Saturday Links: Posting System, IFAs, Sanchez, All-Star Game

Otani. (Masterpress/Getty)
Otani. (Masterpress/Getty)

The Yankees and Cubs continue their three-game weekend series with the middle game today, though not until 7pm ET. Weekend night games are just the worst. Here are some notes to check out as you wait for first pitch.

MLB seeks to revise posting agreement with NPB

According to report out of Japan, Major League Baseball has applied to renegotiate a provision in their posting agreement with Nippon Pro Baseball. That’s the system used to bring players from Japan over to MLB. Apparently MLB wants to reduce the maximum release fee, which is currently $20M. The owners are trying to cut costs? I’m shocked. Shocked I tell you. The two sides will reportedly discuss the matter Monday.

MLB managed to get NPB to agree to an overhauled posting system four years ago, conveniently right before Masahiro Tanaka came over. The old system was a blind auction, and the team that made the high bid won the player’s negotiating rights. Under the new system, the player is allowed to negotiate with every team like a true free agent, and only the team that signs him has to pay the release fee. That’s how the Yankees landed Tanaka.

So, the last time a significant player was set to come over (Tanaka), MLB was able to change the system to lower costs. (The Rangers won the rights to Yu Darvish with a massive $51.7M bid under the old system years ago.) Now another significant player (Shohei Otani) is expected to come to MLB soon, and they want to lower costs again. A sense a pattern.

Yankees expected to sign three top international free agents

MLB.com released their top 30 prospects for the 2017-18 international signing period earlier this week, and according to the write-ups, the Yankees are expected to sign three of those top 30 players: Venezuelan OF Everson Pereira (No. 4 on the top 30), Dominican 2B Ronny Rojas (No. 11), and Venezuelan OF Roberto Chirinos (No. 16). You can read the scouting reports for free at the MLB.com link. We’ve heard the Yankees connected to Pereira before. The international signing period opens July 2nd, as always.

A few things about the 2017-18 IFA signing period. One, the Yankees can spend again! The penalties from the 2014-15 spending spree, which limited the Yankees to a maximum bonus of $300,000 in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods, have expired. Two, this is the first signing period with the hard cap, and the Yankees only have $4.75M to spend. Not a penny more. That stinks. And three, this is potential the Otani signing period. He’ll be subject to the hard cap because he is not yet 25 years old. His earning potential is severely limited at the moment.

Based on the write-ups, several other potential Otani suitors (Red Sox, Cubs, Blue Jays, Mariners, etc.) are expected to sign some of MLB.com’s top 30 international prospects, indicating they are not saving their bonus money for Otani. Others like the Dodgers, Giants, Astros, Nationals, and Cardinals will be limited to $300,000 bonuses as part of the penalties for past international spending. Is anyone going to have hard cap space left for Otani? Assuming teams following through on their agreements with international amateurs, there might not be any money left over. Hmmm.

Sanchez has top selling AL jersey

Gary & 'Hiro. (Elsa/Getty)
Gary & ‘Hiro. (Elsa/Getty)

Two weeks ago MLB and the MLBPA announced their annual top selling player jerseys list based on online sales since the end of the 2016 World Series. Here is the press release. You will be surprised to learn the defending World Series champion Cubs dominate the top of the list:

  1. Kris Bryant, Cubs
  2. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
  3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  4. Javier Baez, Cubs
  5. Kyle Schwarber, Cubs

Gary Sanchez ranks ninth on the best selling jerseys list overall, but is first among AL players. He’s one spot ahead of Mike Trout and five spots ahead of Mookie Betts. Sanchez, Trout, Betts, Francisco Lindor, Jose Altuve, Dustin Pedroia, and Josh Donaldson are the only AL players in the top 20. The list is decidedly NL (and Cubs) heavy. Pretty cool that Sanchez is so popular already. I guess doing what he did last year has a way of creating attention.

Over the last week, however, Aaron Judge has the third best selling player jersey behind Bryant and Rizzo, according to Buster Olney. The Yankees should have give away Aaron Judge-sized Aaron Judge shirts at a game one day as a promotion. That would be pretty cool.

All-Star Game voting opens

Voting for the 2017 All-Star Game starters is now open. They get a really early start on this each season. The ballot is right here. You can vote pretty much an unlimited number of times, though you’ll need different email addresses. On merit, both Aaron Judge and Starlin Castro legitimately deserve All-Star votes right now. Will they in two months? I sure hope so. I doesn’t really matter though. Royals fans are going to stuff the ballot like they always do anyway. Looking forward to seeing Eric Hosmer at first base, you guys.

The 2017-18 international free agent class and the Shohei Otani question

(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)
(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)

For years and years and years, the Yankees built their farm system through international free agency. They were in contention every year and forfeiting their low first round picks to sign top free agents all the time, though they were able to spend freely in international free agency to compensate. That’s why so many of their top prospects from 1998-2012 or so were international signees. Alfonso Soriano, Wily Mo Pena, Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang, Melky Cabrera, Jesus Montero, and so on.

