It is quite possible, reasonable even, that you might not have heard of Kevin Maitan. He is not eligible to sign with a team because he is too young. International players must turn 17 years old by September 1 can sign beginning July 2, and that is when we can expect one of the best international players available to sign. The Cardinals have been scouting him since he was 13, and he has received national notoriety since he was 14 years old. There are reports that he has reached a handshake agreement with the Atlanta Braves. How firm is that handshake and what does a handshake deal mean?
When I wrote about the possibility of the Cardinals making a major move in the next international signing period, I discussed the possibility of Maitan.
As for Kevin Maitan, the Venezuelan shortstop prospect is likely the best player available in this year's class. The Cardinals have been active in Venezuela, signing Avaro Seijas last season for $762,500, and rumored to be in on Victor Garcia this season. There are reports that the Atlanta Braves have had a handshake agreement with Maitan for $4.25 million since last July, but in his chat Goold called the international market "fluid" and the week before indicated the Cardinals were not "willing to concede to others".
Team's like the relative certainty when planning their signings in advance so they agree to with players and their handlers/teams on a signing bonus before they are actually allowed to do so, sometimes a year in advance. Teams can budget ahead of time and count on players and their teams to keep their agreement despite the lack of ability to enforce them. They are generally kept because often a player's handler will have other players he represents in the future, and he wants the team to count on his word.
As for who can break a handshake deal? Anybody.
They are called handshake deals because they are not in writing and they are not allowed, even though everyone understands that they happen.
The recourse for violating a handshake deal: None.
Again, they are not allowed and thus impossible to enforce. A player has literally no power in this situation. Once a team backs out, he likely has to take an offer for significantly less than what he believed he had agreed with the team. If a player backs out on a "deal", the team can steer clear from the player's representative due to a lack of trust, but they cannot get a handshake deal enforced. While future income is important to a player's representative, a one-time jackpot could be considerably more important. Kevin Maitan might be that kind of jackpot, and it is possible he has already backed out of one handshake deal already.
ESPN's Keith Law discussed his top prospect lists on a conference call earlier this week. Given the Cardinals reported interest in Maitan and the handshake deal with the Braves, I asked Law about Maitan's situation.
My understanding is that at one point Maitan and/or his representative broke an agreement with Atlanta, agreed to another number with a different club, and then Atlanta came in and offered more, and then they went back to the original arrangement just with a higher dollar figure. So it says to me if somebody calls tomorrow and says, hey, here's $8 million instead of the four and change supposedly that Atlanta has offered, why wouldn't Maitan and/or his people take that deal? They are not legally bound to anything right now. Major League Baseball cannot enforce an illegal agreement, so why wouldn't they just switch it up if it's that much more money?
He did not know about the Cardinals situation relative to Maitan, but if he were a GM, he would be making a call to Maitan's representative.
I would call and absolutely dare them to turn down $8 or $9 or $10 million because it sounds like he might be worth it. I've only seen video and it's a hell of a swing, but I've also talked to many scouts who have seen him, and they all say in some way or another, hey, this kid is the real deal.
I asked for clarification on the number, as paying that kind of bonus, given the dollar for dollar penalty would mean paying $15-$20 million for a 16-year-old. He said yes.
This is the situation where it might make sense to do that, whereas with your typical $2 million prospect out of Santo Domingo, there's no point in turning around and offering him $4 million because he's probably not a $4 million player, but if Maitan is what people think he is, then he might really be the $8 million player or the $12 million player. He seems to be a real exception. He might, and again, I haven't seen the guy, but he might be the best position player prospect in the non‑Cuban division since Sano, and if that's the case, then that's the guy where somebody should just say, screw it, we're going to ignore the convention, ignore the gentlemen's agreements, and make a run at this guy because he's that good, because it's in your individual team's best interest to be able to maybe break up that agreement and get the player.
Whether the Cardinals are the team to offer that kind of money is up in the air. Derrick Goold in his chat yesterday said Atlanta was in the "best position" and that is hard to disagree with. Generally speaking, players who have handshake agreements sign with teams they agreed with. That is the way the system is currently situated. Kevin Maitan might be the type of player worth upsetting the system. Maitan signing with the Cardinals is not likely, but him heading to Atlanta is not a done deal, and it will not be done until he signs a legal agreement in July.