This is the time of year when teams' moves to bolster their big league roster, or lack thereof, get all of the attention with the San Diego Padres being no different. However, one fairly recent addition to the offseason calendar each January, the opening of international free agency, is an opportunity for teams to set themselves up for success for years to come if they get it right.
The Padres are expected to make a big splash during this upcoming IFA signing period. However, international free agency has undergone a number changes in recent years, so here is a quick primer of what Padres fans can expect when the market opens up and how everything works.
When does international free agency start and end?
Prior to the most recent CBA, international free agency started on July 2nd each year. However, the date changed in the wake of the COVID shutdown and those changes stuck for at least the current CBA unless the players and owners can come to an agreement on the creation of an international draft which has not happened as of yet despite some early momentum to do so.
For this year, international free agency opens up on January 15th, 2024 and runs all the way through December 15th, 2024. As long as a team has money left in their international bonus pool (more on that in a second), they can sign eligible players throughout that window, although the bulk of the signings happen as soon as things open up so players can get started with their teams quickly. Players who sign for less than $10,000 do not count against their team's bonus pools
How much can the Padres spend on international free agents in 2024? International bonus pools explained
Speaking of international bonus pools, this is where things get a little weird. Under the old IFA system, teams were given "slots" worth X amount of money based on their draft position and the sum of those slots was a team's total bonus pool they could spend. Those "slots" of money could be traded although there were some limitations in doing so.
Nowadays, the system is more straightforward. Every team starts with a set amount in their bonus pool. If a team has a Competitive Balance draft pick in Round A, they get an extra $500,000 total added and if they also have a pick in Competitive Balance draft pick in Round B, they get another $500,000. Bonus pool money can be traded in increments of $250K, but no team can acquire more than 60% of their existing bonus pool in any given signing period. Teams also lose bonus pool money if they sign free agents that rejected a qualifying offer. If the team is over the luxury tax, they lose $1 million for each such signing and lose $500,000 if they are not over the luxury tax.
For this upcoming IFA signing period, the Padres are tied with three other teams (Yankees, Rangers, Phillies) with the lowest international bonus pool this year with $4,652,200 to spend however they choose during the next signing period. No, teams cannot use that money for any other purpose nor can they roll money over to future signing periods.
Who are the Padres expected to sign when international free agency opens up?
The bulk of the free agents that are set to sign next week don't have a lot of public intel on them when it comes to where they are going to sign. However, there is information out there on the top guys and arguably the best international free agent in this year's class, Leodalis De Vries ($), is expected to sign with the Padres once international free agency opens up.
He will not come cheaply and it is highly likely that he will cost the vast majority of San Diego's bonus pool, but De Vries sure seems like a worthy gamble. The shortstop out of the Dominican Republic already has an advanced approach at the plate, possesses plus raw power, and has a high baseball IQ and game sense which bodes well for him sticking at shortstop long-term.