The July 2 international signing period opened on Sunday, and as we predicted back in May, the Padres have been plenty busy. According to Baseball America, they’ve already signed 22 prospects from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, and Australia. Unlike last year, however, they can’t go past $300,000 on any player this year (Mexican loophole notwithstanding), so the strategy this time around has been quantity over quality.
According to the BA’s signing tracker, here are the number of signings by each team so far:
There are the Padres, third in all of baseball, only a few signings behind the pace-setting Astros and Dodgers, two more teams under spending restrictions. San Diego has already inked 14 more players than the average team. As we noted previously, when discussing the 57 signings the Yankees made in 2015, it’s not particularly surprising:
Teams like the Yankees (and now Padres) that are heavily invested in the international game, spending gobs of money one year, are probably more familiar with the next class of international free agents than teams that don’t devote as many resources to foreign scouting. It’s easy to just continue signing players in the year following a spending spree, with the $300,000 limit only narrowing the potential market. There’s a good shot that the Padres, given their deep roots in Latin America, follow a similar path, using the next two years to stockpile young, high upside players.
The expensive players—the ones out of the Padres range this year—have better shots of becoming good prospects and productive major leaguers, of course, but this is still something of an educated guessing game. It’s an almost impossibly difficult task to scout 15- and 16-year-old players who aren’t even finished growing yet. The Padres are probably as good at it as any other team, so it’s encouraging that they’re keeping the pedal to the floor internationally. They could have taken a step back this year and nobody would have criticized them, but it’s clear this regime is hell-bent on finding talented baseball players whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Jose Israel Garcia is, apparently, a 19-year-old Cuban shortstop, according to Jon Heyman and Jon Heyman only. There is scant other info available on Garcia from anyone, not even Ben Badler, lord of international prospects. So I took my (fake) scouting self down to Mexico to deliver you the real (er, fake) inside dope on Garcia, who’s probably on the Padres radar (if he exists).
Overview: Plenty of raw tools; athletic frame, but not chiseled like Luis Robert or Yoan Moncada; quick twitch athlete with solid feel for game; defensive asset with foot speed that will play; bat is wild card; loves playing the game.
Bat: Generates plenty of bat speed, but there’s some effort present in the swing; a lot of moving parts; susceptible to spin off the plate and stateside velocity could pose challenge; bat path can lose plane at times; when struggling, tends to get pull happy; pitch recognition a work in progress; plenty of swing-and-miss; possesses gap power when at best, using all-fields approach; shot at double-digit home run power at physical maturity; plus hand-eye makes up for some deficiencies; biggest question mark is overall hit tool.
Run: Lacks elite straight-line speed, but he’s a heady base runner; consistently 4.2-4.3 down the line; willing to take extra base in limited game action; opportunistic base stealer; times pitchers well; if he doesn’t gain too much bulk, he’s a plus base runner with fringe-average speed.
The Luis Robert sweepstakes opened and closed on Saturday, with the Chicago White Sox and Robert agreeing to a deal in the neighborhood of $25 million by early afternoon. It’s almost like negotiations started before Saturday.
At this point, it’s kind of difficult to find much more to say about Robert and the Padres, given all the coverage he’s received right here at Padres Public, over at Gwynntelligence, and elsewhere in the Padres corner of the internet. My opinion remains unchanged: that losing out on Robert—even though the total price would have been in the $50-$55 million range—stings for a couple of major reasons.
- Robert is really good. He’s probably a cut below Yoan Moncada, subject of past Padres flirtation, but I’m not sure if the gap is as big as some think, and Moncada’s arguably the best prospect going right now. Maybe Yasiel Puig is a better comp, and despite his occasional struggles, he’s a special player. Robert, if everything works out, could be ready for the bigs in a couple of years, good timing for when the Padres are anticipated to get serious about winning again.
- There aren’t a lot of logical alternatives to spend the money. Again, this has been discussed in some detail, but where are the Padres going to spend the ~$50some million they saved by passing on Robert? Certainly not in the amateur draft, where bonus pools tap out at $14 or $15 million, and not in the international amateur market, either, with the new hard cap in place (plus two years of spending restrictions for the Padres). There’s just no guarantee that this money saved will go toward improving the team on the field in other areas—and let’s face it, this team could use some new shutters or something.
