The Pandemic Contract Exception for International Leagues

Clementina 05Since we were first to the scene in announcing the historic loan of active minor leaguers Marc Civit, Hendrik Clementina (above), and Matteo Bocchi to Italy’s Serie A [link], we have also broken the news of multiple more signings by the league, along with two other national circuits. In our previous piece, we discussed the standard minor league contract and its policy on loans, positing a “Pandemic Contract Exception”. Since then, we have spoken to several scouts to clarify this exception, with some interesting conclusions emerging.

The Pandemic Contract Exception
We posited a “Pandemic Contract Exception” to the standard minor league contract—detailed in our previous piece on the topic—in which a player may be loaned to another league, exceptionally, in this case, during the regular MiLB season. As discussed in the link above, these contracts include a proviso on “loans”, but vague language suggests that these loans are to either winter leagues or minor league teams in other organisations (relatively common until the mid-1990s). The language suggests either would happen at the club’s directive, not the player’s.

In speaking with scouts, two things become clear. First, that nothing in the contract suggests a player’s national league is option for the player. Second is that a player loan (to use the standard language of a minor league contract) to a team in Italy, the Netherlands, or elsewhere is something each player negotiates with his club.

Additionally, we can confirm that European signings do not contain additional clauses allowing that player to continue playing in his native country or return to its league outside of the minor league season. What makes this decision unusual, in part, is the unprecedented case of players with game experience in the minor leagues returning to European leagues to play.

According to a scout for a MLB club, “You need to ask [your club] for permission and if it is granted, then you can play. That is literally it.”

This confirms the statement from RFEBS, Spain’s national federation, on behalf of Civit, who does not have any special language in his contract. Instead, it would appear, any player can make a request to his MLB club to play in a domestic and it is up to the organisation to confirm or reject the proposal. This fairly sizeable loophole not only allows a pandemic contract exception, but could result in any number of “loans” to international leagues.

The sum total of active MiLB players in the Italian league is now seven, one fewer than Thursday, when Markus Solbach was released by the Dodgers. The Hoofdklasse, the top league in the Netherlands, boasts four current minor leaguers and, as we broke yesterday, Curaçao’s Liga Aqualectra will become the third league to feature professional players during the normal MiLB season. In total, there are 18 players under active minor league contract with MiLB experience playing in non-U.S. leagues.

Other Contract Exceptions
Although the signings of Solbach, Clementina, and the Spanish prospects in Italy is highly unusual, Italians regularly continue playing in their home country after signing their first contract. For example, Alberto Mineo (pictured below) signed two years before going to the US and continued to play in Serie A. This is also the case in Spain and the Netherlands.

“It was common to sign and then stay at home to finish high school while playing for your own club,” we were told by an employee of an AL club. “Also, if at the end of the minor league season there was still ball in Italy, they joined in. It’s more common than it seems.”

The situation is similar in the Netherlands, where Dutch players could finish high school in their home country and play in the country’s strong national league. The situation is different in Germany, however.

“In the German League, actually, [continuing to play is] not allowed,” explained our source. “Solbach, for example, can pitch in Italy but not in Germany, what an irony!”

The decision to prohibit professional players is up to the league, not MLB organisations. As several scouts told us, “You just need permission.” The limits for the Bundesliga, however, make sense. Serie A and the Hoofdklasse are at a different professional level than leagues in other countries, even the Czech Republic and Germany. Solbach would instantly become the most experienced player in the Bundesliga, for instance, likely leading to the league’s exclusion.

A scout with a different organisation dampened any idea that this could become a more common situation in future years, however, remarking that the signings are solely due to the pandemic. Given the intention of MLB to reduce the minor league system by 40 teams, however, we could see a return to this approach after the next collective bargaining agreement.

It is worth noting, as well, that the ban on in-person scouting is still in effect, so teams and fans will be the only ones benefitting from the unexpected influx of talent. Only “video and remote work”, as one scout put it, is permitted by MLB until announced otherwise.

Tomorrow we will have a look at what windfalls of talent this “exception” has brought the top two levels of Italian baseball as well as the Netherlands’ Hoofdklasse. We also round up the full list of European players at American universities, already at 13, who have returned to play in the two systems. Finally, we look at the effects it could have on other leagues.

Part II of the Pandemic Contract Exception can be found below:
UPDATE: Active Minor Leaguers in International Leagues [link]

Photos copyright Extra Innings.

About Gabriel Fidler

Extra Innings UK covers baseball around the world, focussing on the sport at the national team level, with features on prominent players, scouting reports, and occasional breaking news. We are fully credentialled by MLB and have covered the World Baseball Classic, continental championships, and the U.S. minor leagues.
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