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Cardinals should exceed their international bonus pool cap

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The Cardinals should think about exceeding their bonus pool cap, and sign a ton of young prospects.

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The Cardinals have been very focused on the international market in recent years. They first built an academy in the Dominican Republic about ten years and currently have plans to build an upgraded facility for young prospects. Their efforts began to pay off as Carlos Martinez and the late Oscar Taveras reached the majors. The time and resources there have been worthwhile as Baseball Prospectus recently lauded the Cardinals' international program. I included this quote in a piece on the BP Top Ten yesterday, but it is worth repeating.

As good as those folks are, the stars of this system are in the international department. Moises Rodriguez, Luis Morales and several others have made the Cardinals one of the top international scouting teams in all of baseball, possibly even the best. Just look at the names in the top ten who are in this group, and that's not including guys like Breyvic Valera and others. Combine that with their quality drafts (Arturo Reyes in the 40th round, etc.), and you get a pretty good idea why St. Louis is competitive. Every. Damn. Year.

The next wave of Dominican and Latin American prospects is beginning to develop with Alex Reyes ($950,000 bonus) is on the cusp of the majors with 19-year-olds Magneuris Sierra ($105,000 bonus), Edmundo Sosa ($425,000), and Junior Fernandez ($400,000) all making BP's top ten and Sandy Alcantara ($125,000) also gaining a mention. Outside of Reyes, none of the bonuses for these players are particularly high, and even his did not crack a million dollars. The Cardinals have been hamstrung by their success with low bonus pools for international players.

For international amateur spending, teams are given a certain amount of money to spend, and the amount of money a team is given depends on their record. The Cardinals generally receive only around $2 million per year to spend while teams with poor records receive more than double that amount. As a result, the Cardinals can only do so much with their fantastic international department. However, teams are allowed to go over their spending cap if they are willing to pay penalties.

Ben Humphrey laid out the penalties for going over the bonus pool in his post on the subject last July:

  • 0-5% overage: MLB taxes the overage at a 100% rate.
  • 5-10% overage: (1) MLB taxes the overage at a 100% rate. (2) The offending club loses the right to sign any player to a bonus exceeding $500,000 during the following international signing period.
  • 10-15% overage: (1) MLB taxes the overage at a 100% rate. (2) The offending club loses the right to sign any player to a bonus exceeding $300,000 during the following international signing period.
  • 15%+ overage: (1) MLB taxes the overage at a 100% rate. (2) The offending club loses the right to sign any player to a bonus exceeding $300,000 during the following two international signing periods.

The last penalty is the important one, because if you are going to go over, you may as well go way over and sign as many prospects as you can knowing you will not be able to sign any high-priced players over the next two seasons. That provision is also important because several teams have gone over their bonus pools in the past few years and will be unable to sign players when the new period starts in July. Some of the teams are among the wealthiest teams in the big leagues.

  • Angels
  • Diamondbacks
  • Rays
  • Red Sox
  • Yankees
  • Cubs
  • Dodgers
  • Giants
  • Royals
  • Blue Jays
If the Cardinals wanted to set the market when it comes to international free agents this season, now would be the perfect time to do it with no Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Giants, or Dodgers in play. Baseball America has reported that it expects the Nationals, Braves, and Padres to go over their limits this season. The Cardinals could easily join them and grab a handful of really good prospects.

At this point, what the penalties are actually uncertain as a new Collective Bargaining Agreement could abolish this form of signing and institute an international draft (hopefully not). In any event, the Cardinals have shown talent in acquiring players with low bonuses in the past due to spending limits, and they might be forced to for the next couple years as well. That price could well be worth the cost if they could sign a number of high-profile players in the coming year.