Okay, okay, there really isn’t much of an update since we last wrote about Luis Robert.
Robert, the heralded 19-year-old Cuban outfielder, will become eligible to sign with a major-league team on Saturday. Don’t expect the bidding war to last long, however. Since Robert will almost certainly sign with a team before the next July 2 international amateur period starts, the deadline to sign him is bumped up to June 15, when the current signing period ends. There may be a couple of weeks of negotiation, but there’s probably a better chance a deal gets hammered out relatively soon.
It’s an exciting time for Padres fans, with San Diego assumed to be one of the five or six favorites to sign Robert, joined by a handful of other teams that have already exceeded their international amateur bonus pools plus those pesky Chicago White Sox. The Padres have already added a well-documented international haul over the last 10 and a half months, and Robert would qualify as the cherry on the top.
Anyway, Padres Jagoff wrote an excellent three-part series this week on why the Padres must sign Robert. I was leaning in that direction before reading any of Jagoff’s articles, but I’m fully on board now. Consider his last article, in which Jagoff discusses the strategic reasons why the Padres must sign Robert. In short: where else are they going to spend the money?
The Padres lost 11–0 to the Rangers on Tuesday, and Joey Gallo‘s third-inning home run off Jered Weaver skimmed the underside of one of Big Brother’s satellites. On a another note . . .
The other day I wrote about how the Padres might handle international amateur free agency over the next few years, unable to sign any players for more than $300,000. Then MadFriars, over on Reddit, made an interesting point that I’d overlooked. In their words:
Players from Mexico are generally signed directly from Mexican League teams, and so those teams require a rights fee for letting one of their players go to a major-league club. According to an older article by Ben Badler, only the portion paid to the player is considered as the actual signing bonus. So, as MadFriars notes, it’d be possible for the Padres to sign an international amateur from Mexico for somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.2 million, with $900,000 going to the Mexican League team and the other $300,000 to the player. Badler confirmed as much yesterday.
This is, to say the least, an interesting development, since we thought that the Padres would be limited to $300,000-and-under talent for two years.
Once June 15 hits, the current international amateur signing period will be over. The Padres will have spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $80 million, penalties included, and possibly much more if they make one final splash and ink Cuban star Luis Robert.
Robert or not, it’s been a historic run for an organization not necessarily known for shelling out the dollars. In their perfectly timed international spending frenzy, the Padres bolstered every part of their farm system, adding high upside arms like Adrian Morejon and a slew of young position players, highlighted by shortstops Luis Almanzar and Gabriel Arias, and outfielder Jorge Ona.
But what comes next?
Since the Padres blew past their $3.3 million signing bonus pool for the 2016-2017 J-2 signing period, they can’t spend more than $300,000 on a single international amateur player until 2019. In other words, all of the high-profile Dominican and Venezuelan players available to sign this July 2 are off limits, not to mention any major Cuban amateurs (i.e., players under age 25) that leave the island over the next two years.
When the Padres lost a bidding war for Yoan Moncada a couple of years ago, it was, perhaps, a blessing in disguise. As good as Moncada is—and he’s potentially very, very good—missing out on him kept the Padres inside their international amateur spending budget in 2014-2015, helping to set up San Diego’s all-out assault on the current international signing market. In a sense, they traded Moncada for Adrian Morejon, Jorge Ona, Luis Almanzar, Gabriel Arias, Jeisson Rosario, Osvaldo Hernandez . . . and on and on.
Now, two years after the Red Sox inked Moncada to a $31.5 million deal, there’s a new Cuban phenom in town named Luis Robert. Like Moncada, Robert is very much a Physical Specimen, with speed, power, athleticism, and all the other attributes you’d expect from this sort of supremely talented prospect. A 19-year-old outfielder who will officially be cleared to sign with a major-league team in May, Robert is expected to sign before the next international signing period opens on July 4, when all teams will be limited by a (really dumb) hard spending cap.
