When the U.S. State Department issued Wander Javier a work visa earlier this month, the 16-year-old Dominican shortstop formally became a Twins employee, and the Twins formally became rule-breakers. Scofflaws. Desperados.
And they will have to pay up. Signing Javier to a $4 million contract, when MLB rules specifically state that the Twins were only allowed to spend $3,948,500 on international free agents, means they must pay a “luxury tax” of 75 cents for every dollar they went over that figure. Javier’s contract, the biggest for an amateur in franchise history, will cost the Twins an extra $38,000 or so, plus whatever low-money signings they might add between now and next June.
Whew. Do the crime, pay the fine, eh?
Then there’s the Dodgers. Assigned a budget of a little over $2 million under MLB’s international rules, Los Angeles signed a half-dozen top prospects, awarding them contracts worth more than $23 million, including $16 million alone to Yadier Alvarez, a 19-year-old Cuban who reportedly possesses a fastball that hits 100 miles per hour. They’re also in hot pursuit of Cuban outfielder Eddy Julio Martinez, a teenager expected to command a contract worth more than $10 million.
Safe to say, the Dodgers aren’t deterred by MLB’s budgeting system. If they sign Martinez, they will fork over more than $30 million in luxury taxes, dollar-for-dollar on their overages, and will not be allowed to sign a player for more than $250,000 for the next two years. But with the majority of this year’s international prospects under contract, they clearly don’t care.
“It’s a legitimate strategy,” said Mike Radcliff, the Twins vice president for player personnel. “It’s against the spirit of the rules, but if you’re willing to accept the penalties, those teams feel it’s worth it in terms of the sheer number of top prospects. You can say, ‘Well, he’s not worth the money,’ but they still have the player and you don’t.”
Yes, it’s not just the Dodgers — the Cubs, Royals and Giants have also far exceeded their allotted budgets to sign international players, the Rays and Rangers have done it in the past, and the Yankees scooped up nine of the top prospects a year ago, forcing them to sit out this year. International amateur rules were intended to keep signing bonuses down, but cash-rich teams have calculated that the payoff in elite talent is worth the extra tax.
Even the Twins, never known as big spenders, have considered a budget-busting year to acquire more top-shelf foreign talent like Miguel Sano or Javier. “We’ve discussed it. It’s on the table. We’ve debated the pros and cons, but it’s a big call, something that you have to commit to as an organization,” Radcliff said. “In order to make it work, you have to sign at least four or five top guys, just to make up for the two years you’re out of the process. It might be worth it, but it’s a big risk.”
For now, the Twins have been content to sign one top-dollar talent per year, trust their scouts to find cheaper players who might grow into major leaguers (Max Kepler and Kennys Vargas, who signed for less than $1 million apiece, fall into that category), and stay active year-to-year. “Otherwise, you’re forced to evaluate 13-year-olds to judge whether the strategy will pay off,” Radcliff said, “and that’s not going to work.”
The system figures to be altered when the current collective bargaining agreement expires after next season, so the risk of making such a radical change right now might be even greater, Radcliff said. Possible changes are the reason that many young players are trying to sign now; more than 60 Cubans have left the island and are looking for contracts, flooding the system.
An international draft is frequently proposed, but Radcliff is skeptical that countries such as Cuba and Venezuela would go along with it. “It’s going to be really difficult to level the playing field,” Radcliff said. “So you’ve got to be ready to work within — or around, I suppose — whatever system is in place.”
“Our scouts,” Radcliff joked, “put on our spurs and six-shooters and just go back out there.”
The debate over MVP awards is beginning to heat up. But first, let’s consider who was least valuable in the AL Central:
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Brandon Moss’ revival in St. Louis is especially painful, because he hit only .217 with 106 strikeouts in 94 games for Cleveland, which made him its most anticipated acquisition of the offseason.
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They traded a lot at the deadline to acquire a postseason “ace,” but Johnny Cueto has melted down in the Kansas City heat. The righthander’s 5.12 ERA, to go with a 2-6 record in 10 starts since being traded from Cincinnati, have Royals fans anxious as to what he will provide for them this postseason.
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The bullpen broke down, new starter Shawn Greene was a disaster and Miguel Cabrera was hurt for a month. But the biggest disappointments might have been the man who put the team together, Dave Dombrowski, who has already paid with his job, and the man who manages them, Brad Ausmus, who probably will soon.
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It appears Chicago purchased Adam LaRoche’s declining years (.211, only 12 home runs) with a free-agent contract, but the biggest bust has to be righthander Jeff Samardzija, who was supposed to combine with Chris Sale to give the Sox an unbeatable 1-2 in the rotation. Instead: He’s got a 9.24 ERA since Aug. 1.
With another triple Saturday, Eddie Rosario has hit 10 of the Twins’ past 12 triples, including all four of the team’s three-baggers in September, and now has more than any Twins rookie in history. He probably doesn’t have enough games remaining to reach Cristian Guzman’s single-season franchise record, but he could finish second. The list:
Most triples by a Twins player, single season
Cristian Guzman, 2000 20
Rod Carew, 1977 16
Eddie Rosario, 2015 14
Cristian Guzman, 2003 14
Cristian Guzman, 2001 14
Chuck Knoblauch, 1996 14
Most triples by a rookie, past 50 years
Juan Samuel, Phi, 1984 19
Ray Lankford, StL, 1991 15
Eddie Rosario, Min, 2015 14
Jimmy Rollins, Phi, 2001 12
David Dellucci, Ari, 1998 12
Joe Morgan, Hou, 1965 12