International Free Agency Preview 2020/21 – Part I

As Mets fans cross over into the newly gifted “Land of the Solvent”, and we strive to put the B.C. (Before Cohen) era collectively behind us, visions of our newly anointed Messiah, spreading the gospel of Piazza, Wright and Seaver to the chosen elite of the newly freed agents, while rewarding them with infinite coin and riches, dancing through our minds. Flushing, NY serves as the new shrine to this Renaissance of Baseball, as 8 All-Stars jog to their places on the field (one behind the plate and the other 7 to the left of 2nd base-I mean it IS 2021 and a lefty is up) behind the most tried and true disciple of them all – Jacob, son of Anthony, Degrom. On a daily basis, the scoreboard emphasizes the insurmountable schism between the mortals of Atlanta, Philadelphia, Miami, Washington and our beloved Mercenaries in blue and orange! The City begins its plans for the Canyon of Heroes celebration on April 15th, as while the “magic number” may be 152, our deflated opponents have already mentally accepted their fate. Excitement! Hope! Rebirth! Dynasties! It is months away from fruition! And as literary foreplay, just to add more to this longed-for sensation of euphoric bliss………….. I will now discuss two potential international free agents that I feel would help buttress our lower and upper minor league systems. Nice finish – went from Blake Lively to Ben Lively. Hey, but Ben had a pretty ok career too.. and he pitched in the KBO league, so a perfect segue, correct?

Also read: Free Agent Target: Alex Colome

Can hear it now… “We just inherited 14 billion dollars! And you want to talk about guys who will sign for $10,000 and an Iphone-7?” or, “Stop with the Wilponomics – we are out of bankruptcy now – very fair and appropriate queries based upon our team’s middling history. However, the two do not need to be mutually exclusive, right? We can still reap the high priced domestic fruit of the offseason, while at the same time, cultivate the garden that produces the high priced fruit, can’t we?

Let’s take a brief look at the International free agent (IFA) signing period and some specs:

  • The IFA period runs on a fiscal year, so it’s 19/20, 20//21 etc. and it runs from July to June. The 19/20 period just recently ended, as the final signing day was extended until 10/15/20 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The 20/21 period, which was set to start in July 2020, was pushed back to January 15, 2021, hence no players have yet “officially” been signed. “Officially” is a key term, and I’ll get to it down below.
  • In order for a player to be eligible as an “International Free Agent”, the player must:
    • Be of the age of 16 or will turn 16 prior to September 1st of the current signing period.
    • Reside outside of the United States, Canada or Puerto Rico and has not enrolled in High school in any of these places within past calendar year.
  • Each team has a certain allotment of “signing bonus” or “pool” money, which can not be exceeded in any particular signing period (“Hard Cap”). For 2020/21, there are 6 pools:
    • Pool A – $6.4 million (Brewers, Reds, Marlins, Rays, Tigers, Twins)
    • Pool B – $5.9 million (Cards, D-Backs, Cle, Balt, SD, Pitt, Col, KC)
    • Pool C – $5.35 mil (Mets and most every other team)
    • Pool D – $4.7 mil (Angels, Phils)
    • Pool E – $4.2 mil (Yanks)- starting to like this structure
    • Pool F – $1.5 mil (Braves) Really starting to like this …
  • A team can not “carry over” this money to a subsequent signing period. A team may, however, trade for up to 75% of it’s initial pool (in $250,000 increments) amount from another team. International players who are exempt from this “hard cap” must be:
    • at least 25 years old
    • have played in a recognized professional league (the big ones are Korea, Japan and Cuba) for at least “6” years prior to start of signing period.

Also read: Mets Trade Target: Francisco Lindor

So let’s put some pictures to the words here. Firstly, it’s important to note that the “hard cap” rules changed in 2017/18. If you recall the names Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert, Rusney Castillo, Yasiel Puig – all these guys signed for multiple times what the maximum “hard cap” is for an entire team. Well, this is true – prior to 2017/18 as part of a facet of the CBA then in place related to IFA, the MLB allowed teams to execute International contracts, subject to a “quasi” luxury tax (not sure if “quasi” is correctly used here, but I’ve always wanted to write that.) So for instance, White Sox signed Luis Robert for a signing bonus, prior to end of 17/18 for $26 million bucks! They actually ended up paying a dollar for dollar penalty or tax. So it really cost them $52 million. Teams can no longer do this, so gone are the days of these huge signing bonuses for IFAs. The maximum (in concept) amount that an IFA under age 25 could get is $11,200,000, but this would entail a team not doling out any other signing bonuses over $10,000 (any contracts beneath this amount do not count against the hard cap), and a team trading for 75% of it’s initial hard cap space. In other words, its not likely. Most high-end bonuses fall in the range of 4-5 million. For reference, the top two 19/20 IFA prospects – Jason Dominguez (Yanks) and Robert Puason (A’s) both penned signing bonuses of $5.1 million respectively. The Mets traditionally have shied away from handing out very large individual bonuses, taking the “quantity over quality approach” with Omar Minaya having an integral long-term role in the process prior to his recent separation with the team. The bonuses handed out to more highly regarded prospects by the Mets in recent years have been as follows:

Amed Rosario (12/13) $1,750,000

Ronny Maurico (17/18) $2,100,000

Francisco Alvarez (18/19) $2,700,000

Also read: Hello, is it me (Nolan Arenado) you’re looking for?

