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Cardinals International Free Agent Preview

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The Cardinals can sign amateur international free agents on July 2. What does that mean and who are they targeting.

Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

On July 2, the amatuer international free agent signing period begins. Last year was a productive year for the Cardinals, signing Alvaro Seijas for close to $800,000 and has already been promoted stateside. He made his first start in the U.S. on Tuesday for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals, going six innings and giving up just one run with three strikeouts and one walk. He does not turn 18 until October.

While Seijas is still a ways away from contributing, lower level prospects like Edmundo Sosa, Magneuris Sierra, Sandy Alcantara, and Junior Fernandez were all signed on the international free agent market. Closer to the big leagues, Alex Reyes signed with the Cardinals in December 2012, and the Cardinals current ace, Carlos Martinez signed with the team back in 2010. Players signed during this process take time to develop, but the Cardinals recent emphasis on the international market is starting to pay dividends and should provide a nice pipeline of major league talent.

As for the details on the signing period, Ben Humphrey wrote a primer on the subject in prior years. To be eligible, a player must be 16 years old by Sept 1 of this year. Most of the players who sign will be 17 years old or younger. If a player is 23 years old and has played five professional seasons, mainly applying to Cuban players, then that player is not considered an amateur. This is an important distinction because amateurs are subject to bonus pools. The Cardinals bonus pool amount is right around $2 million.

As Ben wrote, here are the rules with the bonus pools.

The CBA lays out penalties for teams that exceed their allotted bonus pool amounts:

  • 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.

In January, I laid out the case for the Cardinals exceeding their bonus pool this season.

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.

As we discussed in February the Cardinals are expected to exceed their bonus pool to sign Victor Garcia, a slugging corner outfielder out of Venezuela, and Jonathan Machado, a speedy center fielder out of Cuba. Baseball America has full scouting reports on Garcia and Carlos Soler (ranked 35th), who is also expected to sign with the Cardinals.

Here is video of Garcia, who Baseball America rates as the tenth-best prospect available with the most raw power of any international prospect.

Here is video for Jonathan Machado, who was not ranked by Baseball America as he is from Cuba. A short scouting report (free) is available here, while a longer one ($) is available here.

It is not yet clear how much the Cardinals plan to exceed their pool money. Over at Baseball America, Ben Badler discusses a handful of names the Cardinals are expected to sign (subscriber only), but it is not clear that those players will receive big signing bonuses. One interesting note from BA, Soler has a great outfield arm who might profile as a pitcher if his hitting does not develop, something the Cardinals have had success with in the past. While many players will sign right away, the signing period lasts until next June so more players could come into the fold after July.

The Cardinals expanding their influence to bring in more good, young players is a welcome development. These players might not bring dividends to St. Louis anytime soon, but bringing in a new generation of players is important for any organization. We will have more information once signings are announced.