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Monday, December 5, 2022

First Pitch: Should the Pirates Spend Beyond Their International Bonus Pool?

The Pirates have seen two really good results in recent years out of the Latin American signings from Rene Gayo.

Starling Marte, signed in 2007, has been one of the best players in baseball, and is very under-rated. He has averaged over a 4.0 WAR per year in the last four seasons, and ranks 20th among qualified position players in WAR from 2013-2016.

Gregory Polanco signed in 2009, and has had two solid seasons in the majors, averaging a 2.5 WAR. He teased a breakout in early 2016, but faded down the stretch, which could be injury related. I still think the best is yet to come, and the first half of 2016 is what we can expect going forward.

Add to these results some other successful prospects who were either good enough to land MLB pieces (Dilson Herrera for Marlon Byrd and Joely Rodriguez for Antonio Bastardo) or players who haven’t arrived yet (Elias Diaz, Alen Hanson, Willy Garcia, and Jose Osuna are all in Triple-A, and could all be MLB players off the bench or more), and the Pirates have some pretty good results from the international side of things.

That has changed a bit under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which went into effect in 2012, and reduced the budget for the Pirates. MLB restricted teams on how much they could spend, adding in harsh penalties if they went over their bonus amounts. The penalties were a restriction on signing players for more than $300,000 the next two years, and a 100% tax on the amount you went over the pool.

This same process worked to curtail spending in the draft, and so far, there hasn’t been a team that exceeded their bonus pool enough to lose a draft pick (although plenty of teams, including the Pirates, exceed their bonus pool up to 5% and pay a 75% tax on the overage). But the process hasn’t worked on the international side. Teams have restrictions and face fines when they go over their limits, but that hasn’t stopped teams — big market and small market — from exceeding those lower bonus pools.

Part of the difference between the draft penalties and the international penalties is that you lose a lot more in the draft. If you have an international bonus pool of $2 M and you spend $5 M, then you get a $3 M fine, and can’t sign a player over $300,000 the next two years. But you still get your full bonus pool the next two years. In the draft, if you exceed your bonus pool by $3 M, you get that 100% fine, plus you lose your first and second round picks the next two years, and all of the bonus money that comes with those picks.

There have been a lot of teams who have taken advantage of this on the international side. The Angels, Diamondbacks, Rays, Yankees, and Red Sox all went over their pools in 2014-15. The Blue Jays, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, and Royals added to that list in 2015-16, meaning a third of the teams for the 2016-17 signing period couldn’t spend more than $300,000 on a single player. But this year it looks like the Braves, Reds, Astros, Athletics, Cardinals, Padres, and Nationals will all exceed their bonus pools.

That’s 17 teams in the last three years who have exceeded the bonus pools, which has already raised the question about why the Pirates aren’t also doing this. Wilbur Miller has written about his feelings on this a few times, and we talk about this every single time he’s in Florida. We both agree that the Pirates are getting less talent than before under the new system. But we disagree on why, on how much less talent they’re getting, and on what they should do going forward.

First of all, the why for me is explained by looking back at what made the Pirates so good before these rules went into place. Their biggest success stories weren’t big bonus guys who cost seven figures. They actually have only had two of those — Luis Heredia for $3 M and Harold Ramirez for $1.05 M. Their next biggest bonuses came in 2012 with Michael De La Cruz and Julio De La Cruz, and that was under the new system. Three of their other top ten bonuses came under the new rules.

The Pirates had success with smaller bonus guys. Marte only received $85,000. Polanco got $150,000. Hanson got $90,000. Diaz got $20,000. Those make the $280,000 that Willy Garcia and Jose Osuna received look like huge bonuses, and the same goes for the $220,000 that Dilson Herrera received.

I went down to the Dominican last year and had a chance to see all of the academies and hear about how the Pirates compare to other teams down there — both from people inside and outside of the Pirates’ organization. I’ve also spent time over the years discussing how the Pirates operate versus other teams with people who are familiar with those dealings. The Pirates put a lot of effort into their academy and have an extensive scouting presence in Latin America. The difference is stark in comparison to the difference in US scouting and development.

