By all accounts, the 2015 international player signing period which begins on July 2nd will be a wild affair. The bonus pools were announced in late February:
|1) Arizona Diamondbacks||$5,393,900|
|2) Colorado Rockies||$4,966,300|
|3) Texas Rangers||$4,586,600|
|4) Houston Astros||$4,248,800|
|5) Minnesota Twins||$3,948,500|
|6) Boston Red Sox||$3,681,000|
|7) Chicago White Sox||$3,443,000|
|8) Chicago Cubs||$3,230,700|
|9) Philadelphia Phillies||$3,041,700|
|10) Cincinnati Reds||$2,873,000|
|11) Miami Marlins||$2,779,300|
|12) San Diego Padres||$2,691,800|
|13) Tampa Bay Rays||$2,609,200|
|14) New York Mets||$2,531,300|
|15) Atlanta Braves||$2,458,400|
|16) Milwaukee Brewers||$2,389,300|
|17) Toronto Blue Jays||$2,324,100|
|18) New York Yankees||$2,262,800|
|19) Cleveland Indians||$2,204,900|
|20) Seattle Mariners||$2,150,300|
|21) San Francisco Giants||$2,130,900|
|22) Pittsburgh Pirates||$2,111,900|
|23) Oakland Athletics||$2,093,100|
|24) Kansas City Royals||$2,074,700|
|25) Detroit Tigers||$2,056,200|
|26) St. Louis Cardinals||$2,038,200|
|27) Los Angeles Dodgers||$2,020,300|
|28) Baltimore Orioles||$2,002,900|
|29) Washington Nationals||$1,985,400|
|30) Los Angeles Angels||$1,968,600|
However, the bonus pools don't tell the whole story. Several teams, most notably the New York Yankees, blew away their bonus pool limits during the 2014 signing period. Although this doesn't reduce their total pool amounts for 2015 and 2016, it does mean that they can't spend more than $300,000 on any one individual player. Clubs included under this penalty provision are the Yankees, Diamondbacks, Angels, Rays, and Red Sox, who all went so far over their bonus limits that they are limited to $300,000 per player in both the 2015 and 2016 windows.
This penalty was supposed to prevent excess spending but obviously the teams are willing to take that risk. Indeed, rumors indicate that other clubs will adopt this strategy. The Toronto Blue Jays, for example, are strongly linked with outfielder Vladimir Guerrero Jr and may go well above their bonus allotment to sign him: Kiley McDaniel at Fangraphs reports that his bonus could be in excess of $4,000,000, well past the Jays bonus pool limit. Shortstop Wander Javier is strongly linked with the Twins and could eat up their entire bonus pool. The Cubs, who blew through their pool in 2013 and were limited in what they could do in '14 as a result, are back in the game, too.
The problem is that there is no real teeth in the penalty. Clubs have figured out that you can still find talented players for $300,000 or less. Maybe your scouts have to work a little harder, but the players are out there. Examples: Yordano Ventura of the Royals got a miniscule $28,000 bonus. Gregory Polanco of the Pirates cost $150,000. The late Oscar Taveras was in that neighborhood at $145,000. Top New York Yankees pitching prospect Luis Severino cost $225,000.
Boston Red Sox pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez: $175,000. Rangers right-hander Neftali Feliz: $100,000. Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro: just $50,000.
The players are out there even at reduced per-player bonus levels. If MLB wants to restrict spending on international free agents but can't figure out how to make a draft process work, they need to reduce the total bonus pool amounts available to offending clubs, not just restrict the money they can spend per-player.
The logistics of an international draft may very well be unworkable, but reducing the total pool amount available for a team that goes too far over the limit could be more effective than the current arrangement.