Paying the next Carlos Matias may be tougher

The changing landscape of international signing bonuses means organizations must adapt.

The St. Louis Cardinals' international signings over the year of 2011 lacked the headlines that followed Carlos Matias, later Carlos Martinez, in 2010 and ever since.

That does not mean the organization has been quiet. The addition of pitcher Andres Serrano ranked in a tie for 21st largest signing bonus across Major League Baseball last year, according to a report from Baseball America. The right-hander's deal, still not complete, is for $750,000. Serrano is the only player listed in their 2011 international top 30.

Though the Cardinals do not budget over calendar years, it makes sense to use that time period as a consistent measure of 30 organizations' spending. Over time, the totals should balance out.

The Cardinals apparently went for quantity more than quality, spending $2.63 million in international bonuses in 2011, BA estimates. That put St. Louis 13th in MLB. It seems a reasonable number when you consider their number 11 ranking in major league payroll. It is a slight increase from 2010, when BA had the Cardinals 14th at $2.47 million in international spending.

As they continue their efforts in Latin America, the Cardinals have added some new personnel.

The son of a famous major leaguer with the Cincinnati Reds, Cesar Geronimo Jr., recently joined the Cardinals as their international scouting cross-checker. Geronimo Jr. was previously in a similar capacity with the Cleveland Indians.

Angel Ovalles was named the Dominican Republic scouting supervisor. He had spent the five prior years as an area scout for the New York Yankees.

The international landscape will be changing in the next few years. The new collective bargaining agreement between players and owners includes a cap on signing bonuses.

For 2012-13, all clubs have been allocated an equal signing bonus pool. For the Cardinals, the total of about $2.9 million for the upcoming period seems reasonable. That will not be the case for all, however. According to the BA totals, the top 11 clubs spent more than $2.9 million in 2011, led by Texas at $12.83 million.

Individual team spending targets will be assigned each year starting in 2013-14 based on the reverse order of the major league winning percentage from the previous season. Also beginning in that period is the ability for clubs to trade a portion of their signing bonus pool, injecting a new variable into the process.

Clubs that exceed their pool totals will be penalized heavily. There will be both a financial tax as well as a cap on any individual player bonus total. The penalties will increase at four clip levels, depending on the spending overage.

These changes may tamp down bonuses at the high end of the player scale, but will do nothing to stop the ongoing challenge of age and identity fraud.

In the meantime, MLB's International Talent Committee, with two MLB representatives and two union reps, continue to meet to study the ramifications of implementing an international draft. The challenges are considerable so it seems unreasonable to expect it to occur any time soon.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his weekly minor league content during the season at Follow Brian on Twitter.

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