New CBA Hurts Mariners In Big Way

Dave · November 22, 2011 at 10:28 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Over the past 10 years, the Mariners have had one major competitive advantage over almost every other team in baseball – their international scouting department. Led by Bob Engle, the group has covered the globe looking for young talent, and created a pipeline of prospects that have fed into the system on an annual basis. The Mariners are consistently one of the most aggressive teams in pursuing top amateur talent from other countries, and they’ve invested heavily in international infrastructure that allows them to reap the rewards of signing quality young players.

Well, the new CBA just eliminated most of those advantages. According to Jeff Passan, each Major League team will now be allowed to spend $2.9 million total on international free agents next year – less than what many top prospects have been signing for by themselves – and then in future years, a team’s total international budget will be determined based on their Major League win-loss record. If the organization begins to win at the Major League level, they’ll have even less to spend on international talent going forward.

Major League Baseball essentially just eliminated the value of international scouting. By drastically depressing bonuses and taking away teams ability to invest in amateur talent, the most talented players are now simply going to be weighing similar offers from every team.

This is an absolutely awful decision by Major League Baseball, as they’ve decided to prioritize the lowering of total costs over the ability for teams to compete through different player acquisition strategies. The Mariners just lost one of their best assets, and now are going to have to come up with some way to offset their loss of a low-cost talent pipeline established through years of hard work.

Congratulations, MLB, you just screwed over teams who had worked extremely hard to find alternate ways to win beyond “spend on free agents”. The new rules are so awful that the only way they would make any sense was if they were written by a Steinbrenner.


44 Responses to “New CBA Hurts Mariners In Big Way”

  1. maqman on November 22nd, 2011 10:40 am

    I agree it will devalue the club’s investment in international signings. However, the best scouting clubs will spend their bonus money better than those who are thin on the ground. I believe our scouts are better than most.

  2. Hatch on November 22nd, 2011 10:45 am

    Also it’s worth noting that the undeveloped teams like the Mariners with better international departments will have less competition with the winning teams (Yankees, Sox, Rangers) especially if the money allowed to be spent is based on record.

    This is turn should help the Mariners sign players they might not be able to other wise.

    Make Sense?

  3. Mariners35 on November 22nd, 2011 11:07 am

    Those rules sound weird and arbitrary. $2.9m on international free agents… but you could still cough up 10 – 20 times that in a posting fee for a Japanese player. You can trade international free agent money… but only get it up to about $7m.

    Perhaps a worldwide draft will let the M’s regain some ground, since they’ll be participating in said draft with one of the more experienced international scouting departments?

  4. Mike Snow on November 22nd, 2011 11:21 am

    If the rules were written by a Steinbrenner, signing bonuses for international players would have been capped on an individual basis, but unlimited in the aggregate. Then Cashman and company could simply match the best offer to every significant prospect and expect to sign a disproportionate amount by selling them on the name recognition and prestige of playing for the Yankees.

    The way to understand these rules is as a jury-rigged substitute for an international draft. In conjunction with holding down bonuses in the current amateur draft, baseball wants to do the same on the international front. Part of that is just cost-saving, but the competitive balance aspect of giving worse teams first crack at improving themselves is also there. Equalizing and capping these budgets is supposed to prevent the current situation where the bonuses distort how players are distributed.

    We’ve heard for years that an international draft was supposedly in the works, but I think this arrangement is a concession that the logistics were just too difficult to pull off. Instead, it looks like we will have a somewhat crude workaround, in which teams can bid more for a particular player based on how they decide to allocate their budgets. Bad teams will get a bit larger budget and thus have the first shot to get the best prospects, as they do in the draft.

    It’s worth noting that if Engle and company are as good as their reputation, the Mariners should still have an advantage, as long as they can identify and correctly value prospects better than other teams. They won’t be allowed to operate with a larger budget than most other teams, but any advantages in actual scouting should still hold.

  5. USSWall on November 22nd, 2011 11:59 am

    So they have turned international signings into college football recruiting.

  6. MrZDevotee on November 22nd, 2011 12:04 pm

    This just sounds odd, and like somebody’s personal agenda woven into the CBA… Some pretty powerful teams, with less than stellar international scouting, were sick of all the best players going to lesser organizations, evidently. It’s like the cap was put in place INSTEAD of actually developing a system that made sense to everyone… Almost an afterthought?

