MLB’s July 2 international amateur signing period opens — get this — this Thursday, July 2nd, allowing major league teams to bid for the rights to 16- and 17-year-old foreign talent. In reality, most deals for high-priced players have already been ironed out, and Kiley McDaniel’s international scouting board, which lists projected teams and dollar amounts for a number of top prospects, will probably turn out pretty accurately.
- We talked a lot about this international signing period in the offseason, laying out what we thought would be a wise strategy for the Padres to follow. The short version: if the Padres hold off spending big during the 2015-’16 signing period, staying within their budget, as many as 10 (or more) teams could be under international penalty for the 2016-’17 signing period, leaving the Padres with a clearer path toward signing elite talent. The big international spenders like the Yankees and Red Sox, who spent well over their bonus pools last year, and the Dodgers, Cubs, and Blue Jays, who are expected — potentially among others — to bust their caps this year, will all be unable to spend more than $300,000 on a single player.
- It appears the Padres will follow this strategy, as Dennis Lin discussed in a recent article in the Union-Tribune. Further, McDaniel projects the Padres to sign only three players from his board, none for more than $1 million: Andres Munoz (right-handed pitcher, Mexico, $1 million), Kevin Melean (shortstop, Venezuela, $550,000), and Jose Cabrera (left-handed pitcher, Venezuela, $400,000). However, if you add in a report from Cover Those Bases in May (h/t: U-T Padres Forum), which has the Padres signing Reinaldo Ilarraza (shortstop, Venezuela, $350,000) and Kevin Alarcon (second basemen, Venezuela, $400,000), suddenly we’re up to $2,700,000 for five players.
- The Padres have an international amateur bonus pool of $2,691,800 this signing period, 12th-highest in the league. They can spend up to five percent more than their bonus pool without incurring future spending restrictions (the overage would be taxed 100 percent), effectively making their bonus pool $2,826,390. If all five of those signing are correct, San Diego would be just narrowly under budget. Remember, however, that most teams sign 20 or 30 international players in a given signing period, if not more. The Padres wouldn’t have much room to add more players, unless they went strictly to the $5,000 and $10,000 bargain bins.
- The Padres could still bust their budget, of course, but it would be a strange decision if they did it without adding any premium talent. In just about every past case where a team significantly went over their bonus pool, they added premium — read, expensive — talent. The Yankees, for example, signed seven players for $1 million or more last year while the Red Sox snagged Yoan Moncada for a cool $31.5 million. If you’re gonna go in, you may as well go all-in.
- Often times teams agree to deals with players over a year before the J-2 signing period opens. The Padres didn’t hire A.J. Preller as general manager until early August of last year, and Preller and the Padres didn’t hire director of international scouting Chris Kemp until October. The Padres got a late start negotiating with players for this class, and it’s possibly that most of the top talent had already found a match by the time Preller made his first trip to the Dominican Republic as Padres’ GM. All of which is seemingly more reason for the Padres to hold out on spending big, waiting at least until next year when they’re more prepared and have the international scouting infrastructure in place before negotiations begin.
- The Cover the Bases article notes that the Padres have been “very aggressive” in Venezuela, which makes sense given the players currently being linked to San Diego, four of which are from the country. As Ben Badler explains in a recent article at Baseball America: Want a bargain? Head to Venezuela. The differences in projected price tags between the top players in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela is startling, and it’s not simply a reflection of talent. There are a lot of reasons for the disparity, but one thing that’s made 2015 different than previous years is that the economic and political situation in Venezuela is making it more challenging than ever for players to be seen. Top decision-makers from the United States prefer going to the Dominican Republic, where they have their academies, feel safer and have an easier time getting into the country, since Venezuela now requires visas from Americans to enter. It’s possible the Padres are trying to focus on Venezuelan players while avoiding the hotbed that is the Dominican Republic, perhaps sacrificing some familiarity for a discount. It certainly wouldn’t be past A.J. Preller, international deity until proven otherwise.
- Preller is well-versed in the international scene, as are a number of people on the Padres’ staff. It’ll be interesting to see how the handle the international market — what kind of players they bring in, how they strategize in terms of spending within MLB’s rules and the prospect of an upcoming worldwide draft, and, perhaps most importantly, how well they develop young prospects into major league quality players. We’ll be watching.