International Free Agency, Part 1: The Rules

Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

This is the first of what figures to be a three-part look at International Free Agency, looking at the present rules.

In international free agency, the olden days entail anything before the current Collective Bargaining Agreement went into play. These were the simple rules then for signing international free agents, or IFAs.: You want him? Go sign him. This tended to work rather well for most teams. Teams that wanted a thriving international aspect to their talent pipeline had one. Teams that really didn't care about "foreign scouting," "developing relationships with foreign players," or "competing internationally" simply didn't do the legwork. The teams that were good at it reaped rewards.

Everyone signed international players. Some signed quite a few. The vast majority never made a blip on the major-league landscape.

In the last decade, however, some teams have started to get upset that other teams have become dominant internationally. Instead of "putting together a non-dysfunctional plan of attack," "spending more wisely internationally" or "committing to improvement overseas," those teams have opted for yet another way to even the playing field. They have sought aid from the Commissioner's Office.

Kind of a weak out, if you ask me.

In 2012-13, each team was given an equal amount of money they could spend internationally. Since then, and into the foreseeable future, each team's international pool will be determined by their preceding season's position in the worst-to-first standings. If you want to spend more money, then have a worse record.

To be entirely honest, it sounds like incompetence is being rewarded, not only on an international scale, but also in anything relating to amateur spending. Or, frankly, anything regarding amateur talent. You can hate that from here to eternity, but it doesn't change how the rules are being written, apparently.

Fortunately, unfortunately, or a heavy dose of both, the Cubs' front office seems to have done a whole bunch of embracing the rewards of rewarding incompetence recently. I doubt many Cubs fans really like the trends in the new IFA market/draft venues toward rewarding incompetence. Nor do many Cubs fans enjoy losing 90 games or more per season.

However, if the rules are written in a foolish fashion, most Cubs fans realize there is a definite upside in being a lousy team. With the current front office looking for advantages wherever possible, excavating talent from wherever possible has been an ugly yet oddly effective way of adding talent to the pipeline.

This will be a (presumably) three-part look at the current IFA market, looking at the rules. Part two will be a look at a potential IFA draft. The third part figures to note what may happen because of the rules.

***

Each team has an amount they can spend internationally. They can spend it on a single player or two. They can balance it out over a number of options. They can trade international "wedges" for major- or minor-league players. Or, they can blast through the limits, and pay the penalties.

The Cubs and Rangers are wearing the Bud Selig dunce cap this time around. The IFA season starts on July 2, after a two- or three-week period where teams are (largely) prohibited from international signings. But on July 2, teams can start spending on players that have survived the MLB vetting process. Many of the signings have already been agreed to, and the signings will be a mere technicality.

Many international experts have most of the major names linked to teams, and they are probably right on most of them. I'm not going to get too madly into who is likely to go where, due to the dunce cap concept. Neither the Cubs nor the Rangers can spend more than $250,000 on any player. Which means, most of the big-name targets are off-limits for both.

As usual, scouting and development will be very important. International talent tends to be rather undeveloped. For instance, Cubs 2013 signee Eloy Jimenez is very talented, but equally raw. His defense needs work, but he has homered in extended spring training on American soil. International free agents are usually at least five years from the majors. However, adding a player on a low-end deal that eventually becomes a big league player is a very solid return on investment.

And, like it or not, return on investment is much of what pro baseball has become.

If you get one solid producer from an IFA class, you did a tremendous job. Especially since spending can rarely go over four million dollars in a season. That equates to, what 2/3 of a WAR? Quite a solid return.

Next time: a version of a pro/con debate.

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