Spending on signing bonuses for international amateur free agents dropped 25 percent to $153 million from $203 million in the first year of restraints, which cost Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani more than $100 million.
Spending was capped by baseball’s collective bargaining agreement beginning with the signing period from last July 2 through June 15.
Dominican shortstop Wander Franco received the largest bonus, $3,825,000 from Tampa Bay. Venezuelan catcher Daniel Flores was second at $3.3 million from Boston.
Just five other players received bonuses of more than $2 million: Cuban outfielder Julio Pablo Martinez ($2.8 million from Texas) was third, followed by Bahamian outfielder Kristian Robinson ($2.55 million from Arizona), Dominican shortstop Luis Garcia ($2.5 million from Philadelphia), Ohtani ($2,315,000 from the Los Angeles Angels) and Dominican shortstop Rony Mauricio ($2.1 million from the New York Mets).
Under the new rules, international amateurs were redefined as under 25 years old and with less than six years of professional experience, up from 23 years old and less than five years of experience. That meant teams were limited to what they could offer Ohtani, who hit .289 with six homers and 20 RBIs in 34 games and went 4-1 with a 3.10 ERA before the right-hander hurt his pitching elbow. Under the old rules, he would likely have signed a long-term deal for more than $150 million.
During the 2016-17 signing period, four Cubans were given contracts that included signing bonuses above $5 million: Chicago White Sox outfielder Luis Robert agreed to $26 million, followed by San Diego pitcher Adrian Morejon at $11 million, and Cincinnati shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez and Padres outfielder Jorge Ona at $7 million each.
San Diego spent $40.8 million on international amateurs in the 2016-17 signing period, incurring a $37.4 million tax. Other big spenders were the White Sox ($29 million in bonuses, $25.2 million in tax), Cincinnati ($17.7 million/$12.4 million) and Atlanta ($17.3 million/$12.8 million).
Under the labor contract agreed to in November 2016, hard restrictions were put in place. Sixteen teams initially were limited in 2017-18 to $4.75 million, six to $5.25 million and eight to $5.75 million — all not counting bonuses of up to $10,000. Teams were able to trade allocations, and the New York Yankees boosted theirs to $8,309,000, followed by Texas at $8.1 million and Boston at $8 million.
Baltimore lowered its pool to $500,000.
Teams’ bonus pools totaled $153.5 million and they spent $149,676,750. Counting bonuses of up to $10,000, which don’t count against the pool, spending totaled $153,362,100. The 2018-19 pools total $158,889,500, up 3.5 percent.
Spending on international amateurs had increased from $74 million in 2012-13 to $156 million in 2015-16.
As a result of exceeded thresholds in 2016-17 under the rules of the previous collective bargaining agreement, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Houston, Oakland, St. Louis, San Diego and Washington were prohibited from signing international amateurs for bonuses of more than $300,000 both in 2017-18 and will be again in 2018-19. The Chicago Cubs, Kansas City, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco were not allowed to in 2017-18.
Restraints were introduced in the 2012-16 labor contract on spending on draft picks, players who reside in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. Bonuses for those players totaled $234 million in 2011, dropped to $223 million in the first year of the new rules and didn’t reach their prior level until 2015’s $249 million, according to Major League Baseball. Draft spending rose to $269 million for 2016 selections and $289 million for 2017 picks.
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