Imagine a baby boy being born tomorrow, and imagine that his future will be determined within the first five minutes of his life.
The doctor picks up the newborn and examines him -- the length of his arms, the strength of his legs and the size of his head. The infant is weighed, measured and given the customary eye and hearing tests.
The doctor spends a few minutes with the parents and then makes a proclamation.
"This boy is going to be a doctor! Not only is this boy going to be a doctor, he's going to be a specialist -- one of 750 in the world. This child is going to be among the world's best neurosurgeons, so pay him millions of dollars now!"
This is exactly how one international scouting director described scouting and signing 16-year-old international prospects each July 2 and projecting their future as Major League Baseball players.
It's an inexact science, to say the least.
And for the second year in a row, international scouts, international scouting directors and the clubs that pay them will be operating in uncharted territory come July 2.
In accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team was allotted $2.9 million to spend on the international market starting July 2, 2012, without penalty. Exceptions -- such as a team's six highest signing bonuses of $50,000 or less and players signed for $7,500 or less -- did not count against the spending cap.
This July's international signing period will work a similar way, but the amounts that clubs will be allowed to spend will be based on their records in the 2012 season. The pools will range from just under $4.25 million for the Astros, which had the lowest winning percentage, to a shade under $1.15 million for Washington, which had the highest winning percentage.
Each team is allotted a $700,000 base. In addition to that base, the team gets a signing bonus pool that is made up of four slot values, based on its 2012 record. The Astros, for example, receive the No. 1 slot value ($3,246,000), No. 31 ($468,400), No. 61 ($316,300) and No. 91 ($213,000), for a total of $4,243,700.
Additionally, clubs will be allowed to trade pool money. The Astros, for instance, could trade their No. 31 slot and its $468,400 value to another team in any type of trade.
Like last year, there are exemptions. Clubs can sign six players for bonuses of $50,000 or less, and those do not count against the pool. All bonuses of $10,000 or less are also exempt.
The international signing guidelines do not apply to players who previously signed a contract with a Major or Minor League Club, nor do they apply to players who are least 23 years old and have played as a professional in a league recognized by the Commissioner's Office for a minimum of five seasons. Cuban players who are at least 23 and have played in a Cuban professional league for three or more seasons are also exempt.
Nine teams will have more than $2 million in slot money to spend on the international market when the signing period begins on July 2, and only the top five teams will have more than the $2.9 million they had last year.
2013 international signing bonus POOLS
Most teams will have an estimated $1.1 million to $1.9 million of slot money to spend this July.
"The new rules make everyone work harder to do a better job, and that's good," said Junior Noboa, vice president of Latin American operations for the D-backs. "The times have changed for a lot of teams but it won' t be too tough for us. We've had success with a lot of non-expensive players and putting them in the big leagues. We signed Alfredo Marte for about $50,000, and look where he is now. Big leagues."
By comparison, the Rays have spent the most money on the international market during the current international signing period, which began last July 2, an estimated $3.7 million on 22 players. Half of the teams have spent more than $2 million of their $2.9 million allotment.
The Mets gave Ahmed Rosario the highest bonus, at $1.75 million. Jose Castillo signed with the Rays for $1.55 million, and Juan Paniagua signed with the Cubs for $1.5 million. Of the more than 400 prospects that signed with Major League teams since July 2, 10 players signed for at least $1 million, and 62 players signed for more than $250,000.
With the start of this year's international signing period just over two months away, clubs are determining which strategy suits them best. Should they spend all of their money on one or two prospects or do they spread the money out evenly on several prospects? Some clubs are also considering spending the money on facility upgrades and improving their scouting staffs.
The lower bonus money available this July also puts a premium on the relationships between scouts, prospects and the "buscones" that train the players. But, that said, the highest bidder is still expected to win out come July 2.
"The rules won't affect us much because we go out in the field and cover each country. We have a prototype that we like, and that's what we are looking for," said Rene Gayo, international scouting director for Pittsburgh. "To really have success you have to have good scouting and be willing to work 24 hours a day. But sometimes, when you like a player, you have to bow out because the money is getting too big to be comfortable. It doesn't mean you don't like the player, but the risk and reward makes you bow out."
The impact of Major League Baseball's Amateur Prospect League and its showcases should not be overlooked -- along with leagues like the Dominican Prospect League and International Prospect League. Because of these leagues, clubs now have the opportunity to watch several prospects in game situations in one place, which is an appealing proposition for any club, especially those that did not consider scouting in Latin America a priority in the past.
"When I started, 26 teams had complexes in the Dominican, and now all 30 teams do," Rangers international director Mike Daly said. "You have MLB showcases, and I saw two GMs there, and that says that more teams are in competition. The teams that were not as aggressive, they are now."
The rules have changed but some things remain the same.
"You can find a gem now and then, but as you know, a 16-year-old is not a mature adult to be able to be considered a professional ," said Johnny DiPuglia, international scouting director for the Nationals. "If you see a 16-year-old and believe he can be a big leaguer, there's lot of dreaming going on. We can see a tool and project but so there are so many intangibles that go into it."