The Padres, according to sources, have $300,000 left in their 2017-18 international bonus pool, an amount they figure to reserve for a leaguewide bidding process. The Major League Baseball Players Association this week agreed to a new posting system, clearing the way for Japanese superstar Shohei Otani to make his stateside debut in 2018. The Padres and 11 other teams that exceeded their bonus pools in previous signing periods will be limited to offering Otani a maximum of $300,000.
That restriction is nothing compared to the punishment MLB dealt the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday. The penalties, levied after an investigation found circumvention of international signing rules from 2015 to 2017, include a lifetime ban for former general manager John Coppolella and the loss of 13 prospects who are now free to sign with other organizations.
Despite the creation of a new market, the Padres are not expected to be especially active in pursuing those prospects, sources said Wednesday. The new free agents range from infielder Kevin Maitan, whom the Braves signed for $4.25 million in 2016, to a number of teenagers who received $300,000 from Atlanta.
While the players will keep their original signing bonuses, the league has established a special set of rules that will govern their free agency. Under-penalty teams such as the Padres will remain limited to maximum offers of $300,000. Only the amount of a signing bonus beyond $200,000 will count against a club's pool. For instance, if the Padres sign one of the players for $300,000, their pool would shrink by only $100,000.
A team can choose to use funds from its 2018-19 bonus pool instead, and the Padres will start with $5.25 million at their disposal. But San Diego will be capped at $300,000 per player for one more signing period.
Aside from the financial restraints, sources say the Padres are not nearly as high on the ex-Braves prospects as Atlanta was. In multiple cases, the industry perception of those talents has deteriorated since they entered the Braves' system. The Padres continue to be more enamored with the prospects they signed themselves during the 2016-17 period, which saw a franchise-record $78 million dropped on international players. (After the institution of a hard cap, San Diego has spent nearly all of its $5.75 million pool for 2017-18 on 34 players.)
Were it not for their $300,000 limit, the Padres would be even more aggressive in pursuing Otani, who will be posted by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters early next month. Otani will soon become Japan's most coveted export, and the craze surrounding the 23-year-old contains plenty of mystery. By choosing to come to the U.S. now, Otani is forgoing a nine-figure contract he could land by waiting two more years for unrestricted free agency.
For now, the most a major league franchise can offer is Texas' $3.535 million. The Rangers and other large-market teams are currently viewed as frontrunners, but much remains unclear about Otani's preferences except for the fact that money will not be the deciding factor. The Padres -- rebuilding, operating in a smaller market and capped at $300,000 -- are seen as long shots, but Otani looms as a tantalizing bargain; virtually every team is expected to make some kind of bid for his services.
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