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What’s your Vector, Victor Victor?

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Rays made a few dealine moves for IFA slot money. Could they be targeting the consensus top prospect?

World Baseball Classic - Pool E - Game 4 - Cuba v Japan Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images

The Rays made a lot of big moves at the trade deadline this year. While fans quite naturally focus on the players joining the Rays, it’s clear that the team has also been using trades to expand their international signing pool funds.

The Rays are a team always involved in the IFA market, and the IFA market has been very, very good to them thus far.

On July 2nd this year, the IFA period officially opened and a flurry of signings were announced in the following days, headlined for the Rays by the signing of Baseball America’s #13 prospect SS Alejandro Pie (reported $1.4 mil deal).

Including Pie, the Rays added 5 of BA’s top 30 international prospects. But there are still some pretty big talent players on the IFA lists un-signed, and that includes the very top one: Cuban OF Victor Victor Mesa.

How Much do the Rays have left?

Mesa will not come cheap, and any team with any money left will more than likely try to make an offer.

The Rays are well positioned for the signing season to come: they are in the upper bracket of bonus pool money, with $6,025,400 to spend. They have spent an estimated total of $3,435,000 on the IFA market this year, but have added $1.75 mil in deadline deals bringing their total remaining to: $4,340,400

The move of LHP Johnny Venters for $250K of IFA money from the Braves was a simple move that I chalked up mostly to doing something feel good for a great guy in Venters. The Braves have no use for IFA money; they were penalized for their little, ahem, incidents with violating international signing rules and barred from participation in the international market. This penalty did not, oddly enough, prevent them from trading that unusable signing pool money, and they have been happily trading away these funds for players and prospects.

When the Rays also got an additional $500K in the Tommy Pham deal, and made a very under the radar deal of 2017 draft pick LHP Hunter Schryver to the White Sox for $1 million dollars (!) in IFA money, some folks started whispering about what the Rays were up to (or better yet, who the Rays were getting that money for).

How do the Rays stack up with available funds?

Perhaps the only time when the Rays have a monetary advantage over other teams is the international market under the current rules. So what other teams have the kind of money to compete with the Rays?

(One important caveat in this discussion: Baseball America and MLB have agreed not post any bonus money for Venezuelan players due to safety risks. The following estimates are based on the updated MLB tracker and what I can find on Twitter; they are not official, confirmed numbers.)

The Reds, Athletics, Padres, Cardinals, Braves, White Sox, Astros, and Nationals are all in the $300K cap penalty (where they cannot sign a prospect for more than $300K), so they are more than likely out for any of the remaining big name international prospects.

The only other teams with $4 mil or more in bonus pool money are (again, rough estimates):

The Yankees traded for $2.5 million dollars at the deadline, and turned that money around to sign multiple international free agents, including Cuban SS Alexander Vargas for a reported $2.5 mil. That may have depleted their IFA resources.

Marlins - $4.35 mil

The Orioles - $8,273,500 mil (!)

The Orioles are clearly a competitor for any top international prospects, and boy does that seem like a sentence I never thought I’d be writing. For the past few years Baltimore has made a point of staying out of the international free agent market and nobody really knows why (although Peter Angelos being strange or cheap is a good guess). However, the O’s are in the midst of a seismic shift where they have burned the house down to the studs and are interested in rejoining the 21st century, with an active international signing program a key part of this new look.

If the O’s are interested in making a splash, they have the resources to cannonball into the pool. Indeed, Emily Walden of The Athletic reported (a bit prematurely but probably correctly) the Orioles were close to signing Mesa. Mesa (and his brother) have not yet been declared FAs by the MLB, but when they are the feeding frenzy will be on and the Rays could be right in the mix.

The Other Options

While Victor Victor Mesa is the biggest name left, there are still some very interesting prospects that remain un-signed, including:

Cuba - LHP Sandy Gaston (BA #24)

Mexico - C Fernando Villalobos (BA #34)

Dominican Republic - SS Jose Bonilla (BA #45)

It’s unclear whether the Rays are targeting any of these players. While the O’s certainly have to be the favorites right now for Mesa (and anybody else they choose to go after), and the Marlins have been linked to both Mesa and Gaston, the Rays deadline deals suggest that they see international signings as a key part of their future. It will be interesting to see who is next in the international pipeline.