    I mean, am I wrong to suspect if the money offered is the same, the players will just go to the best team offering? Heck, with the cap that low, they may go to the best team that ISN’T EVEN offering the most money…

    And what this really means is that the International Sports Agent market just exploded… Now there will be a wide open market for people with lots of connections to represent these young players… If they’re elite players, they know EXACTLY how much money they’re gonna get, so it’s up to their agent to get them the best situation possible…

    Lame. A really stupid new setup, in my opinion. It’s not like other teams couldn’t do exactly what the Mariners do in the international market already. Nothing was stopping them. (And almost seems like insult to injury, given our loss of a fan favorite Netherlands player at the same time this gets started…)

  7. wsm on November 22nd, 2011 12:16 pm

    $2.9 million will now buy a lot more than it used to in the international market. I doubt we’ll see much of a drop off in the talent coming to us out of that market.

    This sounds to me like we’re going to see a worldwide draft sooner rather than later.

    As far as players “going to the best team” – that works to the Mariners advantage still. Part of Engle’s skill is selling the Mariners as a desirable organization to sign with.

  8. robbbbbb on November 22nd, 2011 12:48 pm

    The Mariners would have been better off with an international draft, rather than this idiotic system.

    The teams this one really helps are the cheapskates who previously had little-to-no international scouting presence.

    And USSWall’s comment above, about turning it into college recruiting, is spot-on. This is a terrible deal for a whole lot of talented kids in some very poor countries.

  9. robbbbbb on November 22nd, 2011 12:50 pm

    Further question: I wonder how this thing’s worded. Can the Mariners (or other teams) now promise players a roster bonus in future years? “Okay, we can only give you $50k now, but if you stick with us for a full year, you get $1.2M.”

    Yeah, it subverts the spirit of the rule, but perhaps not the letter.

  10. _David_ on November 22nd, 2011 1:17 pm

    I’m wondering what the ultimate effect will be on where amateurs sign. The top talents will still be signed, just for less. Baseball is still the only game in town in Latin America (I’ve never looked into whether top Latin players have opportunities to play soccer for big money, so this could be a factor), so it is the amateurs who are harmed the most by this.

    However wouldn’t the scouting knowledge, baseball academies, relationships built with prospects and their families still be a huge determinant? If they can no longer get more money from the Yankees, maybe they will sign with the Mariners, who made a convincing argument about the quality of their organization, or the Rays, who can point to their track record of developing quality major league players from amateur talent. I hope there is some way this turns out okay and not a disaster

  11. fret_24 on November 22nd, 2011 1:26 pm

    The Yankees won’t be able to match money and depend on reputation to sway a players decision…they won’t have the money. Next year the Yankees will start with something like 1.8M to spend while the Astros will have 5M. The Yanks would have to trade prospects in exchange for more international money if they wanted to be competitive with their offers.

    It seems like most of the international signings have already taken place this year. I don’t see this change having a big effect on this off season.

    I should add that I’m not saying that I totally agree with this change, I can just see where they’re coming from…

  12. Milendriel on November 22nd, 2011 1:32 pm

    Between this and the changes to Rule 4 draft budgets, I wonder if we’ll simply see young athletes choose different sports instead. That’s what worries me as much as anything–the best talent will go where the money is.

  13. MTM on November 22nd, 2011 1:39 pm

    (I’ve never looked into whether top Latin players have opportunities to play soccer for big money, so this could be a factor)

    Latin American soccer players play in the richest leagues around the world, including the English Premier League, Bundesliga (Germany), Serie A (Italy), Ligue 1 (France), La Liga (Spain) and many other places. The best ones can earn big money.

  14. the other benno on November 22nd, 2011 1:41 pm

    To be honest, this, and the draft penalties, feels more like the players’ union finding a way to force teams to spend more on union members than MLB destroying competitive balance in the name of cost cutting. I know both of these concepts derive from Selig’s desires for draft caps and an international draft, but the MLBPA may well have twisted them just enough to make them protection for union jobs.

  15. DAMellen on November 22nd, 2011 1:47 pm

    Dave, weren’t you in favor of an idea like this at some point? A budget for all amateur players instead of just international ones? What makes this rule so much worse? Because it specifically reduces the value of international scouting instead scouting in general?

  16. Joe C on November 22nd, 2011 1:57 pm

    My guess of what happens with the best players is that they’d have a $2.9 million contract for the first year and be promised a spot in a big league lineup with a bigger contract starting in year two.

    Wouldn’t this set up the first year in the organization as a sort of probationary period (ie; a tryout for the Yankees or Red Sox in a Royals uniform)?

  17. MrZDevotee on November 22nd, 2011 2:18 pm

    Ding, Ding, Ding…

    Other Benno seems to be onto something… Yes, it does actually make sense that MLB players saw it as a way to keep more money for the Major Leaguers, by limiting the amount international players can sign for… I hadn’t thought of that.

    Also, without an international draft, that market was basically supply and demand, with no limits/directions to the process like a draft scenario.

    Makes sense in that light, I suppose.

    Now if they could just do something about the bizarrely inflated Japanese posting fees. (WHY ON EARTH will it- possibly- cost more per year to sign Yu Darvish, than Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder?)

  18. ChrisB on November 22nd, 2011 2:26 pm

    I don’t quite understand why they cannot do an international draft, with the draft being for the MLB “rights” to a player. This is what they do in the NHL, so it is not a logistics issue or a competition bureau issue – is it a problem of international sanction?

  19. Mike Snow on November 22nd, 2011 2:40 pm

    It’s not so much logistics in the sense of defining what rights are being acquired. The logistics are in the problems of defining eligibility, identifying the persons being drafted, and avoiding the kinds of abuses that crop up in the existing system. Witness all the issues with age and identity falsification in recent years.

  20. gag harbor on November 22nd, 2011 2:43 pm

    Seems they forgot to cap annual salaries at the same time. The teams with limited payroll ceiling had international scouting & signings as a way to compete with NY/Boston/etc. payrolls. Not anymore.

  21. wabbles on November 22nd, 2011 3:31 pm

    Gag Harbor, exactly. It’s my understanding that the amateur draft and Rule V were enacted because teams such as the Yankees signed all the best players and then just horded them in their farm system (hence the Rule V draft). The Mariners have had better international scouting than most the past decade but it hasn’t brought us 10 pennants. So hmmmm…. I suppose this prevents the sort of bidding the Mariners got into with the Yankees for…the Cuban pitcher who wasn’t as good as advertised…Contreras? What bothers me is The Beatles said they rose above hundreds of similarly talented English bands because they worked twice as hard. The Mariners international scouting is so much better than others because we’ve worked twice as hard (not really relied upon “You can play for THE YANKEES). Now our hard work will get lost in a socialist system. ARGH

  22. KaminaAyato on November 22nd, 2011 3:38 pm

    It does seem odd that they decided to do this with international FA, though perhaps they were thinking that in giving the worse teams a bigger pool that they have a better chance as well of obtaining international talent. Dunno if that’s the right way to do it, but I hope the M’s international scouting doesn’t take too big a hit (though right now their record would get them a bigger pool anyways).

    Did anyone notice too that there is a mention of expanding replay or fair/foul (which I assume means in play), and trapped balls? – Article X.f

    Also, there is a competitive balance lottery which gives 6 extra picks at the end of the 1st and 2nd rounds to a lottery containing the 10 lowest revenue + 10 smallest markets? – Article III.e.5

  23. just a fan on November 22nd, 2011 3:39 pm

    I absolutely hate the way they’ve reformed the draft and international signing bonuses, especially with no corresponding minimum salary increase. The best players get ripped off their first three or four years already. And we complain about players like Figgins!

    There should still be a competitive advantage for the best international scouting groups. Even moreso if the Mariners can develop Jose Campos and/or Victor Sanchez, to go along with what happened with Pineda and Felix (and the other domestic pitchers).

    The reputation of developing players at certain positions will be more important than ever, and all the more reason to be happy the M’s didn’t play the Super-Two game with Pineda.

  24. just a fan on November 22nd, 2011 3:44 pm

    Maybe that’s the solution. Develop a reputation for increasing the base salaries pre-arbitration with international players, along with giving more generous extensions earlier to those who are successful.

  25. ripperlv on November 22nd, 2011 6:48 pm

    There you go, there’s got to be a loop-hole somewhere.

  26. dantheman on November 22nd, 2011 7:22 pm

    Really? The Mariners, a team that has lost an average of 93 games a year over the last four years, had a “competitive advantage”? If the new rules permit spending inversely related to a team’s won loss record, that would tremendously favor the Mariners. “Competitive advantage”. That’s a good one.

