There are four corners.
In one are gathered the Diamondbacks, Orioles, Indians, Rockies, and Pirates.
In another, the Marlins, Brewers, Twins, and Rays.
In a third, there are the Rangers, Red Sox, Tigers, Angels, Mets, Yankees, Phillies, Mariners, and Blue Jays.
In the last corner, shoegazing and contemplating whether to bother wriggling out of their straitjackets, are the Braves, Cubs, White Sox, Reds, Astros, Royals, Dodgers, A’s, Cardinals, Padres, Giants, and Nationals.
That last group of 12 comprises the teams which, based on international spending in 2015–16 or 2016–17, are barred from signing any players in the 2017–18 J2 period that just got underway two weeks ago (and, in some cases, 2018–19 as well) for more than $300,000 apiece.
The first group of clubs, based on “small market” or “small revenue” classification, are each granted a signing bonus pool of $5.75 million to spend (collectively) on international prospects during the year-long J2 period that opened up this month.
The second group, also classified as market-disadvantaged: a $5.25 million bonus pool.
The third group: $4.75 million.
(Players who are age 25 or older and have six seasons of experience in a foreign professional league are exempt from the bonus pool, as are players who sign for $10,000 or less.)
Those pool allotments are not necessarily fixed, however, for those clubs intent on maximizing their international ammunition. Teams are permitted to trade for up to an additional 75 percent of their cap — or to trade any or all of their pool, if they so choose, a strategy that makes a fair amount of sense for those 12 clubs in the dark corner.
Among those 12 are the White Sox — stuck there by virtue of the massive contract they signed Luis Robert to in May — and Chicago took an undisclosed portion of what would have been its $4.75 million pool and sent it to the Rangers on Saturday for High A Down East prospect Yeyson Yrizarri, a big-armed, physical shortstop who, at age 20, should have greater value than outfielder Ryan Strausborger did when Seattle sent Texas $200,000 in pool space for him a year ago or when the Rangers netted a combined $878,700 from the Braves and Marlins in a three-team deal last August that cost Texas infielder Dylan Moore.
By virtue of those 75 percent allowances, teams in those three categories above can trade for added pool space that would bring their caps up to, respectively, $10,062,500; $9,187,500; and — in the case of Texas and the other eight un-barred clubs in that third corner — $8,312,500.
So when you see Jeff Passan (Yahoo Sports) and others reporting that Shohei Otani — who at age 23 isn’t exempt from the J2 rules, with no indication that MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball have worked to carve out any sort of exception for Japanese ballplayers seeking to come stateside — would be limited to a $10.1 million signing bonus if he were posted during this J2 period by his Nippon Ham club (which posted Yu Darvish six years ago), that’s where the figure apparently comes from.
The “small market” Diamondbacks, Orioles, Indians, Rockies, and Pirates would be allowed to sign Otani for $10,062,500 — that is, assuming they trade for the maximum amount of pool space on top of their CBA-allotted $5,750,000 — on top of the max $20 million posting fee that the Fighters will set.
Texas, on the other hand, would be capped at $8,312,500 (plus the $20 million posting fee) — that is, if it makes trades that bump its $4,750,000 pool up to that amount.
We don’t know how much of the gap between $4.75 million and $8.3125 million (that is, $3,562,500, which is 75 percent of the $4.75 million cap) the Yrizarri trade with Chicago closed. For reference, perhaps, two weeks ago Boston — which is in the same corner as Texas — sent 21-year-old Class AA first baseman/outfielder Nick Longhi to the Reds for what has been reported as $2.75 million in international bonus pool space, and Short-Season A infielders Imeldo Diaz and Stanley Espinal to the Cardinals for an added, undisclosed amount.
I would guess Longhi is considered a more valuable piece than Yrizarri, whose season high in walks is 12 and whose raw power has yet to translate. He’s a prospect, but four years into his pro career (after signing out of Venezuela for $1.375 million, as part of the Rangers’ J2 class that summer that included righthander Marcos Diplan, who went to Milwaukee in the Yovani Gallardo trade, shortstop Michael De Leon, and outfielder Jose Almonte), he’s not yet at Class AA and not a sure bet to play in the big leagues.
Notably, as far as Boston’s two trades for J2 bonus pool space this month are concerned, both the Reds and Cardinals, like the White Sox, are in that shoegazing corner, incentivized to send some of the pool space that they basically cannot use to other clubs in exchange for prospects that they can.
Perhaps more notably, regardless of how close to $8,312,500 those two trades pushed Boston’s pool, the Red Sox have already spent at least $6.5 million of their allotment, on Venezuelan catcher Daniel Flores (a player that the Rangers were said as recently as March to be in the lead for), Venezuelan shortstops Danny Diaz and Antoni Flores, and Dominican shortstop Nelfy Abreu. And Baseball America reports that Boston has signed at least another 27 J2 players this month, at undisclosed bonus amounts.
Tampa Bay spent a reported $3.825 million of its cap on Dominican shortstop Wander Franco.
Minnesota paid Dominican shortstop Jelfry Marte a reported bonus of $3 million.
The Mets paid five Dominican J2’s a combined $4.5 million.
The Phillies and Blue Jays have each spent at least $3.5 million on their J2 classes.
If you piece together the apparent signing bonuses reported by Baseball America, MLB.com, and the local beats, the Rangers have used up more than $4.5 million of their 2017–18 bonus pool on J2 kids pitchers Damian Mendoza (Mexico), Orcelis Gomez (Venezuela), and Jonneyder Izarra (Venezuela); shortstops Keyber Rodriguez (Venezuela), Diosbel Arias (Cuba), Derwin Barreto (Venezuela), and Angelo George (Dominican Republic); outfielders Wilderd Patino (Venezuela) and Ronier Lascarro (Venezuela); and catchers Freddy Puerta (Venezuela) and Randy Florentino (Dominican Republic).
Of course, sitting back and not signing any J2 free agents from Latin America solely in order to push every possible dollar toward Otani would be foolish on a Dwight Howard/DeAndre Jordan level, unless (1) you know Otani is going to sign with you during this J2 period and (2) you know it will take the entire bonus pool to get that done.
And on top of that, we’re talking about the eventual Otani signing bonus.
That’s not the same as the Major League contracts the 23-year-old will eventually play under and earn.
Maybe Otani will sign for the highest offer, which only Arizona and Baltimore and Cleveland and Colorado and Pittsburgh can theoretically pay.
Maybe it’s less about the signing bonus for Otani, as long as the offers are competitive.
Maybe he’s not after a signing bonus at all, and the Dodgers or Cubs or Padres — or a club like Houston that can offer him the American League opportunity to DH on some days he’s not pitching — can sway him with the penalty-driven $300,000 max.
And maybe Texas trading Yrizarri, a legitimate prospect, for what amounts to cap room has nothing to do with Otani at all.
Maybe it’s just a determination in Arlington that whatever cap room the White Sox were more than happy to convert into Yrizarri was worth more here than Yrizarri’s upside as a potential big leaguer or future trade piece — whether that gets allocated toward an eventual Otani offer or enables Texas to sign Patino and Rodriguez and Mendoza and not stop there as far as Latin American talent accumulation goes.