And in staying with tradition, for the 19/20 signing period, the Mets handed out a 2.1 million dollar signing bonus to highly regarded 17 year old Dominican Centerfielder Alexander Ramirez, who was ranked 26th out of 30 ranked IFA players by Baseball America’s Ben Badler. The Mets, while not dabbling in the top 5-10 ranked prospects in the past, have been able to locate some great values, as they continued to do in this past signing period, by inking Robert Dominguez, an 18 year old Venezuelan RHP from the DR league, who was signed for a bargain of $95,000, and is widely regarded as having the highest upside of all pitchers in the 19/20 IFA class. Then, to boot, right before the 19/20 signing period concluded, we nabbed Venezuelan late blooming RHP, Richard Brito, who wasn’t on the scouting radar, but who consistently clocked 100 mph heat while also pitching in the DR. International scouts actually raved about the Mets ability to procure these two Venezuelan flame throwers, and lauded their strategy – some calling Ramirez the most projectable Centerfielder out of the entire prospect class.

As I mentioned before, the Mets are not known for shooting their proverbial international load in one shot, as they, to the chagrin of many Mets fans, have missed out on the “big-named” Cuban prospects such as Jose Abreu and Cespedes (both of whom were signed prior to the hard cap) or Moncada and Robert (see above). However, at the same time, they haven’t been unnecessarily burden with albatrosses of contracts of high-profile, yet high-priced disappointments from the Pearl of the Antilles such as Boston Red Sox punchline Rusney Castillo or the Cuban Willie Mays – Lazarito Armenteros of Oakland A’s. They have been relatively quiet on the Cuban market, but very shrewd and active in reaping the crop of lower profile, but high ceiling prospects from the DR. There is an underlying theme here – certain teams are known for having a stronger presence in certain Latino regions. Rafael Perez, the director of international operations, is a Dominican native, and has held multiple posts centered out of Santo Domingo, as a mainstay in the area. To say he has a finger on the pulse of the Dominican landscape is an understatement. He oversaw the club’s Dominican Academy for over a decade, and is one of the most respected scouts of local talent. The Mets have had less success in Cuba, and middle of the road success with Venezuela, but did apparently land a blue-chipper in Venezuelan Catcher Francisco Alvarez as mentioned above with the highest signing bonus in Mets history.

Also read: Free Agent Target: Jackie Bradley Jr

If you have stopped reading this by now, I totally understand, but if not, scroll back up to the adjective “officially” that I used to describe the unsigned players of the 2020/21 signing period. I use this term “officially” as if you scroll through the list of the top 30 2020/21 International prospects, and check out their biographies, you can’t help but notice that each one of the top 30, sans one (next article lol), has the following snippet in their bio: “Player XX from the DR is rumored to be of interest with the Oakland A’s, or the Florida Marlins , or the LA Dodgers. Well, that stinks, you may say, we must have been late to the game… Well… not exactly. With regards to many players in the Latino regions, have been “rumored” to be of interest with a specific team, probably from the age of 12 or 13. And this “rumor” of interest is usually synonymous with unilateral handshake contracts between the player and a team. I mentioned before that Perez has run the Mets “Academy” in the area. These Academies are not exactly ones that promote transience or transfers. Once a player is in a team’s academy, starting as early as the prepubescent years of 11, if the player shows promise, they will be cultivated, groomed and for all intensive purposes, bred to prepare for their 16th birthday, at which time they will sign with their “supporting” organization. How do teams ensure such “loyalty” amongst these children? Well… this is where it gets ugly. Where talent is present, so is financial opportunity – not just for those blessed by god to play this magnificent game, but also for those blessed with funds to advance to the parents of these potential cash-cows. For every MLB scout drooling over a 13 year old 82 mph, there are 3-5 loan sharks salivating over the thought of a defaulted futures loan at usurious rates ranging from 15-20%. To no one’s surprise, when parents are offered a $100,000 advance loan, to be paid back from their son’s future signing bonus, interest-free until the player either signs or does not sign with a MLB club, the temptation is too great to pass up, and parents will do everything in their power to obtain an unofficial “futures” contract with their child’s supporting team. Some 13 year-olds will turn into stronger and faster 16 year-olds, who are able to fulfill the Cinderella rags-to-riches ending that is universally desired, while others, while promised the world by their child’s baseball benefactor, will end up as the child of unsurmountable debt, as their bodies just never caught up, physically, to their dreams.

Also read: Mets Trade Target: Byron Buxton

It’s not as glamourous as the visions of Trevor Bauer, George Springer or JT Reamulto, but if you take inventory around the league, you don’t have to go further than division foe Atlanta to see how vital this process can be to the future success of an organization.

As a teaser for my next article (I’m sure you are waiting with bated breath), I mentioned that all thirty 2020/21 prospects, EXCEPT for ONE, is rumored (aka already signed) to be affiliated with a team. The Mets are not affiliated with any of the 29 already “rumored” prospects. Well… who is this lone straggler? Who is this man with no home? Part II will discuss this prospect, who happens to be the #1 consensus prospect on most experts list… and he might sound a bit familiar to you…

Also read: Marcus Stroman must impress in 2021

Photo from MetsInsider.MLBlogs.com

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