There is no international draft in Major League Baseball yet. If enough teams do what the Red Sox plan on doing this summer, though, that could change in the next few years. Baseball America's Ben Badler reports that Boston is set to exceed their international spending limit in the next signing period in order to get the pitching they want from the market. That will come with a penalty, but that doesn't matter in the same way it would in June's amateur draft.
If the Red Sox end up paying the maximum penalty, it will mean that, in the two following signing periods, they won't be able to sign anyone on the international market for over $300,000. While that might seem limiting in the future, that's not how teams think of it. Kiley McDaniel of Scout.com, who broke the news late last year that the Yankees planned to leave their own spending limits far behind, explained as much to Over the Monster. "Year-to-year the international classes don't vary too much, given how hard it is to evaluate 15/16 year olds anyway. A 16-year-old today for $1 million is always better than a $1 million player two years from now, regardless of the strength of the class, because now one of them is 18."
Think of it this way: the Red Sox have their eyes set on the pitcher they believe to be the top arm in this year's class, but they have the second-lowest international spending budget thanks to their strong 2013 -- like with the draft, international spending is determined by the previous season's record. Unless they plan on spending to the point of penalty, the Sox aren't going to be able to get the pitcher they want as well as other signings. It won't hurt them until the future, though, and in the future, they'll still have the expensive, head-of-the-class arm from the upcoming signing period -- who is now two years further ahead in his development -- and the ability to bring on new prospects so long as they don't cost over $300,000. You can find good players without spending a million bucks on them internationally -- in fact, teams have to be able to do so now that caps have been put on international spending, unlike in the past, when the Sox could throw almost $2 million at defense-first guys like Jose Vinicio just in case they work out. It's not $300,000, but remember: even Xander Bogaerts only cost $510,000.
Think of it this way: drafting college players, who are in their early 20s and have the highest level of amateur experience around, can still go awry more often than not. High school players (who have finished high school, as is the rule domestically) are incredibly risky, but their ceilings are often high. These international players are even younger and less tested, and are that much further from developing into a complete package. They are exactly where a team should go big if they've got a great feeling about a particular player or players, because the penalties are the least problematic and you're already starting with the highest possible chance of failure of any talent-acquisition avenue. It's the only arena where money alone does the talking, as the draft relies on a player falling to you in a predetermined order, and even if they do, the potential loss of draft picks looms if a club goes too far over budget.
In addition, if an international draft is instituted in the future, then the Red Sox won't be able to acquire the most-coveted players available unless they are coming off of a poor season that gives them an early selection. This could be their one chance to grab this kind of arm before a draft is instituted, so they might as well start the clock now on the penalty system in case it takes four years instead of three -- when they would be able to shell out million-dollar contracts again -- for the draft to begin.
So, who are these pitchers the Red Sox look to be in on? Badler says the Sox are considered the favorites to land the pitcher considered the top in this signing period's class, Venezuelan righty Andres Espinoza. He's currently believed to be a small pitcher, under six feet tall and around 170 pounds, but he's also all of 16. He's also precisely the kind of pitcher the Sox look for in the draft, as he's already pitched in both national and international tournaments: the Sox love their Team USA guys and College World Series participants, so it's no surprise to see them looking for the international equivalents.
Badler has some information on Espinoza's pitching, too:
He has good mechanics and throws strikes with one of the best fastballs in the class, ranging from 90-94 mph. He has good feel for a potentially above-average curveball and a developing changeup.
Badler also lists Dominican right-hander Christopher Acosta in his Red Sox section. He's 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, 16 years old, and projects as a starter. He's expected to bring in over $1 million -- in conjunction with Espinoza, that would already put the Sox over their $1.88 million on just two players.
As said, though, if that's the price for some of the top talents on the international market, then the Sox will deal with the penalties that entails. Last summer's signing period, in which they were able to sign the top hitter on the market, Rafael Devers, had a lot to do with the expanded budget their 2012 failure brought them. If the Sox are going to succeed now and in the present, though -- and that's certainly the intention given their payroll and farm system -- then this is how things are going to have to be when the opportunity arises. At least until that international draft rolls out, anyway, and it might within the next few years in part thanks to teams like the Sox.