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Dodgers, players limited by new MLB international restrictions

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Japan v Mexico - International Friendly
Which one, if any, of these two players will be on the Dodgers in 2019?
Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Major League Baseball and the Players Association sent out an executive summary of the new collective bargaining agreement that will run through 2021. Here is a closer look at the changes to the international market, in which the Dodgers will be limited.

The players were adamant that there would be no international draft added with the new deal, but in its place came a hard cap each year that will restrict bonuses for amateur players.

Starting with the next international signing period, that runs July 2, 2017 through June 15, 2018, each team will be capped from between $4.75 million and $5.75 million for the entire period. Only signing bonuses $10,000 and higher count towards the cap.

There are three levels of the international cap:

  • For teams with a Competitive Balance Round A pick in that year’s MLB Draft (after the first round), the international cap is $5.25 million
  • For teams with a Competitive Balance Round B pick (after the second round), the international cap is $5.75 million.
  • For all other teams, the cap is $4.75 million.

The limits will grow throughout the term of the CBA, based on total revenue in the sport.

A team will see its international cap decreased by $500,000 (if not paying luxury tax) or $1 million (if paying luxury tax) for signing a qualifying offer free agent to a contract of $50 million or more.

The Competitive Balance Round picks under the old CBA were awarded by lottery. But now, teams will alternate each year between rounds A and B. Those picks are awarded to teams in the bottom 10 in market size or the bottom 10 in a combination of winning percentage and local revenue.

From the Dodgers’ perspective, they will never be in either of those first two groups, so their international cap will be in the lowest group, so $4.75 million in the next period.

The Dodgers are already limited from signing any international amateur to a bonus above $300,000, thanks to them blowing past the soft spending limits under the old CBA, in the 2015-2016 international signing period. Those penalties will continue with the current CBA, with the $300,000 limit disappearing for the Dodgers in the 2018-2019 international period.

The limits of the international market will be seen on the higher end, with no more truly exorbitant bonuses. The Dodgers paid over $46 million in bonuses during the 2015-2016 period, incurring over $45 million in penalties for doing so.

The Dodgers signed three players in that period alone — pitcher Yadier Alvarez ($16 million), outfielder Yusniel Diaz ($15.5 million) and infielder Omar Estevez ($6 million) — to bonuses that would not be allowed under the new CBA.

Yadier Alvarez, had he come along two years later, wouldn’t have seen more than a third of the $16 million bonus he signed for with the Dodgers in July 2015.
Photo credit: Amanda Ray | Great Lakes Loons

Yoan Moncada of the Red Sox, arguably the top prospect in baseball, was signed for $31.5 million in March 2015 (with Boston incurring another $31.5 million in tax), but the next Moncada under the new CBA could sign for no more than $5.75 million, and even that would require a team to not sign anyone else for more than $10,000 during that international signing period.

Furthermore, the definition of international amateur was expanded to include all players under 25 and with fewer than six years of professional experience, up from 23 years old and five years of pro experience.

That means for Shohei Otani, the next big thing who is arguably the best pitcher and best hitter in Japan, he wouldn’t be effectively available to come to MLB until July 5, 2019, when he turns 25. He could come before then if he so chooses, but would be limited to a $5.75 million bonus at most. By waiting until midseason 2019, he would be able to sign as a free agent, and would be one of the most coveted in baseball history.

It is not just big market teams affected. The Padres, for instance, went in hard during the current 2016-2017 international period, signing seven of MLB.com’s top 30 international prospects for a total of $21.45 million (and incurring at least $18 million in tax penalties). In all, two of the top 30 international prospects signed for bonuses that would alone be over the new spending caps, and a total of seven of the top 30 signed for bonuses of at least $3 million.

So yes, the Dodgers and other big spenders will be limited in the new international landscape. But they deserve credit for making the calculated risk of spending big when they did, in an effort to continue to beef up the organization’s stockpile of young talent.

Now comes the harder part, where the advantages will come in scouting rather than pocketbooks.