One of the new wrinkles in the latest baseball Collective Bargaining Agreement limits the international spending of all teams to a hard cap. Should any team exceed that cap, they are subject to harsh penalties, paying dollar-for-dollar once they surpass the cap by 15 percent.

Even more eye-opening/galling, teams that blow through the cap may not sign an international free agent to a deal worth more than $250000 during the following year. Crazy.

Even more crazy? The first team to subject itself to Bud’s penalties is none other than the Tampa Bay Rays, champions of the frugal arts.

Ben Badler of Baseball America details how the Rays threw money at each and every Latin teenager they came across this year, leaving the international spending cap in the dust and opening themselves to the full punishment of the law.

While poking fun at the low-budget, “sign everyone no matter how big a scumbag they might be” approach to roster optimization is easy, it isn’t exactly accurate. The international signing cap is just $2.9 million, equal to the slot value of the eighth overall pick in 2012.

For their trouble, the Rays got seven top players, including top Venezuelan lefty Jose Castillo. While the flame out rate for 15 and 16 year-olds is higher than that of college players and North American high school talent.

The Rays are not run by fools – if they think this is a fair use of their limited resources, good on them. Going hard this year in the international market might free them up to spend extra money in the Rule 4 draft in June.

That said, these Draconian punishments for exceeding the cap are ridiculous. You want to punish teams for going over your arbitrary figure? Fine. But carrying that punishment over to the following signing period serves, in my mind, to stifle the competitive advantages gained by innovation and creativity and boots-on-the-ground scouting know-how.

The Rays will continue, bloodied but unbowed, snaking their way through the tiniest cracks in the CBA architecture, seeping through the foundation of the American League East in pursuit of their perplexing/damning 90-win status quo. I hate them but dammit if I don’t respect them more for it with each passing day.

Comments (7)

  1. And Bud and his fellow owners care not for competitive advantage; they’re simply trying to rig the game in their favor. Setting an arbitrary cap drives down the price of Latin American talent and saves the owners $$$. It’s collusion, plain and simple.

  2. If I understand correctly, the Rays have basically decided to invest max money in int’l FAs once every two years, then signing no one the following year. If anything, this is MORE of a competitive advantage than before because the cap is driving prices down so the Rays can get more bang for their bucks every two years. Right?

    Or am I misunderstanding the CBA rule?

    • guess we will know next offseason. But i think they can still sign players, just max of $250,000 per, and have to pay a fine.

    • I think you’re on to something, but also that they’ll be taking this approach, on the alternating years, with the Rule 4 draft. In 2013, they’ll go crazy with draft bonuses, and have to pay fines and forfeit picks for 2014, just in time for them to get back into the International market. Then they’ll go way over allotment on their International budget, and get hamstrung in 2015, so they’ll focus on the draft again, with all their scouts switching priorities accordingly. They’ll probably end up saving a ton of money in the long run.

    • Agreed if anything this is a brilliant approach in my mind. Sure you’re paying the tax on going over the cap, but by knowing that you’re breaking that cap regardless you’re allowing yourself to outbid every other team not willing to do so due to the fear of what they may or may not miss next year.

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