The IFA signing period is around the corner and the Red Sox are expected to be aggressive. Who will they sign? Will there be any surprises?
Last July the Boston Red Sox made a big splash in the international free agent (IFA) signing period. They landed three high ceiling prospects in Daniel Flores, Danny Diaz and Antoni Flores. Each received a signing bonus of nine figures. Daniel Flores was ranked number 2 overall in that signing class. Other players who signed bonuses worth noting include Nelfy Abreu, Denny Daza, Wilker Vargas, Brayan Aquino, Luis Moto, and Brayan Bello. It was an impressive haul with several well known IFA signees that added some much needed talent to the lower levels of the farm system.
Unfortunately, at just 17, Daniel Flores passed away following a brief battle with a highly aggressive form of cancer. He was instantly a top 10 prospect for the Red Sox. His loss was felt both on and off the field. This July, expect the Red Sox to take a different approach. They are expected to spend all of their allotted $4.983,500.00. But it will likely be spread around to less well known Latin American amateurs. Before we get into the names, however, it’s worth a quick breakdown how the IFA period works under the new CBA.
The nuts and bolts.
A new collective bargaining agreement was reached in the winter before the 2017 season. Prior to it teams had a bonus allotment like they do now, but were allowed to spend past it. There were harsh tax penalties going up to 100% on any overage for teams blowing past the limit. Additionally, teams would be limited to signing bonuses of $300K in the subsequent two periods. This inspired teams to go huge on signings one year, then ride out the penalties for two years.
For the Red Sox that meant blowing past the cap between July 2, 2014 and July 1, 2015. And they would sign Anderson Espinoza, Christopher Acosta, Rusney Castillo, and Yoan Moncada to 9 figure or higher deals. With the current CBA, that approach just isn’t possible anymore. Teams are allowed bonus pools based on whether they receive competitive balance picks or not. The base pool is $4.75M, which is where the Red Sox started. Teams with a pick in Competitive Balance Round A get $5.25M. Teams with a pick in Competitive Balance Round B get $5.75M. It’s possible for teams to trade bonus pool money if they don’t plan to use it. Acquiring teams can add up to 75% of their pool to their original allotment.
The big difference between previous CBA’s and this one, however, is that spending is hard capped. Teams can’t go over the limit even if they want to.
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What will the Red Sox do?
It remains to be seen if the Red Sox will trade for additional pool money. But we do know they are only attached to one top 30 IFA prospect. That’s Dominican switch-hitting outfielder Eduardo Lopez. While he lacks any obvious plus tools, he is a well rounded player who offers a fairly high floor for a16 year-old IFA signee. Baseball America describes him as having a good baseball acumen and strikezone judgement, a fluid swing and little present power. MLB Pipeline ranks him 23rd in the class and believes he has the tools to hit and eventually develop respectable pop. He has below average speed and a mediocre arm, so sticking in center field is not a given. But he takes good routes and gets good jumps. He may be the only nine figure singing the Red Sox make.
Other names to look for include outfielder Eduardo Vaughn, shortstops Naysbel Marcano and Brainer Bonaci and pitchers Claudio Ochoa and Carlos Reyes. Not much information is available about them at this time. But their relative unknown status does not mean they cannot become impact players. Afterall, Xander Bogaerts was relatively unknown when the Red Sox signed him in 2009 for just $410,000.00. The big get that July was Jose Iglesias for $6.25M. And you can find plenty of names who signed for much smaller bonuses who panned out. Frankie Montas of the Oakland Athletics, for example. He was signed by the Red Sox the same summer as Bogaerts for just $75,000.00. And he has a 70 grade fastball. Hanley Ramirez got just $20,000.00 in July of 2000. And current Red Sox pitcher Hector Velazquez got $30,000.00 in February of 2017.
Could they keep their powder dry?
The other thing the Red Sox could do is hold on to a chunk of their bonus pool in case a name currently unavailable hits the market later in the year. Something like Shohei Ohtani being posted this past winter. A talent like Ohtani is unlikely, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have a chance to spend any saved money. They would also have the opportunity to trade for that additional cap space if they needed it later. So don’t get down if they don’t make any kind of a splash in the first week of July. This signing period runs for a full year.
Examples of international free agents signing later in the year include top 100 prospect Luis Robert of the Chicago White Sox. He inked his deal on May 27, 2017. Yoan Moncada signed his deal with the Red Sox in March of 2015. Cuban star Juan Pablo Martinez just signed with the Texas Rangers this past March. With the age of exemption for the IFA player pool being raised to 25 with at least six professional seasons played in a foreign league, late signings may become even more common.
And with a very thin farm system, the Boston Red Sox will certainly be active in the IFA market this year. Whether that’s right up front at July 2nd or spread out across the full signing period remains to be seen. But if the 2018 MLB draft is any indication, they are looking to stock the lower levels of the farm with high upside talent. So keep checking back for updates!