There are some teams in the Dominican that share an academy with another team. Some teams have an academy, but don’t even have basic equipment, such as the cart that lays chalk on the baseline for the games. Their groundskeepers have to do this by hand before every game. And that’s an investment that would be only a few hundred dollars, at most. And then when it comes to scouting, there are some teams that opt to just spend on the players who are widely known, rather than spending a lot on scouts to find players who are just as good, but who don’t have the early attention.

The Pirates work the opposite way. They spend a lot of resources on scouting, which allows them to find players that others don’t find. They’re not alone on this, as other teams take the same approach. But that’s why they’re able to find talent for cheaper prices. They’re spending money on scouting and the academy, which leads to talented players who don’t cost as much, because they’re not as recognized nationally when they sign.

So the theory that the Pirates should load up on top players (and there really aren’t “top players”, just players who are projected to receive the biggest bonuses because of the spotlight they have) and spend big dollars one year kind of works against their approach. They go with a quantity approach, getting ten talented, high-upside guys, rather than just one talented, high-upside guy for the same price. And that’s where I believe the source of their shortage of international talent lies the last few years.

The Pirates have seen some results under the new system. One thing that’s lost is that it takes so much time for international players to make it through the levels. The guys from the 2012-13 period are just reaching A-ball. The guys from 2013-14 are mostly reaching the short-season leagues, with some older players in A-ball. The 2014-15 class just made the jump to the GCL this year. The 2015-16 class just made their pro debuts in the DSL. And the Pirates have had some early results from the early years.

The 2012 season is looking disappointing for the De La Cruz’s, but Tito Polo ($25,000 bonus) emerged as a trade chip for Ivan Nova, while Pablo Reyes and Dario Agrazal (bonuses unknown) have both been interesting players in A-ball.

The 2013 season looks like the best of the group so far. The highlight here is Yeudy Garcia ($30,000), who made it to Bradenton this year after breaking out in West Virginia last year. He had some shoulder issues at the end of the year, but didn’t have any issues after getting them checked out in Pittsburgh. This class also has Luis Escobar ($150,000), who is already hitting 97 MPH, and looks like one of the best arms in the lower levels. Adrian Valerio ($400,000) was the big signing, and has shown some potential with great defense at shortstop. Edgar Santana made an aggressive move through the system, going from the DSL to Indianapolis in two years. This group also has some interesting guys in Hector Garcia, Edison Lantigua, and Jeremias Portorreal, who is on my early list as a sleeper to watch in 2017.

We really can’t tell much from the 2014 group, but Victor Fernandez had some good numbers in Bristol, while Yondry Contreras had some of the hardest hit balls during instructs. Miguel Hernandez, Domingo Robles, and Brian Sousa are all interesting arms in the lower levels.

The Pirates are still getting talent, and still getting that talent at low prices. But when you look at their approach, and the change in their budget, you can really see why they have seen fewer prospects emerge. They used to have a budget of $3 M per year, and that didn’t count guys like Heredia and Ramirez, who were special expenses, separate from the normal international budget. They have recently been around $2 M per year. If you look at the success stories above, they’re averaging about $100,000 bonuses or less for most of the low-key signings. If you reduce the budget by $1 M, which the CBA did for the Pirates, then that’s ten fewer players you can sign. That amount every year, over four years, means the Pirates may have had about 40 fewer players in their system from 2013-2016. And when your approach relies on getting a large quantity of high upside guys, you can see how losing 40 of those high upside guys would reduce the amount of players who emerge as prospects.

I don’t think the answer to this is to change course and sign a lot of high-priced players. In theory this sounds good — go big one year and sign a bunch of prospects, and then revert back to the low-budget approach the next two years, which fits into their normal strategy. But when you’ve got at least five other teams taking this same approach, you’re going to be getting into a bidding war, and the prices are going to be high. Those prospects with big price tags offer no greater guarantee of working out than the guys with the smaller price tags.

What this would result in is the Pirates spending more on the international side when they’re already limited in the majors. I believe they can spend more than they’re spending now in the majors, but I don’t think it’s an excessive amount. It’s still a situation where a few million dollars can make a big difference.

