Rays, Red Sox invest in tighter international talent market

Top international amateur Wander Samuel Franco is headed for the Rays organization. mlbpipeline.com

Sunday's flood of international free-agent signings offered many familiar scenes. Industry airwaves crackled with excitement as teams added talented new players to their farm systems and curious fans echoed similar sentiments. Photographs of smiling teenagers, many of whom come from places of poverty, sitting next to their families wearing newly minted caps and jerseys on a day that changes many of their lives. Next to them are hard-working scouts who have the unique and unenviable task of sifting through dozens of adolescent ballplayers and then building relationships with those players, their families and trainers as they navigate ethically ambiguous waters and a complicated financial landscape before signing day.

This year's July 2 was, like the rest of them, a day of celebration across baseball. But looming ominously over the future of the process is the way the new collective bargaining agreement has dramatically altered the amount of money that MLB owners funnel into Latin America each year, what the changes say about MLB ownership and the MLB Players' Association and what unintended consequences lie ahead as a result of these changes.

Under the previous CBA, teams were allotted soft-capped bonus pools to spend on players each year and were taxed, dollar for dollar, if they exceeded those pools. They were also locked out of signing players for bonuses in excess of $300,000 for the next two signing periods. Many clubs quickly decided that they could acquire more talent in a single year by ignoring these rules and signing one massive class of top prospects than they could if they followed them for three.

The industry's total international expenditures began to climb, peaking with the 2016-2017 July 2 signing period -- which just ended in June -- during which $203 million worth of bonuses were distributed to international amateur prospects. That was an MLB record and also about what, in 2010, Forbes estimated Americans spend on condiments for Independence Day barbecues. That figure doesn't include the tax clubs paid for exceeding their bonus pools, which pushes the figure up close to $320 million.