MARINERS LINKED TO DOMINICAN SHORTSTOP AS INTERNATIONAL SIGNING PERIOD APPROACHES

 Bob Dutton

Bob Dutton

   SEATTLE — The Mariners appear poised to make a splash in the international market next week by signing shortstop Noelvi Marte, a 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic.

   Baseball America and MLB.com each cite the Mariners as the front-runners to land Marte, a 6-foot-1 right-handed hitter whom many scouts believe might eventually be a better fit at third base.

   “Marte has a fluid, easy stroke,” Baseball America reported, “that’s compact and geared to get the ball elevated.”

   MLB.com adds: “One scout dropped a young Miguel Cabrera comparison on him. Another evaluator believes Marte could eventually hit .270 and hit 25-30 home runs in the big leagues.”

   Baseball America ranks Marte as the No. 4 international prospect, while MLB.com puts him at No. 7. Both services cite Venezuelan catcher Diego Cartaya and Dominican outfielder Marco Luciano as the top two eligible players.

   Luciano is expected to sign with the San Francisco Giants, while Cartaya appears headed to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

   (Baseball America ranks Cuban outfielder Victor Mesa as the top international prospect but, while he has taken part in showcase events, he isn’t yet eligible to sign because he hasn’t been cleared by Major League Baseball.)  

   The Mariners’ expected signing bonus for Marte, who turns 17 on Oct. 16, is in the $2 million range, according to Baseball America. If so, that represents roughly 40 percent of the club's total bonus-pool allotment.

   None of this is official because the international signing period doesn’t start until Monday (July 2). While signings can take place until roughly mid-June of the following year, most of the top prospects agree to deals within the first few days.

   Unlike the MLB Draft, which is held in public, international signings generally occur in the shadows because the pursuit of top prospects is intense. Clubs rarely make announcements until a signed contract is in place.

   Even so, it will be a surprise if the Mariners fail to sign Marte.

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   Baseball America has a detailed online scouting report on Marte and other top prospects available to subscribers. The digital price is $5.50 a month — and it’s a must for fans who want to track prospects before and after they’ve signed.

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   Some background on the international signing period:

   It covers foreign-born players who are not eligible for the MLB Draft, which is generally limited to residents of the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories.

   Because there is no international draft, players are essentially free agents who can sign with any club for any amount — although MLB reins in bidding wars by assigning bonus-pool allotments to all clubs. 

   The base international allotment for each club is $4,983,500 but increases for those clubs who were eligible in the MLB Draft for competitive-balance picks to either $5,504,500 or $6,025,400.

   The Mariners have the base amount of $4,983,500.

   There are penalties for clubs that spend more than their allotted bonus pools, as is the case with he MLB Draft, although bonuses for $10,000 or less are exempt from the pool limit.

   One difference from the MLB Draft is clubs can also trade up 75 percent of their international bonus pool but must do so in $250,000 increments. 

   In order to sign, a player must be 16 years old. Further, he must turn 17 either by Sept. 1 or the end of his his first pro season — whichever is later.

   There are exceptions.

   Players who are 25 or older or who have played at least six seasons in a recognized professional league — such as those in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Mexico or Cuba — are not subject to the international-signing rules.

   Clubs are also prohibited from signing Japanese-born players because they are subject to the Japan League draft and must play nine years in their home country before gaining free agency unless they go though the posting system.

   The net effect is most international signings involve 16- and 17-year-olds from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and the Central American countries. Nearly all will start their professional careers in the Dominican Summer League.