Interleague time brings the usual realignment talk

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Every year, just as interleague play gets going, someone decides that it’s time for baseball to undergo some sort of divisional realignment. They just go together as topics I guess. Probably because they both involve messing with the natural order of things. I have no idea.

Just read one by Tom Van Riper in Forbes. It’s like a lot of others in its desire to obliterate the old leagues and group teams by geography while preserving some rivalries.  As with most such proposals it creates more problems than it solves, in my view. I mean, get a load of his “Eastern Conference Northeast Division”:  Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Blue Jays. And you think that Toronto fans complain about their division now?

Of course I think we can deal with that as long as his proposal for the Braves’ division stays: Atlantic Division – Orioles, Nationals, Braves, Marlins, Rays.  Sold!

Seriously, though, here’s my thing on realignment: if it is to be done, it should be done in increments, to solve specific problems and only when making minor changes makes manifest sense. Like, say, if the Rays relocated to Portland Oregon or something.  Otherwise, you’re probably best served just eliminating divisions altogether, going to a fully balanced schedule and taking the top 4-6 teams in overall record for the playoffs.

Wait: that’s so crazy it just might work!

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.