The recent, and somewhat surprising, acquisition of Kendrys Morales for Jesus Lopez and $1 million in international bonus money offers a convenient segue into looking at Oakland’s international spending during the 2018/2019 signing period. This period runs from July 2, 2018 through mid-June, 2019; during which time teams are allowed to sign any number of international prospects so long as the combined total of their signing bonuses does not exceed the MLB decreed team hard caps. Oakland was given a $6,025,400 signing bonus pool but was restricted from signing anyone to a bonus greater than $300,000 due to their spending during the 2016/2017 signing period. This restriction did not prevent the A’s from being quite active with their international allotment.
Teams can increase (or decrease) their international cap by trade. Teams can deal cap money in $250,000 blocks that will raise (or lower) the respective cap totals. So no cash actually changed hands when Oakland sent $1 million to Toronto for Morales, instead the A’s cap ceiling dropped by $1 million as Toronto’s increased by the same amount. Oakland has been very aggressive with using their international pool as trade collateral, dealing at least $3 million in cap room in 4 separate trades for big league talent. There was the $1 million for Morales. They included $1 million as part Jeurys Familia package. Another $750,000 went to Texas in the Jurickson Profar deal. And while I haven’t found a source that reports what Washington got for Shawn Kelley, he had been designated for assignment prior to the trade, so I’m comfortable penciling in the minimum possible ($250,000).
The A’s also signed (by my count) 26 international prospects during this recent signing period and Baseball America’s Ben Badler reviewed Oakland’s signings on March 26. (Paywall link). BA focuses the bulk of their international reports on players who earned at least a $150,000 signing bonus, although they will include “lower bonus sleepers” in the team reviews. The following lists the international talent added (thus far) and their signing bonus information when available.
Baseball America no longer reports the signing bonus figures for Venezuelan players due to family requests but based on where Badler discusses Luis Carrasco and Luis Martinez in the hierarchy of signing order I’ve made an educated guess at the value of their bonuses. These numbers put Oakland’s known expenditures at ~$2,175,000, out of an adjusted international cap of $3,025,400. Can we determine how much it cost to sign the remaining prospects on Oakland’s list and how much does it matter at this point of the 2018/2019 signing period? To answer the second part first… it absolutely matters for two reasons:
1) There are two more months remaining to potentially sign more prospects. In a 4/3 chat, Fangraph’s Kiley McDaniel mentions a list of 34 Cuban players that MLB has declared eligible for the 2018/2019 signing period; so there is still talent to be had. Last season the A’s signed their last batch of prospects for the 2017/2018 signing period on May 17.
2) Every $250,000 remaining in Oakland’s pool is a trade asset that will go away in June.
Signing bonuses of $10,000 or less don’t count against team caps and while some of the players listed above will meet that exception it’s likely that most will have received a bonus between $10,000 and Baseball America’s $150,000 benchmark. At this point, I would dazzle you with a detailed hypothesis of how much room Oakland had available in their 2018/2019 pool budget but... while researching for my next article I came across a March 8, 2019 update to MLB.com’s original February 2018 article on international signing pools and in it, they state that Oakland had $1,139,500 remaining. The A’s signed RHP Wander Guante on 3/22, traded for 1B/DH Kendrys Morales on 3/27, and signed OF/R Otoniel Vallejo 4/5 (too late to make the above list). We can definitively state that the A’s have no more than $139,500 remaining to spend during the current signing period and it’s likely they have less than that.
So, what to take from this?
The A’s haven’t been able to make a big splash in the international market for two years but they’ve continued to be aggressive at making incremental improvements to the organization. Free from restrictions at the start of the next signing period, the team looks to make a big ticket signing this July with SS Robert Puason. Puason, one of the top international talents available during the 2019/2020 signing period, will burn through most of Oakland’s bonus pool. But the residue of that pool money will allow for smaller moves at the margins and those moves could have an impact on Oakland’s fortunes as early as this Fall.
Thanks for reading.