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Why clubs are blowing past bonus limits

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Yordano Ventura
Yordano Ventura
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

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:

Organization Bonus Pool
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.