I don’t think anyone is arguing for them to do what San Diego is currently doing, by spending $20 M over their bonus pool, which will result in another $20 M in taxes. I do think the calls for them to exceed the bonus pool are similar to what the Athletics have done, signing five players for $6.7 M total, when their pool is only $3.8 M. That’s at least a $3 M fine, plus the extra $3 M in spending. And the difference comes down to a 17-year-old Cuban outfielder who they signed for $3 M. I don’t think a scenario where spending $6 M on a 17-year-old outfielder is a wise move for the Pirates. They still have success signing lower bonus guys, and they still have a tight budget at the MLB level, with expectations to contend.

An approach that would make sense is keeping their low bonus approach, but expanding it in a big way. Their bonus pool was $2 M this year. So maybe you sign a lot of players and spend $3 M. You get the $1 M in fines, but you get a lot of high upside players with this approach, which fits with their system. This could allow them to return to their success from before. Although, looking at the early results above, especially with that 2013 group, I’m not sure they’ve really departed from their trend of finding talent in Latin America.

All of this might be moot in about a month. The Collective Bargaining Agreement expires this off-season, and I can imagine one of the biggest things to be addressed will be the international signing rules. The rules in place now have done nothing to deter teams from spending, and I can’t imagine that the player’s union is happy that a team like San Diego is paying $20 M in fines, rather than using that money toward actual players. There’s also the changing situation in Cuba that could eventually impact the price tags of Cuban players on the market, and the way those players are signed.

I’d imagine there will be some changes to this market over the off-season. There should be a draft, allowing teams a shot at the best available player with exclusive negotiating rights, rather than the situation now where one team can sign multiple players out of the nationally known lists. This approach would work very well for the Pirates, as it would give them a shot at the top well-known guys at a reasonable price, while also still having the ability to go for the lesser known players that they do such a good job at finding.

**2016 DSL Pirates Season Recap and Top Ten Prospects. Speaking of the international players, John Dreker recaps the best players from the 2016 DSL Pirates.

**AFL Preview: Pirates’ Group Highlighted by a Pair of Third Basemen. The AFL starts tomorrow, and we’ll have reports each day. Here is the preview, with details on the players representing the Pirates.

**Who is Remaining For the Pirates to Protect From the 2016 Rule 5 Draft? My look at the upcoming Rule 5 draft, and who the Pirates still have left to protect.

**Winter Leagues: Action Begins in Venezuela with a Big Day From Jose Osuna. Some of the winter leagues have started up, and Jose Osuna is off to a good start.

**Pirates Have Off-Season Money to Spend in the Initial 2017 Payroll Projection. I took an early look at the 2017 payroll, and feel the Pirates have money to spend this off-season.

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Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.


Pirates Prospects has been independently owned and operated since 2009, entirely due to the support of our readers. The site is now completely free, funded entirely by user support. By supporting the site, you are supporting independent writers, one of the best Pittsburgh Pirates communities online, and our mission for the most complete Pirates coverage available.

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joe s

Well Tim thanks to my suggestion(s) you did this type of article where you give the readers an opportunity to agree or disagree with you. (No I am not taking credit for your article, as I am sure you thought this one up on your own). You have made your point to me many times and I still disagree with it. The Pirates have to spend to stay competitive with other teams on the international side. If this means blowing through the cap once every five years or so, so be it. At least for the first time, I see that other readers of this site seem to agree with that approach. Usually when I post I get attacked for not agreeing with you. Glad to see others share my views.
The Pirates will do what they do and no matter what we, or Tim says it is just going to be that way. I hope that all the international signings made by the Pirates have great success and take the team to the championship. However, I would like to see them spend more to acquire potentially better talent.


So, its been almost 8 and 10 years since the Pirates last signed International prospects who actually became productive major league players. That has to be one of the worst International signing track records in MLB.

To answer the question that this post asks, the short answer is yes – because the penalties for doing so are not much of a deterrent. Maybe they shouldn’t use that approach every year, but possibly every 2-3 years to mix things up and see which approach seems to be the most fruitful.

I bet if someone tracked the top 100 prospects list over the past 4-5 years, and analyzed all of those who were International signings, I bet a significant percentage, if not the majority were high priced signings (meaning, over $1m). The Pirates like to bargain basement, which is not a winning or sustainable long-term strategy. The Pirates results proves that out – two MLB players in 10 years. Sometimes you can find a diamond in the rough or a late bloomer, but they are the rare exceptions.


