News: St. Louis Cardinals spread international spending over 15 players
By Matt Graves
One of the results of the fallout from the COVID-19 virus changing almost everything about 2020 was the change in international free agency. Normally scheduled to begin on July 2, the 2020-2021 period was pushed back until Friday, January 15.
Each season, teams receive a base pool of money that they are allowed to spend on international free agents. In a normal year, teams can trade that money and teams can go over, but there are various penalties that come along with overspending in one year. The fine details are laid out well here, but the important thing is that the St. Louis Cardinals had $5,899,600 to spend this year on a large crop of players.
While teams have until December 21, 2021, to spend the money in their pool, the majority of the teams have handshake agreements in place before the signing period even begins. While a good chunk of the MLB’s talent comes from international free agency, the international market is like the MLB draft on steroids in terms of risk.
The players that teams are signing have usually not played competitively in the USA and are usually very young. Because of this, it is really like a lottery on whether players signed here will ever make it to the MLB.
Studs like Juan Soto, Ronald Acuna Jr., and Fernando Tatis Jr. all came from international spending, but look at any international free agent top 30 list five years down the line and the risk is clear. Given that no player is a sure thing, even if they are in the top 30 prospects, the Cardinals have shifted their approach when it comes to international spending in recent years.
In a normal year, teams can go over the pool money they are allotted, but not this year. Rather than go after a couple of the top players that could take most of the bonus pool to sign, the Cardinals have adopted a bit of a shotgun approach, signing as many players as they can. On Friday alone, the Cardinals announced agreements with 15 different players.
The top players in the Cardinals’ crop were shortstop Adari Grant and catcher Leonardo Bernal. Neither of these two were in the top 30 prospects, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that their odds of making it to the MLB are any more or less than the others.
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For those with a Baseball America subscription, their rundown on the majority of the Cardinals’ crop is here, but there is certainly stuff to like about who the Cardinals have gone after. Grant is an 18-year-old from the Bahamas who is built a lot like former first-round draft pick Delvin Perez. He’s athletic, he’s fast, and he fits the mold of the “super athlete” players the Cardinals have begun stocking the lower levels of their minor leagues with.
Bernal is apparently one of the top players from Panama and was a member of the U-15 team that won a silver medal. The rest of the players all fit a similar mold of good athletes with a lot of up-the-middle defenders.
The Cardinals’ approach here is one that not every team has. Neither fans nor the team will be able to judge this class until years down the line, so there is no reason to be upset here. The Cardinals have signed multiple top 30 international prospects in years prior with limited success. It’s all a big lottery and buying as many tickets as possible seems like a smart way to get better chances of a winner.
Again, nobody will know how this class turns out until years down the line. For now, the Cardinals have stuck with their recent mold of super athletic players.