Moises Rodriguez, the Cardinals' director of international operations, thinks the team will sign several quality prospects on Sunday despite the bonus restrictions. .

By Rob Rains

The Cardinals can’t sign anyone for more than $300,000 when the new international free agent period begins on Sunday, which presents a challenge for Moises Rodriguez and his team of scouts.

It’s a challenge they welcome.

“I think our staff is more motivated than ever,” said Rodriguez, the team’s director of international operations. “They’re excited to get that $200,000 to $300,000 player, a guy everybody sort of underestimated or whose market came down a little bit.”

This signing period is the first half of a two-year restriction on bonuses for the Cardinals, the result of the team blowing past its bonus cap last year, when they signed several players to seven-figure bonuses. They had to pay a dollar-for-dollar penalty on many of those contracts.

It was a strategy that Rodriguez endorsed last year, and he still believes it was a good decision.

“We sensed it was going to be the last time the system of having a soft cap was going to be in place, and if we wanted to take advantage of that, we needed to be aggressive,” Rodriguez said. “We knew what the restrictions would be for the next two years but we’ve found players under $300,000. There’s a bunch of players out there, some very interesting guys we can get into our development pipeline.

“You would obviously rather have no restrictions but historically if you look at a lot of the international players throughout the industry who have succeeded, many of them did not get millions of dollars. Magneuris Sierra got way less than $300,000. You don’t want to be boxed in, but we view it as a challenge. I don’t think our scouts are scouting with any less motivation because of it.”

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement, now in place, puts a hard cap on international signings. The Cardinals have a total of $5.75 million they can spend to sign players between Sunday and June 15, 2018, but again but can’t give more than $300,000 to any one player.

“You would rather be in the game when it’s over $300,000 but by no means do we think we have our hands tied,” Rodriguez said. “There are a lot of players out there.”

The Cardinals are expected to go heavy on position players in this signing period.

The team’s strategy was to identify players the scouts ranked as worth $500,000 to $750,000, and then see if their market dropped to where the Cardinals could sign them.

“I’m looking forward to it. We feel good about the group that we’re looking forward to signing on Sunday,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll see how it plays out over the next two or three years. Some of the guys we’re about to sign we feel very strongly about but they are 16 and have to develop.”

Three players Baseball America reported the Cardinals are expected to sign are Adanson Cruz, an outfielder from the Dominican Republic, and two teammates from Venezuela, shortstop Sander Mora and catcher Jesus Orrechia.

“There were a couple of guys we targeted who we thought might get more than that ($300,000) originally but they landed in our lap,” Rodriguez said. “I will feel better about it on Sunday when the ink is dry, but it’s exciting.”

The biggest difference between signing international free agents and selecting players in the amateur draft is that in most cases, the international players are just 16 years old, the equivalent of a sophomore in a U.S. high school.

“You are signing potential,” Rodriguez said. “Everybody wants present stuff but we are signing guys that are athletic with bodies that have ability and you hope they develop tools. On the surface from the outside it looks like the Cardinals are restricted for two years but there’s a ton of players out there.

“We’re taking a stab on guys who can go to our academy in the Dominican for two or three years and play before they ever travel. We’re able to take a chance on a crude kid who may grow. We can buy low a few times, buying athleticism. You hope that translates into baseball skills and into a baseball player.”

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains