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The Twins and the 2017-2018 international signing period: A primer

The MLB Draft is done, so now it’s time to sign foreign prospects. Here’s the basics of how it will work this year for the Minnesota Twins.

Dominican Republic Photo Day
More David Ortiz. Sorry. It just looked like a nice international picture.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

As the pages on your kitten-of-the-day desk calendar start to fall away in a slick montage, we have arrived at the MLB international signing period. This is the period during which teams can sign prospects from other countries. The MLB and Players Association updated some of the rules for the 2017-2018 signing period, so let’s go over the basics of the current system.

When is the international signing period?

July 2nd of 2017 through June 15th of 2018.

Who is eligible to be an international signing?

International, unsigned prospects. You can’t sign if you live in the US, Canada, or US territories like Puerto Rico — you have to go through the MLB Draft in that case. If you went to high school or college in one of those places, you go through the draft too.

As a player, you have to be at least 17 years old to sign. If you’re 16, you can also sign if you turn 17 before September 1st or the end of the MiLB season.

Why does this even matter?

This is the main way that teams at the major and minor league level acquire players from countries outside of the MLB June Amateur Draft’s reach. For the Twins, players such as Max Kepler, Miguel Sano, Ervin Santana, and Eduardo Escobar were all originally international signings (though Santana and Escobar were not originally signed by the Twins). Important prospects like Wander Javier, Felix Jorge, and Lewin Diaz were also acquired this way.

What are bonus pools all about?

Every team has a set bonus pool available to hand out to their international players. This can be compared to the June draft bonuses, in that if a team saves on one player, they can spend more on another; but unlike the draft, there is no slotting system. There is simply a hard cap on the amount teams can spend. The new bonus pool system means we probably won’t see a player get paid like Miguel Sano did for a long time.

So how much is the bonus pools?

The base bonus pool amount for each team is $4.75 million. This amount can change depending on free agent signings the prior season. A team who received a comp pick in the June draft will also have an extra half million or full million dollars to spend, depending on which round. This means the Twins will be able to give up to $5.25 million in bonuses to their international signings in the 2017-2018 signing period.

The Twins could also pick up a bit more capital -- Any team that signs a qualifying offer free agent forfeits a portion of their pool, which is evenly distributed among the other teams. The Twins did not sign any qualified free agents this off season. The pool amounts are supposed to rise in the future with league revenues.

Can teams trade bonus pool money?

Absolutely, but there are limits. This season, teams can trade for up to 75% of their original amount. That means the Twins could add up to $3.94 million, for a total of $9.19 million in their bonus pool. These trades could not take place until today, July 2nd, but can occur even if a team has spent its full allotment. In other words, if they spend their entire pool, but want another player, they could trade to increase their pool amount.

There is no limit on how much a team can trade away — if they wanted to, they could trade every penny. You can also flip money you trade for to a third team. Pool money cannot be traded straight up for cash, or as a PTBNL.

Can you spend your entire bonus on one player?

The MLB hasn’t set any limits on how much a single player can receive within the pool, so sure, if you want to, you could spend the entire bonus pool on one player. That would be impractical though, as it would limit your talent acquisition for the year.

What happens if you spend more than your pool bonus?

Depending on how much you overspend, the MLB will charge a luxury tax, and may cap the bonus you can give to any single player in the next signing period or two. Teams that exceeded their bonus pool last year will be unable to sign any player for more than $300,000 during this year. Fortunately, this does not apply to the Twins.

Is anyone exempt from the bonus pool system?

You bet! Any signing bonus less than $10,000 does not count against the bonus pool. Neither does any player who is at least 25 years old and played at least 6 years of professional baseball internationally.

Foreign professionals? What about posting fees then?

Posting fees for players from the KBO and NPB leagues are an entirely different process, and don’t impact your bonus pool. For the Mexican Leagues, where teams often keep a portion of the bonus, only the part that goes to the player counts against the bonus pool.

Does a player have to report to their team immediately upon signing?

If a player signs between July 2nd and the end of the MLB season, they can be signed “for future service.” Signing that way essentially means the contract is for the next baseball season. After the MLB season ends, the contracts begin immediately.

Ok, get to the point. Who are the Twins going to sign?

Obviously, no one outside the organization really knows yet. According to reports, however, the Twins are set to sign Jelfrey Marte, a switch hitting shortstop from the Dominican Republic. He is reportedly going to cost around $3 million to sign, which would be a bit over half the total pool.