BF…I guess you didn’t read my post just below yours? Now granted, it was for only one year, but I would bet you that the results I posted would yield similar results. You have just as good of a chance to get a top 26 players spending less (or way less) than a million bucks.

Btw, it was really easy. Just eliminate all drafted players from the list and then pull up bonus info via Google.


Interesting, I wonder if that holds up over a 4-5 year period….I guess I am a little surprised by that, because when I scan those kind of lists, the high price signing players always catch my eye and it seemed like there were quite a few….


If the Pirates ever want to pay the penalties in dollars and restrictions the 2017-18 year might be the most opportune time.They would not have to compete against some of the big-money teams such as the Blue Jays, Cubs, Giants, Padres, Dodgers, Nats,and Cards(?). However, I get the impression that the Angels, Red Sox, Yankees and Diamondbacks have already served their punishment and so the Bucs would have to compete against them and the well-healed teams that have not participated so far such as the Rangers, Phillies and White Sox. It seems that the way to go is to load up on high priced talent every third year and quantity the other two, if you have the financial resources to do it. As mentioned, a new CBA may be more limiting or less limiting in the future.


Why would they want to spend all that money when (according to Top 100 lists) you can get one for much cheaper?

I’m starting to wonder why I took the time to look up the bonus info. 🙁


Yoan Moncada > A cart that lays chalk


Based on what Andrew and Wilbur wrote below, I decided to look at BA’s preseason Top 100.

Of those Top 100, 24 were Latin Signings.

Of those 24, EIGHT cost more than $1 million (including our own Harold Ramirez at #95 ). Of those 24 TWELVE cost 500k or less.

The low was $17k for Reynaldo Lopez of the Nationals.

Of the 8 in the Top 26, HALF were in the “less than 500k” range.

I would say then, that based on these results, the Pirates strategy seems sound. You are just as likely to end up with a Top 25 player spending 500k or less as you are spending a million or more.

Plus, as Tim and John have mentioned, the bonus is just the beginning. When you add in penalites, it sure doesn’t look like it is worth it to spend, spend, spend.


You also apparently failed statistics class in college. That’s not even close to the definition of probability.


Btw, I saw many more Jacob Stallings amongst the One Million plus crowd then I did Kris Bryants, if you want to call any of those like Moncada or Nomar Mazara a “Kris Bryant”. They’re good, but Kris Bryant good?

If a GM wants to spend all that money on the Jacob Stallings of the International crowd, be my guest. In that case, I would call those GMs idiots, because historically the odds aren’t with them to nail a ‘good one’.


I don’t think you can make any strong normative statements about what is the best approach in amateur international free agent market by looking at one team.


Great recap, Tim. You’re wrong, but great recap. 😉 Just kidding.

This ultimately boils down to a signal and noise discussion. As Tim noted at the very beginning of the article, the Pirates have successfully signed and developed two players into big league contributors. One in 2007, and one in 2009. The others he’s noted would’ve made a compelling argument two years ago, but Elias Diaz will be at least 26 before even getting his first major league start, Alen Hanson looks to be on his way out of the organization, Wily Garcia is close to a non-prospect, and Jose Osuna has the upside of a bench bat.

If you’re one who believes that amount of “success” is a signal, that what they’ve done in the past has worked, that it can be sustainably replicated, then status quo is your choice. If you believe 2009 was a long, long time ago back when you had more hair and less belly, and don’t believe what’s in the system now has the ability to add to the list of those two actual successes, then *something* has to change.

A few points from the article…

“They go with a quantity approach, getting ten talented, high-upside guys, rather than just one talented, high-upside guy for the same price.”

You ever say a word in your head so many times that it temporarily loses all meaning? “High upside, high upside, high upside, high upside…” I feel like this loses all value when used so flippantly. Nobody goes around to freshman showcases in the United States and calls every 15 yo kid with a decent body “high upside”, and neither should they just because the kid is from a Latin American country. The Pirates most certainly do not sign ten “high upside” Latin kids each year.

“Those prospects with big price tags offer no greater guarantee of working out than the guys with the smaller price tags.”

