Cardinals shut out the Cubs 7-0 to clinch the NL Central

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Though a formality at this point, the Cardinals officially clinched the NL Central tonight with a 7-0 blanking of the Cubs. The offense got to Cubs starter Travis Wood early, scoring three times on a two-run double by Yadier Molina and an RBI single by Jon Jay. Wood exited after the first, as the one inning put him exactly at the 200-inning mark.

David Freese hit a solo home run off of Cubs reliever Brooks Raley in the third. The Cardinals added two more against Raley in the fourth on a bases-loaded walk by Matt Holliday and an RBI ground out by Molina. Matt Holliday crushed a solo home run into the bullpen at Busch Stadium in the bottom of the sixth against reliever Blake Parker.

Meanwhile, Cardinals starter Laynce Lynn was nearly untouchable, holding the Cubs scoreless over six innings on four hits and no walks while striking out nine. Kevin Siegrist, Edward Mujica, Carlos Martinez, and Trevor Rosenthal combined for three scoreless innings to wrap up the game.

The Cardinals aren’t done playing meaningful baseball yet, however. They are tied with the Braves at 95-65. The team with the best record gets home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and gets to play the winner of the Wild Card playoff game, ostensibly weaker than either remaining divisional winner.

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.