What's next for Maitan, former Braves prospects?

13 players are now international amateur free agents

November 21st, 2017

For weeks, rumors and whispers swirled about what penalties the Atlanta Braves would incur based on violations of baseball's rules on signing international amateur free agents. Official word was handed down on Tuesday afternoon, and the consequences are severe.

In addition to being severely limited for the next several international signing periods, a dozen players previously under contract by the Braves have been made free agents by the Commissioner's Office. The list, which includes seven players from the 2016-17 signing period who received seven-figure bonuses, is headlined by No. 38 overall prospect Kevin Maitan. It also includes Korean shortstop Ji-Hwan Bae, who had his September 2017 contract voided. Here is the list, with each player's original Braves signing bonus (which they get to keep):

Ji-hwan Bae, SS, $300,000

Juan Contreras, RHP, $1,200,000

Yefri Del Rosario, RHP, $1,000,000

Abrahan Gutierrez, C, $3,530,000

Kevin Maitan, SS, $4,25,000

Brandol Mezquita, OF, $300,000

Juan Carlos Negret, OF, $1,000,000

Yenci Pena, SS, $1,050,000

Angel Rojas, RHP, $300,000

Yunior Severino, INF, $1,900,000

Livan Soto, SS, $1,000,000

Antonio Sucre, OF, $300,000

Guillermo Zuniga, RHP, $350,000

Bae, Mezquita and Rojas were all reported as $300,000 bonuses, the maximum the Braves were allowed to officially offer in the 2017-18 signing period after having gone over their pool the previous period. But the MLB investigation uncovered that the players had been given more that wasn't reported, thus the reason for their inclusion on this list.

Maitan was the No. 1 prospect on MLBPipeline.com's Top 30 international prospects list when that signing period began July 2 (he was later supplanted by Luis Robert) and signed with the Braves for $4.25 million. Compared to superstars like , Maitan's high price tag came with considerable expectations. His pedestrian pro debut (.241/.290/.340 in 42 games, mostly in the rookie-level Appalachian League) had some back off from those initial glowing reports, but he's still just 17 years old with a world of talent at his finger tips.

That, of course, leads to the logical next question: What happens to Maitan, and the others, now? Simply put, they are all available to the other 29 Major League organizations to sign. But they are once again international amateur free agents, meaning there are some stipulations teams will have to follow.

By going back into the international amateur free agent pool, teams will have to use their bonus pools to sign such players. Since the signing period began back in July, millions of dollars have already been spent, so teams will be somewhat limited. The top five teams in terms of remaining pools are:

Texas Rangers, $3,535,000

New York Yankees, $3,500,000

Minnesota Twins, $3,070,000

Pittsburgh Pirates, $2,266,750

San Francisco Giants, $1,835,000

The Giants, like 11 other teams, are limited after going over their pool last year and can only offer any individual player $300,000. The Mariners ($1,557,500), Marlins ($1.49 million) and Angels ($1.315 million) are the only other organizations with seven-figure bonus pools remaining that aren't capped at $300K per player.

Any team wanting to pursue any of these prospects will get a little help. Major League Baseball has given an exemption to any team signing players who became free agents. The first $200K of the subsequent bonuses for any of the 12 former Braves prospects will not be subject to signing pools. In addition, as a special stipulation for these players, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the current (2017-18) signing period or the following (2018-19) one, though teams can't combine pool money. It appears the Angels took advantage of the special stipulation, using their 2018-19 international bonus pool money to offer Maitan more than the $1,315,000 remaining in their 2017-18 international bonus pool.

That wrinkle could become important as teams try to figure out how to spend what they have, not only on these new free agents, but also on Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani. With a new agreement on a posting system in place, the road is paved for the two-way star to come to the Major Leagues in 2018. Any signing bonus for Ohtani would also count toward this period's bonus pools, so being able to push a bonus to 2018-19 allows teams to pursue both Ohtani and the former Braves.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a special signing period that will end on Jan. 15, 2018, at 5 p.m. ET. If a player hasn't signed by Jan. 15, he is ineligible to receive a signing bonus from any club. If a player hasn't signed by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, albeit with no bonus. All players are required to find new representation for this process.

Teams are currently scouting these players while they are working out in the Dominican Republic and in Venezuela. On Nov. 27-28, three players -- Mezquita, Rojas and Sucre -- participated in an MLB-run showcase attended by close to 100 scouts.