Nobody actually looks at the other side of this argument, including Tim. That’s understandable because it would be incredibly time consuming, but it’s still incomplete. It’s simple and easy to look at the 20-30 kids each year who pull seven-figure bonuses and pick apart the failures, but when was the last time anyone *actually* analyzed the other side of the argument? How many kids like those that the Pirates typically sign end up succeeding? Is that ratio, both in terms of successes/total and cost/success really any better? It might be, honestly it might be, but I’m not sure we really know the answer.

“What this would result in is the Pirates spending more on the international side when they’re already limited in the majors. I believe they can spend more than they’re spending now in the majors, but I don’t think it’s an excessive amount. It’s still a situation where a few million dollars can make a big difference.”

That last line perfectly illustrates the turmoil currently within this organization. Think about that last line! The single, most overarching, central tenant to the Huntington Era is that spending limited resources on amateur talent is better than spending it on Major League veterans. Literally nothing has driven their strategy more than this single axiom. Going against that isn’t “tweaking” the system, it’s upsetting the apple cart. If the lack of spending in Latin America and the haste to dump Francisco Liriano points to a want to marginally benefit major league payroll, this organization has lost it’s way.


Not trying to be too literal here but Elias Diaz has already made his first major league start on July 24th (I believe this was when Fryer was on paternity leave).


Shoot, thank you! I missed that one.


Who is the beneficiary of the fine money teams pay when they exceed designated limits?

Lee Foo Young

they’ve been sending it to me, piraddict.



Well, then at least it had been well spent!

John W

What empirical evidence do you have to support this rather bold claim? “Either way, there’s not a huge difference in talent between the guys getting seven figures and the guys getting six figures.”

Because imo, if it is merely because a lot of high bonus players don’t work out that is not nearly enough evidence to support such a conclusion. And if your statement is correct, it implies that a lot of MLB teams putting a lot of resources to work are pretty dumb if they could get basically the same product for 6 figures that they are spending 7 figures on.


John W….it appears those GMs ARE dumb.

I can buy just as good a ballplayer spending less than those “smart” GMs can. The stats prove it out.

See above.

John W

It seems way too early to make that declaration. The rule changed in 2012- it doesn’t seem we will have meaningful data for a few years as a lot of these signings (both high bonus and lower bonus) are in the early stages of development.

I agree with Wilbur though- the early indications on Pirates signings since the 2012 change are not promising.

Guys like Marte and Polanco don’t mean much to me in support of any argument about avoiding higher priced bonuses. That was a different era. In a few years if you can point to a lot of guys signed for well under 300K who ended up justifying not pursuing prospects over 300K that would be different.


“In a few years if you can point to a lot of guys signed for well under 300K who ended up justifying not pursuing prospects over 300K that would be different.”

I think this still gives the argument too much merit.

Would any club ever refuse to sign first round draft picks just because a bunch of late round picks worked out? Of course not.

There *should* be room for both.

It baffles me that people in this thread are definitively claiming the probability of success is higher with signing low-dollar players while also admitting they don’t even know how many of those players are signed in a given year. That’s not how math works.

The vaunted Pirate scouting clearly hasn’t had a track record of success that’s good enough to completely ignore talent, and if they *are* better than average then that skill should still apply to the high end guys. I don’t see how it’s logical to believe they’re so good that they can find diamonds in the rough but that same skill cannot weed out the dumb money prospects from those that are legit.


“As for the spending, the point is that they’d now be spending on fines if they went over-slot. I’d be fine with them spending $5 M on players.”

That’s still the ultimate value of the player; it’s just that Major League Baseball is a cartel who skims off money from the players because they have no representation or bargaining rights.

And regardless, the Pirates have simultaneously been limited in what they can spend on the North American draft, so money is there. It seems they’re purposely preferring to spend those extra few million on Major League payroll, and there’s not a single one of us who should support that if we genuinely believe what we’ve been saying for the last eight years.

John W

We can’t afford to compete for International Talent and going into 2016 we couldn’t afford to spend more than we did on Ryan Vogelsong to address the rotation. I have little doubt this organization is living hand to mouth with the payroll near 100M or slightly above.


