By RONALD BLUM
The Associated Press
MIAMI — With spending on international amateurs capped, Major League Baseball might not be the No. 1 choice for all Latin American prospects. Teams in Japan and South Korea could be more lucrative alternatives.
“That could be the case,” Colombian right-hander Luis Escobar, a 21-year-old Pittsburgh prospect, said Sunday at the All-Star Futures Game. “People can consider it as just another option and opportunity to play.”
Yoan Moncada arrived in the minor leagues two years ago with a record $31.5 million signing bonus. Offers that high are prohibited under rules that took effect on July 2.
“I just wanted to get out of Cuba and play baseball,” the 22-year-old Chicago White Sox infield prospect said. “The money, of course, helps. What moved me was just leaving. I’m not paying attention to all this happening.”
In the 2016-17 signing year, Moncada was among seven Cubans who agreed to bonuses at or larger than the 2017-18 team caps: The White Sox spent $26 million for outfielder Luis Robert; Cincinnati $7 million for shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez, $5 million for second baseman Jose Garcia and $4.75 million for right-hander Vladimir Gutierrez; and San Diego $11 million for left-hander Adrian Morejon and $7 million for outfielder Jorge Ona.
Moncada didn’t even get a chance to stick with the Red Sox, who paid an additional $31.5 million in tax to get him. He was dealt to the White Sox last December as part of the swap that brought left-hander Chris Sale to Boston.
Under the labor contract agreed to by the players’ union during the offseason, 16 big league teams are limited to $4.75 million for international amateurs in the signing period that started July 2, six to $5.25 million and eight to $5.75 million — all not counting bonuses of up to $10,000. Clubs can trade their allocation, with the restriction a team can acquire only 75 percent more than originally assigned.
In addition, the definition of international amateur was raised from under 23 years old with fewer than five seasons of professional experience to under 25 with less than six years.
Asian teams might outbid MLB clubs.
“To the extent an international player has another option that he’s interested in taking advantage of, he can,” said players’ association head Tony Clark, a former All-Star first baseman. “My understanding is that players have. We’ll have to see how the next couple years of international signings work.”
Third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., son of the All-Star outfielder, maintained he would not have been enticed.
“I wouldn’t go there,” said the 18-year-old, who signed with Toronto two years ago and had a pair of hits as the youngest player at the Futures Game.
Restraints on amateur draft spending for players residing in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada began in 2012, with each team assigned a signing pool and a club penalized with lost draft picks for exceeding its pool by more than 5 percent. No team went over that threshold.
Each team was also given a $2.9 million pool in 2012-13 for international amateurs — but a club was allowed to go over with a penalty tax and spending restrictions the following two years as the penalties.
Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Yadier Alvarez, who started for the World team on Sunday, agreed to a $16 million bonus. Other Cubans with large deals included Arizona right-hander Yoan Lopez ($8.26 million), Los Angeles Angels infielder Roberto Baldoquin ($8 million) and Dodgers right-hander Pablo Fernandez ($8 million).
Some drafted players complained because their signing bonuses were more limited under the 2012-16 rules than payments to their international counterparts.
“The system was unbalanced,” Clark said, explaining the new hard cap was put in place “to have equivalent systems.”
Lewis Brinson, an outfielder given a $1,625,000 bonus by Texas as the 29th overall pick, said international amateurs usually have a far different background than amateur draft selections.
“Those guys are coming from close to nothing, so they could use a little extra money,” said the 23-year-old, who made his big league debut with Milwaukee last month. “So I’m not mad at them.”
International amateurs can be signed around their 16th birthday, while players subject to the draft aren’t eligible until the year of their high school class graduation.
Alex Verdugo, a 21-year-old Mexican-American outfielder from Tucson, Arizona, said players should be understanding of the youngsters.
“It’s hard for them being so young and having to leave their homes and coming out here and kind of feel alone,” he said.