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Understanding Baseball: The International Amateur Free Agency Bonus Pool

It’s complicated. but not really.

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

You, like me, probably remember the blockbuster deal the Twins made earlier on in spring training. A whirlwind day of wheeling and dealing by the front office whiz kids managed to turn Zack Granite into $750,000 of international signing bonus space (and who can forget the Xavier Moore era in-between).

At first glance, one might assume that the Twins were given $750,000 of cash (that they could, you know, spend) in the swap. However, this is not the case. The Twins traded Zack Granite for Xavier Moore (I know it’s hard, but try to keep up), and then traded Moore for the privilege to spend $750,000 (of their own money) on amateur free agents from countries other than the U.S. and Canada. So what’s this *takes breath* “international amateur free agency bonus pool” all about?

What is an international amateur free agent?

International amateur free agents are players (at least 16 years old) who do not live (or go to school) in the U.S. or Canada. They are not draft-eligible, and therefore teams pick them up through the international signing process. Players from the U.S. or Canada are drafted. Exemptions from the process include “foreign professionals”: players 25 or older who have played for at least 6 seasons in a foreign professional league recognized by the MLB. Former international amateur free agents who are on the Twins right now include Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, and Miguel Sano.

How does the signing pool system work?

Alright, here’s where it can get a little confusing. The international signing period is between July 2 and June 15 of the following year. Every team is given a cap (maximum) of $4.75 million to spend on international amateur free agents. Simple enough. However, teams that receive a draft pick in Competitive Balance Round A (stick with me) have an extra $0.5 million (for a total of $5.25 million) under their cap, and those who receive a draft pick in Competitive Balance Round B have an extra $1 million ($5.75 million). Got it? No? Me neither.

What’s this nonsense about extra draft picks in rounds that have letters instead of numbers? The Competitive Balance rounds are established by the current collective bargaining agreement between the players’ association and the MLB. A takes place between rounds 1 and 2 of the draft, and B takes place between rounds 2 and 3. Six of the lowest-revenue and smallest-market teams get an extra draft pick in Round A. Between six and eight of the rest of the lowest-revenue and smallest-market teams get extra draft picks in Round B. So the teams that pick in Round B (which is later than A) are compensated by receiving the privilege to spend more money in international amateur free agency.

Still here? We’re almost there. The final thing I want to cover is the trading of the cap space. After each team has their cap determined, they are allowed to trade it. This cap space can be traded (in increments of $250,000) for players or cash. However, a team can acquire no more than 60 percent of their initial pool. For example, a team with $4.75 million in cap space could only acquire an extra $2.85 million, for a grand total of $7.6 million.

Why did the Twins trade for the privilege to spend an extra $750,000 on international amateur free agents? It comes down to this: the ability to spend more money than their competitors gives the Twins a leg up on trying to sign the best and brightest from foreign countries.