This is a good article. Thank you. I’d be interested in reading more about the Pirates’ latin america efforts. You say that the Pirates have had pretty good results from the international side of things. Comment and question — this article is on latin america so I presume your comment refers only to that and not the rest of the international scope of talent acquisition, correct? Secondly, is there a standard against which you can gauge the Pirates results? How have other teams fared? Better or worse or about the same?


AttyMike…as to your second question, irt to the high bonuses, check out the links I posted below. The results are not good.

As to overall success, unless you would peruse other prospect sites (and there are NONE like P2) you can only go by the Top 30 prospects from BA and other places and/or the Top 100/250s that are put out.

I just glanced through the Top 50s in my BA book and it looks like 15-20% are Latin prospects. That means that there are 10 guys in the Top 50. There are 30 MLB teams….you do the math. 🙂




I’m not sure your conclusion matches the data. Remember, this is all relative. *All* spending on amateur talent is a low-success game. Defining success is relative.

From your 2012 list Rosario, Barreto, and Reyes are three of the very best prospects in the game out of the top 15 signings of at least a million bucks, with one already showing big league success. I count seven of the Top 15 from 2011 that have made or are still on Top 100 lists.

For comparison, the first *64* slots form the 2016 North American draft were valued at least a million bucks, and those kids are at least two years older. How much more success is there in giving a guy like Connor Joe a million and a half than one of these Latin American kids?

Wilbur Miller

“*All* spending on amateur talent is a low-success game.”

Exactly. You can’t look at individual signings and say, “This one flopped,” or “That one succeeded.” You have to expect most will flop. Instead, you look at what you spent across the market and what you ended up with.

It’s not a coincidence that most of Gayo’s biggest successes in more recent years have been with pitchers who signed at late ages for the LA market (Garcia, Santana, Miguel Rosario). It’s good to look for guys like this; i.e., in most cases guys who slipped through as 16- and 17-year-olds but had velocity spikes later. But the top talents still, in fact, go as 16- and 17-year-olds and get big bonuses. How likely is it that the large majority of MLB teams that are willing to shell out seven figures to these guys are all idiots? That’s what you’re effectively saying if you argue that the Pirates shouldn’t pay out seven figure bonuses. IMO, that’s incredibly naive. Teams aren’t stupid. They know a lot of these kids will flop. But they have to go after them or they’re effectively punting on the top talent.

What the Pirates are doing is closing themselves off from the top-tier talent in LA. Limiting themselves to bargain 20-year-olds who’ve slipped through the cracks is like saying we’re only going to draft college seniors because college juniors are too expensive. Yeah, the occasional college senior succeeds, but what you get is Jacob Stallings while the Kris Bryants all go elsewhere.

The Pirates have already opted out of the Cuban and Japanese player markets. They won’t or can’t compete for ML free agents other than bargains. You can’t close yourself off from one talent source after another and expect to succeed. The path to the World Series doesn’t run throught Walmart.


Tim…I couldn’t agree with you more.


Unfortunately, Wilbur, the flaw in your strategy is that you’re assuming that we’re not getting quality out of our quantity and that we WOULD if we would just spend more money.

THAT is being incredibly naive. If it was smart to pay large bonuses, then EVERY team would be doing it.

Just because 7 or 8 MLB teams are doing it, doesn’t make it smart.

And your Stallings/Bryant comp is not valid. You’re comparing a finished college product to a 16 yr old kid who’s future is incredibly hard to predict.


Wilbur…to fully support your opinion, you would have to do a comparison of top Latin prospects and see which ones did or didn’t get large bonuses (you’d have to define ‘large’).

I think I might have somewhat misled you into thinking that all of those top Latin prospects in the top 50 were high bonus ‘babies’ and they were not. There were some, like Polanco and Marte who were ‘cheap’.

It would be really interesting to see the results. The Pirates haven’t had one success story (yet, that I know of) in their bonus ‘babies’. I wonder how many of the other teams have similar stories.


“Just because 7 or 8 MLB teams are doing it, doesn’t make it smart.”

Educate yourself before going at somehow who clearly knows more.

Kerry Writtenhouse

Great comment! That hit the nail flush on the head.


Not really. 🙂

Kerry Writtenhouse

In my opinion, he nailed it.


