Dispatches from Kansas City: “You have to see batting practice”

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HardballTalk’s Drew Silva is filing regular reports from this year’s MLB All-Star festivities in Kansas City, Missouri. Part OnePart Two. Part Three

Kelly’s Westport Inn is a wooden-floored Irish-style pub occupying the oldest standing structure in KC. Completed in 1850 — when the population of the United States was less than 25 million — the building has served as a trading post, a hardware store, a drug store, a hotel and a hiding place along the Underground Railroad (well, that part’s just a rumor). Last night, it housed an impromptu get-together for a pack of thirsty baseball media types.

I drank Boulevard Single-Wide IPAs and shots of Jim Beam and I stood with jaw agape when ESPN anchor Steve Berthiaume not only recognized my name but said he “really enjoyed” my writing. I chatted about minor leaguers and music with Jason Parks and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. I met Matt Meyers, the editor of the MLB page on ESPN.com. I was explained lifelong frustration by local Royals podcasters.

The experience might have been overwhelming, but I’d been slugging bourbon and last call arrived quickly.

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“Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn’t have to wait so long.” I couldn’t get that lyric out of my head as I watched baseball’s best prospects crush souvenirs into the seats before today’s Futures Game.

source:  “You have to see batting practice,” Meyers had told me over beers the night before at Kelly’s. The kids aren’t jaded yet by the major-league environment and they’re not used to warming up for a game surrounded by so much media, so they try to put on a show in the half-cage and then offer long, thoughtful answers afterward in on-field interviews.

Cardinals outfield prospect Oscar Taveras — referred to by a scout recently as the best offensive talent in the minors — spoke to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a couple of minutes as I stood by, watching two pros at work. Taveras, 20, is batting .322 with a .968 OPS, 17 homers, 25 doubles and 63 RBI in 79 games this season at Double-A Springfield. Goold is the best beat writer in the country.

I introduced myself to ESPN’s Keith Law, who called HardballTalk a “great, great blog” and referred to our editor playfully as “Grumpy Craig.” He spoke with enthusiasm about the starting pitchers on Team USA and indulged my followup questions. We talked about the legendary sauce at Gates — which I basically bathed in last night at dinner — and about the inconvenient hours at a barbecue shack named LC’s, which is the best place to get burnt ends if all the Kansas City natives I’ve spoken to on this trip are to be believed.

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The Futures Game was a slugfest, paced by the American bats. Tigers prospect Nick Castellanos went 3-for-4 with a homer and three runs scored. Fleet-footed infielder Billy Hamilton — property of the Reds — zoomed around the bases in the third inning for an RBI triple. Astros youngster Jonathan Singleton, who is built like an outside linebacker, finished the day 3-for-4. The Royals’ own Wil Myers collected three RBI with a run-scoring groundout, a sacrifice fly and a seventh-inning single. Everything he did drew a loud ovation from the hopeful sellout crowd at Kauffman Stadium. He’ll be back here for good by mid-September.

I took it all in from the press box while cracking salted peanuts and getting to know industry veterans.

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Next up is the Legends & Celebrity Softball Game, featuring “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, nearly-undefeated UFC figther Jon “Bones” Jones and former major league players like George Brett, Bo Jackson, Ozzie Smith and Joe Carter. I’ll stay for a few innings to scout Don Draper’s swing before heading back downtown to check on the city’s supply of Boulevard Wheat.

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.