  27. gag harbor on November 22nd, 2011 7:39 pm

    I’m inclined to believe there is something sinister about this rule change in the CBA. Namely, that this is an attempt to limit the expenditures on Latin American youth development so more resources can be directed at domestic development. There have been outcries in past about how teams have favored spending almost unlimited funds on foreign talent while ignoring ways to build grass roots programs in the U.S. Those developmental academies down there have become too much for Selig to ignore any longer?

  28. henryv on November 22nd, 2011 8:02 pm

    Holy smokes, you mean that Bud Selig acted in a way to positively affect the big-spending north east teams while absolutely screwing the small and mid-market teams?

    No way!

    In other surprising news, it rained today.

  29. fret_24 on November 22nd, 2011 8:07 pm

    The new over slot penalties should keep domestic spending down as well. It looks like they are trying to lower the prices for amateurs across the board, not just Latin players. I don’t see this as a racial thing, if that’s what you’re trying to say.

  30. skjes on November 22nd, 2011 8:27 pm

    dantheman, the Mariners absolutely had an advantage in international scouting. That’s what brought us Felix, Pineda, Asdrubal Cabrera, Lopez, Yuni (the latter both highly sought-after toolsy prospects at the time, even if they busted later), etc. The fact that Bavasi squandered so much of that talent doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.

  31. philosofool on November 22nd, 2011 8:43 pm

    I don’t get why you believe that this hurts the M’s.

    If everyone has $10 to invest, then the smartest investor makes the most money. If some have more to invest than others, then the ones with the most to invest make the most, even if they make that money less efficiently. If our scouting really is so good, this only increases ability to make more in the international market.

  32. gag harbor on November 22nd, 2011 9:10 pm

    The Mariners were among the biggest spenders in international signings. Our chances of signing the next Felix Hernandez just went down exponentially.

  33. Liam on November 22nd, 2011 11:09 pm

    At the end of a spirited bidding war, the Mariners gave him an extraordinary signing bonus of $710,000 — and Hernandez said Seattle was not even the highest bidder.

    “The money was good, and Seattle treated me the best,” he said through an interpreter.

  34. jwolf0 on November 23rd, 2011 8:19 am

    I don’t get why you believe that this hurts the M’s.

    If everyone has $10 to invest, then the smartest investor makes the most money. If some have more to invest than others, then the ones with the most to invest make the most, even if they make that money less efficiently. If our scouting really is so good, this only increases ability to make more in the international market.

    Probably for the same reason a lot of lower-payroll teams are grumbling about the bonus pool for draft picks. If Hotshot International Prospect gets offered 500k by the Pirates and the Yankees, whose money would he be more likely to take? The Pittsburghs and the KCs and the Seattles (sigh) of the world just aren’t as sexy as the Yankees and the Red Sox, and lesser-profile teams can’t really dangle the carrot of more money anymore.

    Also, Seattle’s put so much time and money into the international market that $2.9 million isn’t enough to sign all the players we’d discover. It’s like putting in lots of hard work to find 15 diamonds but being able to only take 3 home.

  35. MKT on November 23rd, 2011 8:34 am

    If Hotshot International Prospect gets offered 500k by the Pirates and the Yankees, whose money would he be more likely to take?

    Without the international signing cap, would H.I.P. have signed with the Pirates anyway, with the Yanks dangling $MM in front of him? Dice-K signed with the Red Sox, not with the Pirates.

    Conversely, according to a poster above, Felix signed with the Ms for less money than another team had offered. So I do not believe that the presence or absence of an international signing quota is what determines success; as others have been noting it’s the quality of the international scouting that matters.

  36. diderot on November 23rd, 2011 10:25 am

    I’m not sure I see the huge downside in this.

    1) Initially, players can’t be swayed by the most money…which is typically offered by the richest organizations.
    2) The best scouting groups are still the best scouting groups. While everyone may recognize the top 20 prospects internationally, maybe only the best understand the next 20.
    3) I agree that agents become even more important for these players, but instead of bargaining for the top money, they start bargaining for the top opportunity. If you’re a second baseman and one organization’s system is already loaded there, it seems likely that the agent will direct the player to another which has no depth at that position. The idea being that the faster the player rises through the system, the faster he and the agent hit pay dirt.

