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Into International Waters Of MLB

  In the second part of ESBC’s series on the trials and tribulations of minor league players, we dive into the seedy under belly of baseball. Major League Baseball’s international amateur free agent period opens up every July 2nd. Hundreds of 16 year old prospects who are not playing amateur baseball in the US or Puerto Rico are essentially put up for sale on this date. The money is life changing but the road to this point is nearly as arduous, maybe more so, as the “Road to the Show.” Today we dive into the specifics of IFA’s, the downsides of the system and a possible fix, and the controversy that even cost one general manager his career in the majors.     To truly understand the outlook of the IFA signing period as a whole, you must understand where it begins. Commonly it begins on a patch of dirt in a Latin American country such as the Dominican Republic, Curacao, and Venezuela. Unfortunately these countries, whle rich in baseball talent, is rich in little else. Aluminum bats, hats, mitts, cleats, grass all are missing from these countries to nearly the entire population. In the region, baseball is truly a lifestyle.It is the only way out of poverty for most. If at a young age, a young Latin player shows promise he is trust into that baseball lifestyle. While the “Road to the Show” may be tough for US born players, for Latin players it is just another hurdle to clear all while going from a patch of dirt to a well manicured baseball diamond.    The Dominican Republic may not be the most well known country to most but if you are a baseball fan it sure is. More of a baseball factory than country to baseball fans, it’s biggest export is gold. For all 30 teams mining the baseball mines of the DR and all of Latin America, is similar to the gold rush in the US. For a while it was a wild west. IFA rules are negotiated in every CBA and just like MiLB players, IFAs are not represented, but their futures are held in the MLBPA’s hands. Under the Bud Selig administration, it was not really an agenda item. Teams could spend as much as needed and only incur slight penalties. Rob Manfred has changed many rules and regulations and the system we have now while still broken, is holding more water than systems before. Here are the specifics:

  • Players must be at least 16 years old on 7/2 of that year.
  • Currently teams have 4.75 million dollars to spend to pay IFA’s one-time bonuses to join the organization. Certain MLB free agent compensation could grant a team an extra million.
  • Teams can trade money 4 times.
  • Teams may carry over money from even numbered years into odd numbered years, but not vise versa. For example in 2020 a team could elect not to spend any of the 4.75 million and carry it into 2021, you couldn’t do that in 2019 into 2020.

    The dirty secret (which is poorly kept) is that despite rules saying teams can only sign players when they turn 16, it is loosely enforced. Most deals are a formality by July 2nd. The main reason this is allowed to happen is, it’s very hard to really police. Most young Latin players who just got life changing money are not ready to call their team out for signing them early. Sometimes however once in awhile the cat catches the mouse.    The mouse in question was former Braves GM John Coppolella in 2017. MLB investigators found numerous violations against the Braves including signing a 14 year old SS two years before he was eligible, offering players “off the book” perks and incentives, and paying players more that the listed amount. The penalties were harsh and for the Braves, it shed light on why they had been so good during previous IFA signing periods. Nearly 14 players were released from the Braves, free to sign anywhere else. The most notable IFA prospect was Kevin Maitan,  who was signed up by the Angels at nearly the same time as Shohei Ohtani. Coppolella took the heaviest penalty of all, banishment. The penalty draws a line in the sand. Major League Baseball knows their international waters are not only murky but lawless, However this administration has shown that if you do get caught, it will not just be a slap on the wrist.      A fix to this problem is something that is needed but not easily found. As long as i could remember the main solution would be to institute an IFA draft. Most scouts and executives are split down the middle on the subject. Currently, outside of cheating, the best way to succeed in this period is to devote huge amounts of money and resources along with entire scouting departments. The current CBA expires 12-1-2021 and while other topics will be more ballyhooed, the IFA situation should get more attention than it will. The problems are plentiful but are able to be remedied in 2021. Unfortunately the biggest of the problems is lack of union representation. Like MiLB players, the young Latin Americans await the decisions that will change their lives, being decided by men who view them as negotiation fodder.


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Anaheim Angels:
Our second stop on our tour around the AL west brings us to Anaheim.

  • Full-house cleaning done after not only a underachieving season but a death at the big league level that has legal ramifications. The fallout from the T Skaggs drug overdose was a black cloud on an already somber situation.
  • J Maddon is the new skipper in charge and was the best managerial option available in the offseason. Maddon returns to the dugout in which he served under M Scoscia. Maddon is known for his player-first mentality and is one of the few managers who are successful doing it.
  • The Angels went hard after Strasburg and Cole, missing out on both. Then settled on A Rendon to add some protection for the best player in the game, M Trout.

Starting Staff:

  • The Angels have to be concerned with their starting staff. The Angels went hard after both Cole and Strasburg, but missed both. Currently, S Ohtani is penciled into being the “ace” but he will only pitch once a week, not every five days. Ohtani is still unproven at the big league level from the mound. He is also coming off TJ surgery where he really didn’t fully rehab as a pitcher normally would. Ohtani played DH last year.
  • After Ohtani the Angels will go with A Heaney (average at best), FA signing J Tehran (very streaky, isn’t a big game pitcher) and D Bundy (former top prospect who has never reached his full potential.) The Angels will have to run a 6 man rotation essentially with Ohtani limited so bullpen games could be a norm for Maddon and the Angels.
  • 2015 was the last time the Angels felt good about the closer role. H Robles was claimed on waivers and converted 23/27 saves. Robles is a nice story but in all reality he would be a setup man, at best on most teams, but the Angels will take the positive.
  • After Robles the Halos pen is inexperienced at best. Keyan Middleton is a closer in the making but after TJ ended his 2018 season and most of last year, he will need to get healthy as he will be relied upon heavily this year. He only pitched 7.2 innings but recorded 7 walks. That can’t continue.
  • The Angels don’t project to have a lefty in the pen but that isn’t a huge issue when you consider how bad the group is overall, you’ll take whatever you can get.
  • There is no doubt in my mind that the Angels are wasting the talent of M Trout. There is no greater gap in sports between the best and second best. Trout at 75% is the second best player in the game. He’s played in three postseason games and lost every single one. M Trout is a generational talent and deserves better.
  • To the Angels credit they did get him some help. A Rendon will give Trout the protection he needs and Trout’s numbers should go up. Rendon is a legitimate bat and gives the Angels a legitimate 1-2 punch.
  • Unfortunately for Anaheim there really is not anything else. Ohtani is a nice DH but he seems to struggle when also having to pitch during the season. IF A Pujols and Upton can be above average the Angels could be a contender.
    Betting Perspective
  • Bad bullpen: Bet against them late.
  • Take the overs. Bad pitching staff coupled with a lineup that has some talent.
  • I like the Halos in the final game of a series, especially one in which they have lost the first two. The reason why is usually the final game is a day game after a night game, and backups are used more liberally. Advantage Maddon, he might not have the fanciest bullets, but he knows how to use those crappy bullets to do the most damage.
    Overall the Angels will miss the postseason and it will be in large part because of the pitching staff. Too many unlikely things have to happen for this team to contend in what i believe is the best division in all of baseball. Maddon will get this team more wins but a September challenge is the best they can hope for.