A big #Nats day for international signings, arbitration players, and the 30-day countdown to Spring Training!

Aramando Cruz signs for the cameras; Photo from Baseball America

Today is a big day for the international scouting groups as it marks the start to the international signing period for free agents. The Washington Nationals made a big splash by signing shortstop Armando Cruz who is currently ranked № 2 in the projected amount paid ($3.9 million) in a signing bonus among all of the international free agents according to Baseball America. On MLB Pipeline’s list, Cruz ranks 4th overall among all of the prospects. This teenage Dominican prospect turns 17 tomorrow and will have a very happy birthday. He immediately will be a Top-10 prospect in the Nats system once the prospects are re-rated.

The international market still operates on different rules from the U.S. amateur market. In international waters, players are signing deals sometimes before they reach puberty. Yes, 13-year-old boys have been known to sign deals with MLB teams in the Dominican Republic — but the deals cannot become official until the player is at least 16 years of age or will turn 16 years of age prior to September 1 of the current signing period.

Once a player commits to an MLB team, they are no longer allowed to work-out for other teams and play at showcases. The one thing these players have to do is to make sure they do not violate any part of their agreement to make their contract, null and void.

All signs are positive for Cruz, and there are already some autographed trading cards out there on the market.

Trading cards available through eBay and hobby stores that sell Onyx Authenticated items

Reportedly, Cruz committed to the Nats over a year and a half ago when he was 15 ½.  You can read the extensive analysis we did on Cruz two weeks ago. One additional note is Cruz is ambidextrous and writes and eats with his left-hand but throws a baseball and bats right-handed.

The Nats spent nearly all of their entire international bonus pool of $5,348,100, and after paying Cruz $3.9 million, it left just $1.4381 million to sign these nine players:

  1. Gustavo Rivas, RHP, Venezuela — $450,000
  2. Enmanuel Ramirez, OF, Dominican Republic — $200,000
  3. Doimil Perez, RHP, Dominican Republic — $200,000
  4. Genderson Zapata, RHP, Venezuela — $200,000
  5. Gabriel Agostini, LHP, Venezuela — $170,000
  6. Jean Estrada, OF, Venezuela — $90,000
  7. Ciristian Batistsa, OF, Dominican Republic — $75,000
  8. Winder Diaz, SS, Dominican Republic — $20,000
  9. Jeffem Leon, RHP, Aruba — $10,000

Remember these names because some of them could be top prospects in the next two to three years. Rivas was highly regarded by scouts as well as Zapata who is also from Venezuela.  Under the guidance of Nats’ VP Johnny DiPuglia, their Dominican scouts Modesto Ulloa and Riki Vasquez were responsible for scouting and signing the five Dominican players in this group. Nats’ Venezuelan scouts, Salvador Donadelli and German Robles, scouted and signed the four Venezuelan players, and David Leer scouted and Signed Jeffem Leon from Aruba.

All in all, it was a good year for the international scouting ad development people.

Arbitration Players

There are a trio of Nats starters who are arbitration eligible and have not agreed to their 2021 salaries. Newly acquired Josh Bell joins Juan Soto and Trea Turner as those three remaining Nats’ players who have until today at the 1 p.m. deadline to either agree to a salary or else they will have to submit salary demands of their competing bids to be officially filed with the Major League Baseball office. After that, they will have a date scheduled for an arbitration hearing for February or March. Of course, the team and player have the ability to negotiate an amount until the start of an arbitration hearing. Because of the shortened 2020 season, valuating a player’s worth is more difficult than ever.

The agents representing the three arbitration-eligible players are The Boras Agency and CAA. It is Scott Boras who reps both Bell and Soto while Turner is repped by CAA. Annualized, Bell made $4.8 million last year with the Pirates, Soto was near the league minimum at  $578,300, and Trea earned a healthy $7.45 million.

We projected some numbers for these players going conservatively with $12 million for Turner, $10 million for Soto, and $6 million for Bell. If you follow MLB Trade Rumors, their numbers were configured using three different sets of criteria, and even they do not know what criteria teams will use. You can bet most agents want to use great 2020 seasons to push for top tier numbers.

Teams and agents have to be careful when submitting their figures to the MLB office. If they go too high, an arbitrator could choose the team’s figure if they go to a hearing. This is why most cases get settled before numbers get filed or before the date of a hearing. Some GMs are known as “file-and-trial” types, and that means they treat this arbitration figure exchange date as a hard deadline and if it goes past that point they will not negotiate further and will head to an arbitration hearing. General Manager Mike Rizzo is not a “file-and-trial” GM, and he generally tries to avoid hearings which can hurt the team/player bond given the challenging nature of a hearing.

You can read what happened to Jerry Blevins and John Lannan after they went to arbitration hearings against Rizzo. Last year on this day, the Nats settled with their remaining three arb players prior to the need for exchanging figures to the league office. In 2019, Rizzo beat Kyle Barraclough and Michael A. Taylor during arbitration hearings. Barraclough did not make it through the 2019 season and Taylor was cut after the 2020 season. Word to the wise — DON’T CHALLENGE RIZZO!

“I’m swamped with salary arbitration,” an agent messaged me on Thursday night after I asked about one of his Nats’ players.

If the agents are busy on Thursday night, you can bet front offices are very busy with arbitration, international signings, and a late developing free agent signing period.

Spring Training Camp

We are now about 30-days from the official opening to Spring Training camps, or at least that is the current plan if MLB does not delay the schedule. With that said, over 200 free agents are unsigned and too many teams look to be competitive for the playoffs today.

While clubs have been told to plan on arriving on-time for Spring Training, there is a healthy amount of skepticism because of COVID concerns. Athletes were not given any special dispensation to get early vaccinations, and they could be part of the President-elects vow to get 100 million Americans vaccinated by his 100th day in office. That would get about 1/3 of Americans covered by April 30th which would be exactly 100 days into the new presidency. Of course athletes might be the last to get vaccinations because of their age, and they are considered the healthiest of Americans. You can read the CDC priority list in the first three phases 1A=1C.

So yes, real world issues could once again affect baseball, and while Spring Training stadiums can have fans present in Florida (currently), they will be required to social distance and wear masks. We reported that The Ballpark at the Palm Beaches (formerly FITTEAM) was supposed to start selling tickets three days ago but postponed that for undisclosed reasons.

The following was forwarded to us from a Spring Training season ticket holder who received this on Monday:

Dear Season Ticket Holder,
We are temporarily postponing tomorrow’s scheduled pre-sale. We sincerely apologize for the last-minute notice. Once we have new pre-sale dates, we will be in communication.
Thank you for your understanding.
The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

So many aspects of Spring Training are subject to change, and we will of course let you know of any changes.


All arb cases were settled giving us a new salary AAV update:

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