    What I don’t know is what obligation the player has to his system once the initial ‘deal’ plays out. Are free agency rules the same? 40 man roster restrictions?

  37. msfanmike on November 23rd, 2011 10:55 am

    $2.9 million will now buy a lot more than it used to in the international market. I doubt we’ll see much of a drop off in the talent coming to us out of that market.

    This sounds to me like we’re going to see a worldwide draft sooner rather than later.

    As far as players “going to the best team” – that works to the Mariners advantage still. Part of Engle’s skill is selling the Mariners as a desirable organization to sign with.

    WSM stated it correctly. This is exactly right.

    People focused on the process will worry about this change, perpetually. People focused on results will find ways to be successful, regardless of the process.

    WSM, I assume you would fall into the latter category. Nicely done.

  38. Paul B on November 23rd, 2011 10:56 am

    Is this a true cap? Or is it the luxury tax thing?

    If a team can go over cap by paying a luxury tax, then the Yanks and Red Sox will just sign whoever they want for whatever it takes, and then pay the tax. That’s what they do with salaries now.

  39. onetreehugger on November 23rd, 2011 11:02 am

    I think the main idea of the league is to hold down expenses — it seems like a 16-year-old with promise can get a bigger bonus than a 22-year-old college player who’s almost big-league ready.

    I think most of the big-money players the Mariners get aren’t secrets, but other teams don’t rate them as high or don’t spend their money on international players. Still, the Mariners do well with international signings and spend more than a lot of teams who don’t.

    If most teams use all their money to get the one player they think has potential to make the bigs, I would be surprised if the Mariners aren’t spending a lot less on international scouting in the future.

    I also suspect that a lot of players who go to teams now may be unsigned, which would be a shame, or their signing bonus will be free peanut butter sandwiches to live on when they make the minors.

    Why do people think the CBA isn’t written by the richest teams? Most sports CBAs are a combination of what the richest owners and richest players want, which is odd considering that the more numerous poorer teams and players have to vote it in. Money talks . . . and the rest of us walk.

  40. Pete Livengood on November 23rd, 2011 4:23 pm

    just a fan wrote:

    “Maybe that’s the solution. Develop a reputation for increasing the base salaries pre-arbitration with international players, along with giving more generous extensions earlier to those who are successful.”

    I wonder if there might be a move to offer contracts that increase the effective minor league salary. I have no idea how this works now (other than with higher picks who get MLB contracts and added to the 40-man right away), but since this CBA addresses only bonuses rather than salaries, maybe they’ll find ways to push money at “signability issue” draftees in ways other than bonus money. And then do the other stuff just a fan suggests, above.

  41. GLS on November 23rd, 2011 4:24 pm

    I would like to hear more details about the portion of the $2.9m that can be traded. This is an interesting concept. I can see the potential for a cap space market to develop. For example, I wonder if it would be possible for a team to trade $100K in cap space in year one for $200K in cap space in some future year or years?

  42. GLS on November 23rd, 2011 4:48 pm

    The comment earlier about the cap turning the IFA market into college recruiting is potentially spot on. I say “potentially” because we have yet to see what teams will actually do. But, given a limit in actual dollars that can be spent, the logical next step is to come up with creative ways of compensating players that don’t fall under that constraint. So, if I can’t sign Pedro or Juan with a $5m bonus, what else can I do to convince him that he should sign with my organization? Well, what if I “loaned” his parents money to buy a new house or a new tractor for the farm? What if I created a scholarship program for his siblings so that they could all go to private schools or universities in the states? What if I hired a bunch of immigration attorneys to come up with ways to get the rest of his family off the island?

    These are just some thoughts.

  43. Celadus on November 24th, 2011 2:19 pm

    There is a reasonable strategy for those teams who are the most knowledgeable about international talent.

    Since these teams will have a more comprehensive list of talented players, unless they have a compelling need for one specific player, they can wait for other teams to spend most of their allotment and then scoop up the unsigned players they want at a relative discount.

  44. greentunic on November 24th, 2011 5:58 pm

    If this hurts certain teams so much, then why was the CBA agreement reached so quickly? My guess is that there may be some things in the agreement we’re missing that balance this out or maybe GM’s like JZ don’t see it as a big hurdle.

    Maybe they think limiting all teams to certain amounts DOES increase the advantage of excellent scouting?

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