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Baseball’s IFA signing date pushed from July 2 to January 15

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Mariners fans will have to wait that much longer to see Starlin Aguilar

When will we get to see the Mariners’ next high-profile international signing?
Kate Preusser

Baseball America reports that, as expected, the start of the next period of international free agent signings will be pushed back from July 2 to January 15 of 2021. With the coronavirus pandemic, international travel has been highly restricted, and MLB scouting has been suspended since the end of May. However, while clubs haven’t been able to see players in action recently, that’s not necessarily the reason for the signing date to be pushed back so far. With top prospects, clubs often have informal agreements with players years before they’re officially eligible to sign.

Rather, as has dictated so many of MLB’s decisions of late, the reason is financial. The March agreement that allowed clubs to defer draft bonuses until next year and beyond made no such provision for international signing bonuses, so pushing the date all the way into 2021 allows clubs to push those expenses into the next fiscal year as well. Consequently, it’s all but certain next year’s signing date—known as the J2 period for July 2nd—will also be pushed back. However, players who aren’t 16 by August 31st of this year will still not be able to sign until next year’s IFA period opens, even if they turn 16 before the January date. Clubs will also not be able to trade any of their bonus pool space as they have in the past. The Mariners have about $5.350 million to spend in their bonus pool, same as 11 other clubs including the entire AL West except the Angels. (Somehow the Rays have $6.4M to spend, along with DET, MIL, CIN, MIA, and MIN, so the prospect-rich will apparently get prospect-richer.)

It’s a shame for the players who were looking forward to signing during the J2 period, treated as a holiday in many parts of the Dominican Republic. Many players literally count down the days until they’re allowed to sign their first professional contract, with trackers counting down to July 2nd popping up on Instagram stories. Players who have already signed mark the day as well, often posting pictures of themselves on their signing days: what is for many of these players the happiest day of their lives so far. When Noelvi Marte signed his contract, the largest bonus ever given to a player from his hometown of Cotuí, the entire town turned out in a spontaneous parade, with ATVs, trucks, and bicycles going through the streets honking horns and blasting merengue music in a party that lasted well into the night.

For Mariners fans, that means waiting a little longer to see Starlin Aguilar, the highest profile propsect they’re connected to in the upcoming signing period. Aguilar is a third baseman whose nickname is “Baby Devers” as the two share not only similar shorter, stockier statures that fit best at third but also extra-quick bats that can make contact with power all over the hitting zone. Aguilar is expected to sign for about $1.5 million.

The Mariners are also connected to Venezuelan player Gabriel Gonzalez, who stands six feet tall at 16 years old with long levers (he is like, 90% legs) and swings to do damage.

Ben Badler, BA’s international signings expert, is still working his way through a preview of every team’s projected signings; we’ll have more information when he has some more names for us.