Nowadays teams can’t spend freely internationally. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement implemented a hard spending cap. Under the just completed CBA, each team was given a set bonus pool and punished harshly if they exceeded it. It was a soft cap. Three years ago the Yankees blew their bonus pool out of the water and signed many of the best available players. Four of my top 30 prospects were part of the 2014-15 international signing class.

As a result of that spending spree, the Yankees had to pay a 100% tax on every penny they spent over their bonus pool — the total payout between bonuses and taxes was north of $30M — plus they were unable to sign a player for more than $300,000 during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 international signing periods. That restriction will be lifted when the 2017-18 international signing period begins July 2nd. Hooray for that.

Earlier this week Ben Badler (subs. req’d) reported the Yankees, who have a $4.75M international cap this year, have been connected to Venezuelan center fielder Everson Periera in advance of the 2017-18 signing period. I can’t find much on the kid at all, but apparently he’s a big deal. Here’s some video:

The Yankees and every other team have been scouting international players for years, and I’m certain there are some contract agreements already in place even though they aren’t allowed. It happens all the time. Badler is the best in the business, and if he says the Yankees are connected to Periera, I not only don’t doubt him one bit, I assume the two sides already have some kind of deal in place.

The international hard cap really stinks, especially for the kids, though at least the Yankees will be able to hand out large bonuses to talented kids like Periera again. Being limited to $300,000 bonuses the last two signing periods stunk. The big question to me right now is not necessarily who will the Yankee sign on July 2nd. It’s how are the Yankees planning for Shohei Otani, if at all?

Otani, as you surely know, is the best player in the world not under contract with an MLB team. He threw 140 innings with a 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts for the Nippon Ham Fighters last year while also hitting .322/.416/.588 with 22 homers. Most agree Otani’s long-term future lies on the mound because he has ace potential. For now, he’s a monster two-way player for the (Ham) Fighters.

Otani has expressed interest in coming over to MLB as soon as next offseason, though because he is only 22, he will be subject to the international hard cap. He’d have to wait three years until he’s 25 to be able to sign for any amount like a true free agent. Should Otani be posted after this coming season, all 30 clubs figure to shovel their remaining international cap space in front of him and hope it’s enough to sign him. What else could you do?

If you’re the Yankees — or any other team, for that matter — do you pass on Periera and everyone else on July 2nd and instead conserve your international cap space for Otani in the offseason? It’s awfully risky. Otani is not guaranteed to be posted. You’re walking away from the top international talent in July with no assurances Otani will be available after the season, and even if he is available, it’s far from a guarantee you’ll sign him. The odds of ending up with no talent and a bunch of international money burning a hole in your pocket is quite high.

At the same time, Otani is so insanely talented that you’d hate to take yourself out of the market for a big league ready impact player to sign a bunch of 16-year-old kids who are years away from reaching MLB. (The Yankees signed Gary Sanchez, a top international prospect, in July 2009 and it wasn’t until August 2016 that he reached the show for good, so yeah.) Otani would fit New York’s youth movement so well. He’d be the young rotation cornerstone they need going forward.

There’s always a chance the (Ham) Fighters will announce in advance they’re going to post Otani after the season, but I can’t remember that ever happening. If anything, it’s usually the opposite. We wait weeks and weeks in the offseason waiting for the team to decide whether to post the player. That’s what happened with Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish. We didn’t know for sure they would be posted until their teams actually posted them.

I can’t imagine the (Ham) Fighters want to announce they’re moving their best player after the season ahead of time. That won’t sit well with fans. Then again, perhaps they could make a great event out of it and have a big farewell tour. That’d be kinda cool. Point is, it’s far from certain Otani will be available after the season. He may decide to wait out the next three years, make good money in Japan, then come over to MLB when he’s 25 and no longer subject to the international hard cap.

That the Yankees are already connected to a guy like Periera indicates they plan on approaching the 2017-18 international free agency period as if it’s business as usual. Badler’s report says eleven other clubs, including traditional big international spenders like the Red Sox, Mariners, and Blue Jays, are also connected to Latin American players for the 2017-18 signing period, so the Yankees aren’t the only team taking this approach.

(The Athletics, Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Nationals, Padres, Reds, and Royals will all be limited to $300,000 bonuses during the 2017-18 international free agency period as a result of past spending, so that’s the max they could offer Otani next offseason.)

My guess right now is that, despite the rumblings, Otani will not be posted next winter. The max bonus he can receive under the international hard cap is only a touch more than his projected salary with the (Ham) Fighters in 2018. He could remain in Japan until 2019, make close to what he’d make in MLB in the meantime, then come over when he can sign a monster contract at 25. The Yankees and plenty of other clubs seem to be proceeding as if that will be the case.