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MLB international signing period: Top players, bonus pools, what else to know as Padres land No. 1 prospect

MLB international signing period: Top players, bonus pools, what else to know as Padres land No. 1 prospect


Sunday marks the open of the 2023 international signing period, one of two ways MLB teams can acquire amateur talent each year. The draft you see every summer covers players born in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. All others fall into international free agency.

Roughly 30 percent of current MLB players were originally signed as international free agents, including stars like Ronald Acuña Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Juan Soto, and Julio Urías. Perennial contenders like the Dodgers and Yankees, teams that usually pick late in the draft, use international free agency to add high-end prospects to their farm system.

Future All-Stars will be signed when international free agency opens Sunday. Maybe even a future Cy Young winner or MVP. Heck, someone who signs Sunday could one day find himself in Coopertown. Here’s everything you need to know going into the open of the 2023 international signing period.

Current format

International free agency remains free agency because MLB and the MLB Players Association were unable to agreed to an international draft last year. MLB has pushed for an international draft for years (decades, really), but the union has resisted because it would strip players of the freedom to pick their team, not to mention limit their earning potential. The league offered to eliminate the qualifying offer system in exchange for an international draft, but the MLBPA said no. International free agency remains through at least 2026, when the collective bargaining agreement expires.

The international signing period used to run from July 2 to June 25 each year, but the start of the 2020-21 signing period was pushed back to Jan. 15 because of the pandemic, and that change is now permanent under the current agreement. The signing period is now neatly confined to a single calendar year and runs from Jan. 15 to Dec. 15. To be eligible to sign, players must be at least 16 years old and turn 17 by Sept. 1 of the following year. This year’s newly eligible players were born between Sept. 1, 2005, and Aug. 31, 2006.

Bonus pools

International bonus pools, the money teams can spend on players, are tied to revenue and market size, with small-market teams getting the biggest bonus pools and large market teams getting the smallest. There are bonus pool penalties for signing major-league free agents who have a qualifying offer…

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