Braves trade Kurcz, sign another 16-year-old FA shortstop

The Braves acquired Aaron Kurcz from the Red Sox in the offseason.

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The Braves acquired Aaron Kurcz from the Red Sox in the offseason.

MILWAUKEE – The Braves continued to push their renewed emphasis on the international free-agent market by signing Venezuelan shortstop Juan Morales to a $450,000 bonus Monday, the third highly pursued 16-year-old free agent they’ve signed since the international signing period began Thursday.

Morales is a rangy, lanky athlete who’s been described as a “true shortstop” and a good hitter. The signing continues another point of emphasis for the Braves in free-agent pursuits: Up the middle defense. Their organization philosophy is to load up on young pitching and up-the-middle defenders – middle infielders, center fielders, and catchers.

To sign him without going over their prescribed international spending allotment and incurring expensive penalties and a possible restriction on future signings, the Braves created more room Monday by trading minor league reliever Aaron Kurcz to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for the 113th international bonus-pool slot, valued at $167,000.

On Thursday, the Braves completed three trades to add bonus-pool slots: pitcher Cody Martin to the Athletics for the 53rd slot ($388,400); two minor leaguers, pitcher Caleb Dirks and outfielder Jordan Paroubeck, to the Dodgers for the No. 87 slot ($249,000), and minor league pitcher Garrett Fulenchek to the Rays for the Nos. 73 ($299,000) and 103 slots ($195,200).

With those deals, plus Monday’s trade of Kurcz, the Braves added about $1.3 million to their international-pool spending allotment, pushing the total to about $3.7 million.

They needed that much because last week the Braves signed shortstop Derian Cruz ($2 million bonus) and center fielder Christian Pache ($1.4 million), a pair of 16-year-old Dominicans. Cruz and Pache were each ranked among the top 10 international free-agent prospects by at least one service. Morales was rated in the top 30 to 40 range by most.

Although the Braves now have a surplus of pitchers and shortstops in their organization, young pitchers and players at up-the-middle defensive positions can be like currency later, allowing the team to trade from those positions of strength to fill a specific need – such as a big bat — when the timing is right.

Signing Cruz and Pache alone would’ve surpassed the Braves’ intial total international-pool spending allotment of $2,458,400, if the Braves hadn’t made moves to acquire other slots and give themselves more spending room.

Teams that exceed the international signing-bonus pools by up to 5 percent must pay a 100 percent tax on the amount over the limit, and teams that exceed the pools by 5-10 percent aren’t permitted to sign a player for more than $500,000 in next year’s signing period, in addition to paying a 100-percent tax on the amount over the limit. The penalties are even steeper when teams go more than 10 percent over their pool allotment.