Major League Baseball's investigation into contracts given to international amateur free agents by the Boston Red Sox after last July 2 is routine and ongoing, according to a source familiar with the process.
Major league teams may sign such amateurs to contracts in a period that begins every year on July 2, although such deals are typically negotiated ahead of the deadline and are thus submitted en masse to the commissioner's office for approval. Given the volume of contracts received in the first few days of the signing period, the commissioner's office approves most of them right away and investigates any questionable deals afterward as information or evidence appears. Thus, according to the source, an investigation at this time of deals from last July is not unusual.
The investigation centers on whether the Red Sox used "package deals," which are illegal but commonplace, to circumvent MLB's restrictions on international spending. Because the Red Sox exceeded their international bonus pool allotment in 2014, they were prohibited from signing any single international amateur free agent for a bonus of over $300,000 in the 2015 signing period. International amateur free agents include players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other countries, including players with little or no experience in the top professional leagues of Cuba, Korea or Japan.
Under this type of arrangement, the team in question would sign multiple players represented by the same agent or trainer, paying each player an official bonus of $300,000 or less, after which the trainer would rearrange the funds so that the best prospect in the group would receive an actual bonus well above the $300,000 mark. A team might agree to sign several non-prospects in exchange for the trainer agreeing to have his best prospect sign with the team in such a package deal.
Such arrangements are strictly prohibited under the current collective bargaining agreement and have been prohibited since the new system for signing international amateur free agents began in 2012; teams caught engaging in such tactics are subject to fines, suspensions and loss of future signing rights. However, clubs may sign multiple players represented by the same agent or trainer without restrictions as long as each contract is independent of the others.
Although this investigation involved asking players about the terms of their contracts and whether they were involved in any financial transfers after signing, Major League Baseball does not, as a general rule, punish players for their involvement, limiting such punishments to teams, team executives and trainers or agents. Therefore, any claims that players were threatened with discipline, including suspensions, would be suspect.