slots No. 73 (worth $299,000) and No. 103 (worth $195,200).
- RHP Aaron Kurcz traded to Oakland Athletics in exchange for international bonus slot valued at $167,000. (This trade was made on July 6 after the original publication of this article, and allowed the Braves to sign one more international player, Venezuelan shortstop Juan Morales.)
That means they acquired a total of $1,131,600, which accounts for the total owed to Cruz and Pache, and gives Atlanta an additional $190,000 to spend on other players. The rules allow for teams to trade for an additional 50% of their bonus pool, which for Atlanta comes out to a total of $1,229,200. Atlanta could technically still acquire another $97,600 and be under this rule, but the lowest slot value is $149,700, so if they did want to acquire more space they might have to trade one of their own slots away to make the numbers work. While the Braves are probably done trading, they may seek one more trade to maximize their allowable pool.
The easiest way to understand all this is to think of it as Atlanta trading Martin, Dirks, Paroubeck and Fulenchek for the ability to sign both Cruz and Pache. The indications are that the Braves want to stay within the rules this year, but then use next year’s international signing period to blow through their bonus pool.
When a team exceeds their bonus pool they face a 100% tax on the overage. While there are some varying penalties for going 5 or 10 percent over, most teams going over will exceed their limits by 15 percent and incur the full penalty of not being able to sign any international player for more than $300,000 for two consecutive signing periods. Many of the top-spending teams will be in this “penalty box” next year, including the Angels, D-backs, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees, who exceeded last year’s limits, and so far the Giants and Dodgers have exceeded their limits this year.
This should lower the competition to sign the top international talent next year and allow the Braves to spend extravagantly as they compete for the top players.
In many ways all of these bonus slot trades this year are about swapping out lower-ceiling prospects for higher-ceiling prospects. Clearly the Braves feel that Cruz and Pache are better than the players they traded, which is saying something since two of those traded (Fulenchek and Paroubeck) were second-round draft picks not too long ago. Let’s take a look at what Atlanta gave up, then take a look at the players that were signed.
OF Jordan Paroubeck was acquired from San Diego in the Craig Kimbrel trade, and was originally a second-round pick by the Padres in 2013 out of high school. He had not played a game for the Braves’ rookie-level Danville squad yet due to injury, but when he was drafted he was considered a raw five-tool player. I had preliminarily ranked him as the No. 22 prospect in the Braves mid-season top-30 rankings (due to be published during the All-Star break).
RHP Garrett Fulenchek was Atlanta’s second-round pick last year out of a Texas high school. The draft scouting report on him emphasized his size and projectable physicality while noting that he is still pretty raw as a pitcher. As a pro his control has been atrocious. I had him preliminarily ranked as the No. 29 prospect mid-season.
RHP Caleb Dirks was drafted in the 14th-round last year out of college and has a future as a middle reliever. He’s repeatedly posted low contact rates and low ERAs as a pro while registering some high walk totals. He was already at high-A Carolina, but as a middle reliever he would not have made the prospect list.
I ranked RHP Cody Martin as the No. 20 prospect before this season. He had some sporadic success early this season with Atlanta, but the league caught up to him with unflattering results. He could still develop into a very decent middle reliever or swingman, and possibly a back of the rotation starter.
SS Derian Cruz was ranked as the No. 5 prospect in this year’s international class by Baseball America, and No. 24 by MLB — highlighting the disparity in scouting these young international prospects. Just 16-years-old, Cruz is described as the best athlete in this year’s class with explosive speed that could become plus-plus.
OF Christian Pache is also considered a plus athlete with good bat control to all fields. He was ranked No. 21 by Baseball America and No. 10 by MLB. Like Cruz, Pache is also 16 and from the Dominican Republic.
These young international prospects usually have a long development path, however some of them can move quite quickly, like recent successes Ozhaino Albies and Jose Peraza. Albies was signed in 2013, made his pro debut state-side last year at the age of 17, and this year is leading the Sally League in hitting. That’s a high bar for the two new guys to meet, but with the bonuses they received and how they are ranked by the major prospect outlets the hope is that they make an immediate splash in the Braves’ system.
This is a pretty good outcome for the Braves. They get two prospects whom they believe to be high-ceiling game-changers — something the Braves system is thin on — and in return they gave up a couple of role players and a couple of young prospects who have not yet met expectations based on their draft pedigree. Fulenchek and Paroubeck are the two guys who could come back to haunt Atlanta in these trades, but for now these moves look like a step in the right direction for the long-term development pipeline of the Braves’ minor league system.
Consider too that the Braves just nabbed two plus prospects while staying within the rules for 2015. I mentioned earlier that 2016 is when Atlanta might greatly exceed their bonus pool, and their number one target may already be “in the fold.” This interesting nugget is from ESPN:
The huge name for next year’s J2 class is Venezuelan SS Kevin Maitan, a monstrous teenager with an elite body, advanced feel to hit and big-time power projection. He has been on the radar for international scouts for years and is being compared to some generational talents. A scout I talked to whose team has no prayer of signing Maitan said his club has an overall 70 grade on him, the sort of grade that players near the apex of top 100 prospects lists only sometimes garner. And three sources have told ESPN colleague Keith Law that the Atlanta Braves have already locked up Maitan for $4.25 million in advance of the July 2, 2016, signing period. As Keith noted, such deals are “technically prohibited but are de rigueur in that market.”
Maitan is supposed to be special, but we’ll have to wait a whole year before we know if this is really the plan.