In your opinion is fine, but in reality, well….

See my post above (at the very top)….

You have just as good a chance at nailing a Top 26 talent spending less than 1 mil (in some cases less than 500k) as you do spending gobs of money.


That’s not *at all* what your top post says, but sure.


I have posted this before:

It is hard to go too far back in the historical international bonus categories because a lot of them are 16-17 years old, but the practice of giving out high bonuses to Latin kids does not appear to be a wise strategy and a good use of funds.

Top 2010 bonuses

Top 2011 bonuses

Top 2012 bonuses http://www.baseballamerica.com/international/top-30-international-bonuses-of-2012-14686/#VAkv3Pu0vHdfS3RR.97

If I had the time or inclination, I could go through my MLB Top Prospect books and clarify who is a top prospect (vice Tim’s ‘interesting’ prospects), but at first glance, I sure don’t recognize too many names. Mazara was the top 2011 guy, Reyes is on the 2012 list and Heredia was #2 on the 2010 list (oh wait…..lol).

The Bucs COULD opt to spend BIG bucks here, but really, are the returns any better than our Quantity over Quality?


Just a note that the 2016 DSL Pirates Season Recap and Top Ten Prospects article has links to Survey Monkey results and writeups.


I see that this article and discussion is centered on Latin American international players, but what I would be also interested in is discussion on why the Pirates have generally shied away from the other international markets (Pacific Rim). Other than JHK who we got on the cheap, we’ve never really gotten involved. I assume that mainly due to the financial constraints, but I wonder if the PBC will ever change their strategy here and go after a upper level free agent from Japan. Plug them into the starting rotation (pitcher) and accept that starters with multi-year contracts are going to cost $8-$15 million per year. That would get them in the Japanese FA market.

I’m also confused on the international rules for Cuban players. Some seem to have international draft MLB rules applied, while others do not. I believe it may have something to do with the players age, but am not certain? Maybe the PBC should get more aggressive in that market?

Wilbur Miller

The Pirates shy away from any market where they’ll have to compete with other teams financially. That’s why they ignore Japan and Cuba. Kang was an under-the-radar move and, to their credit, they caught everybody napping. It’s unlikely to happen again, and hasn’t so far. This is probably why they won’t go after big bonus Lat Am guys. They mostly sign guys from trainers with whom Gayo has an in. That’s what happened with Heredia; Gayo used his connections to freeze out other teams. He tried to do that with Sano and it blew up in his face. The Pirates won’t compete financially for talent unless they think they have an edge that’ll lead to a bargain.


Tim: I think you made some very good points and the Pirates could easily have 4 position starters in the lineup from recent International Signings – we already have three in Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte, and Francisco Cervelli (2003 NYY); Alen Hanson could be the 4th beginning in 2017. And, do not count out Jose Osuna.

Hard to measure the splashy signings of others, but here are some names from the Yankees 2014 signings – Dermis Garcia $3.2 mil, Nelson Gomez $2.25 mil, Jon Amundary $1.5 mil, Wilkerman Garcia $1.35 mil, Hyo Jun Park $1.1 mil, Miguel Flames $1.0 mil, Antonio Arias $800K, Diego Castillo $750K, and Juan DeLeon. I think the NYY spent between $15 and $20 mil that year – results?

Obviously, the Yankees loaded up on middle infielders, but then traded to get Didi Gregorius, and Gleyber Torres. Lot’s of MI talent from the 2014 signings may be available in the near future for a lot less than what they have invested.


Has anyone ever done an analysis of fractions of each MLB team the come from their own International signings? That would be a good measure of the relative effectiveness of their International system.

Lee Foo Young

piraddict….your mission, should you accept it is:



Impossible mission. I don’t have a resource that tells me who a player originally signed with.

John W

What are chances Jose Osuna becomes a starter? I’d say well less than 1%. Cervelli wasn’t signed by Pirates.

I suspect there is much more competition for hidden gems and it is unlikely to find talents like Marte and Polanco under 300K today than it was when they signed- that was quite a long time ago.

And why would you expect “results” from the Yankees 2014 signings. A lot of those kids are 18, 19 years of age and their results in rookie ball look just fine so far.