If the Padres were drawing all this up when they decided not to match the Red Sox offer on Moncada back in March 2015, this is about how’d it go. With big-market teams like the Cubs, Red Sox, and Yankees currently on the sidelines for past spending sprees of their own, the Padres—yes, the Padres—got to throw money around like George Steinbrenner after a five-game losing streak. Instead of competing with the Dodgers and Red Sox for top international youngsters, the Padres were competing with teams like the A’s and Braves during the current signing period. And instead of coming up short, they got their guys. Give them credit, too, because they spent, busting past their international spending pool last July 4 while continuing to add talent over the winter.
On Saturday baseball’s international amateur free agent signing period (let’s call it “J-2”) started, and the Padres—like we had envisioned for a while—went crazy. According to Baseball America, the Padres have already signed three of the top 10 and eight of the top 50 international amateur players, and they’re expected to be major contenders for the services of Cubans Adrian Morejon and Jorge Ona, once those players are deemed eligible to sign by MLB. All told, the Padres could spend upwards of $60 million (or more) on international players this year, a figure which includes a 100 percent tax overage San Diego will pay due to blowing away its $3,347,600 bonus pool (Luis Almanzar, alone, signed for $4 million and Morejon could get three of four times that amount).
With big-market teams like the Red Sox, Yankees, and Dodgers all unable to sign players for more than $300,000 (for previous pool-busting J-2 periods), the Padres, Braves, and A’s have headlined this year’s high-profile signings. It’s a welcome unintended consequence of MLB’s international rules, one that effectively allowed the Padres to compete against their peer group for talented players without having to deal with the Dodgers or Red Sox swooping in and simply outspending them. That said, it’s also a major step forward for the Padres. They didn’t have to do this, and a number of similar small-to-mid-market teams don’t spend much on amateur players regardless of the kind of competition they’re dealing with. The Padres did the right thing; they hired an internationally-focused general manager and then, when the time was right, they let him spend a busload of money on his favorite international players.
According to Ben Badler of Baseball America, 12 major-league organizations field two teams at the Dominican Summer League level of the minor leagues. Out of the 13 teams that signed the most international amateur free agents in 2015, 10 of them have two DSL rosters to fill. The Padres, however, only field one team, and they signed 38 international amateurs last year, seventh-most in the league.
There are at least a few obvious benefits to a two-team approach.
- It allows for more players. The Yankees signed a staggering 57 international players in 2015, but they have two 38-man rosters to fill, making it logistically possible. They also have two Gulf Coast League teams and a total of 10 minor-league affiliates. Signing a bunch of players for $10,000-or-under bonuses may not qualify as the most exciting foreign approach, but as Badler notes, considering the age when these players are signed (usually 16 or 17), there’s a lot of room for growth—and a lot of room for evaluative missteps. In other words, not surprisingly, it’s really hard to peg the expected career path of a 16-year-old kid who doesn’t have much of a performance track-record and who hasn’t even finished physically growing yet. Sometimes quantity beats quality, and having more teams in the pipeline makes that an easier strategy to pull off.
- It allows for more patience. Consider the logjam that can develop when you keep signing hordes of young players but only have one team on which to place them. You’re forced to either move a player up to a different level (the rookie-league AZL Padres or Low-A Tri-City, for example), which could cause other players to be moved up prematurely, or cut bait, which probably isn’t desirable given the volatile nature of the under-20-year-old baseball player. Theoretically there are other ways to stash a player, but if a team wants that guy to get professional experience, there are only so many opportunities. And if a 17- or 18-year-old prospect displays even the slightest hints of a big-league future, they’re probably worth keeping around for a longer look.
- A competitive advantage. For whatever reason, the entire NL West is light on minor-league affiliates. None of the five teams have an extra DSL squad, and only the Diamondbacks have eight satellite teams in their entire system (the rest have seven). If the Padres added another DSL team, they’d get a leg up on teams like the Dodgers and Giants, and any potential advantage—particularly one in player development—is one that should be snatched up pronto.
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.