The rules of the new international signing period, which began Thursday, left the Dodgers with a choice: They could stay under their bonus-pool limit of about $2 million and keep their future options open, or they could blow past it with a flurry of signings this year.
What did the most expensive team in baseball do?
They blew past it.
The Dodgers spent more than $20 million; more than any other team Thursday. The money netted them the No. 2 player on Major League Baseball’s Top 30 international prospects list, Yadier Alvarez, a 19-year-old Cuban right-hander. The sides agreed to terms on a $16-million contract.
The deal for Alvarez, who is represented by the Beverly Hills Sports Council, is believed to be the second-largest contract for any international player under 20. Alvarez drew the Dodgers’ interest with a fastball that reportedly reaches 100 mph.
“He’s one of the more talented teenage right-handers I think a lot of us who have been doing this for a long time have seen,” Dodgers senior vice president Josh Byrnes said.
The Dodgers paid a combined $4.6 million for two other 16-year-old Dominican prospects: outfielder Starling Heredia, who is ranked the No. 5 overall prospect, and shortstop Ronny Brito, ranked No. 21.
The Dodgers also are believed to be in the mix to sign No. 1 prospect Eddy Julio Martinez, a Cuban outfielder, who did not sign with anyone Thursday. Martinez, Byrnes said, is “on a list of a lot of guys that we’re actively scouting.”
By exceeding their pool limit, the Dodgers will pay a 100% penalty on all money paid above their allotment, and their pool for the next two seasons will be limited to $300,000.
The Dodgers decided the limits on their future spending justified more extravagant spending this season. There also has been a push for an international draft, which would limit the Dodgers’ ability to use their best asset — their cash.
“We felt like if we were going to exceed the cap, let’s make it count, get as many guys as we like as possible,” Byrnes said.
The only international teenager to garner a bigger contract than Alvarez was infielder Yoan Moncada, who signed with the Boston Red Sox this spring for $31.5 million.
Signing players at such a young age comes with risk — even more risk than in the unpredictable amateur draft.
“At 16 there’s just not quite as much information as if we were drafting a college junior,” Byrnes said.
The Dodgers signed nine players Thursday. The other prospects are shortstops Oneil Cruz and Luis Rodriguez, second baseman Aldo Espinoza, outfielders Christopher Arias and Carlos Rincon, and right-hander Ramon Rosso.
And, by trading three international bonus slots, the Dodgers effectively paid about $1 million to acquire right-hander Chase DeJong and infielder Tim Locastro from the Toronto Blue Jays. Both have been assigned to Class-A Rancho Cucamonga.
The Dodgers also acquired minor league right-handed pitcher Caleb Dirks and outfielder Jordan Paroubeck from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for an international signing slot. Dirks has been assigned to Rancho Cucamonga and Paroubeck will head to Arizona and continue rehabbing a minor quad injury.