John: The chances are very good that in 2017 or 2018, Osuna could be in the starting lineup as a RH hitting backup at 1B or LF.

My point was that the Pirates already have 3 Intl players in the lineup that got to MLB through the Intl Draft. I doubt there were many teams that have had that many Intl Draftees in their lineup in 2015 and 2016.

BTW, Cervelli was a SS/2B/P when the Yankees drafted him on the condition that he would try Catching.

Frank Koch

There was discussion that the Bucs were very high on a young Latin player who was to turn 16 in August. I never heard if they signed him. Are there other teams now trying to lock him up instead of the Pirates?

Ken D

Tim, you must be exhausted. Well done.

Wilbur Miller

Disagree on several points —

— The penalties aren’t harsh, in fact they’re borderline meaningless. That’s why a majority of teams have chosen to blow past their limits. Compare that to the fact that NO team has ever incurred draft pool penalties (beyond the minor tax for going slightly over.) The Pirates haven’t gone over $450K on the int’l front in four years, so being limited to $300K for a year or two would have almost no impact.
— Finding talent like Marte and Polanco on the cheap under the new rules will be much harder because bonuses are escalating rapidly. It’s not just that the Pirates aren’t spending more. They’re spending less while MLB as a whole is spending dramatically more, so the Pirates’ financial commitment to Latin America is rapidly falling farther and farther behind everybody else’s. Where a third-tier guy used to get maybe $80K or whatever, now he’s probably getting mid-six figures. Teams that decide to blow past their pools are digging harder to find players to throw that money at, so the Pirates are facing much more competition on the tiers where they’re actually looking for players at a time when they’re spending far less on a relative basis.
–You’re glossing over just how badly their top signees are struggling. Marte and Polanco struggled a little, but not remotely near as badly as Contreras, Portorreal, both De La Cruzes, Alcime, Apostel and others. Harold Ramirez, Dilson Herrera and Alen Hanson didn’t struggle at all. It’s an early stage for the guys from the last few years, but the performance level has dropped very sharply compared to the same stage for the successful players they signed back before their spending fell off so sharply relative to other teams.
— Well, I disagree with pretty much all the rest, too, but this is too long for a comment.

Wilbur Miller

It’s not the overall amount of the bonuses that’s important, it’s the guys toward the upper end. The number of seven-figure bonuses has escalated drastically. As a larger and larger number of players go for top bonuses, fewer and fewer talented players are going to be available at bargain prices.

If you don’t buy this, just compare the performances of guys like the De La Cruzes, Contreras, Portorreal and Alcime to guys like Polanco and Marte. You’re still glossing over the drastic performance differences. Marte struggled his first year, then broke out big-time and never looked back. Polanco showed good plate discipline and hit respectably over his first several years. The De La Cruzes have had four years now and are still in rookie ball looking like non-prospects Portorreal had an OPS 200 lower than Polanco’s his first year, stayed in the DSL instead of going to the GCL like Polanco did, and still struck out in a third of his ABs (a major warning sign for a hitting prospect), then went to the DSL for a third year. Contreras had a .546 OPS in the DSL last year and .478 in the GCL this year, and also struck out in nearly a third of his ABs. Even Marte, who’s a free swinger, never struck out in more than a fifth of his ABs in any short season league. And I could make similar comparisons with just about all their hitting prospects from the last 3-4 years. The performances have been WAY inferior to the guys they were signing 6-8 years ago.

Comparing Herrera to Polanco, btw, isn’t relevant here. Whether Herrera looked better at one point than Polanco doesn’t matter. What matters is that they both looked much better than any of the hitters the Pirates have signed since them.

Santana is a reliever and Garcia is likely to end up as one. (The scouting reports BA got on Garcia this year weren’t very good, according to their FSL chat.) Maybe Escobar will remain a starter, but none of these guys is close to Marte’s or Polanco’s level as a prospect. The Pirates’ unwillingness to compete financially with most of the rest of MLB in Latin America is closing them off from that sort of talent. The results are showing it. It’s the top tier prospects, like Marte and Polanco, that make a strong farm system, not the complementary guys. Their unwillingness to spend is leaving them with just the latter.


Is it only the amount spent, or is the vaunted scouting staff failing to meet expectations?

Lee Foo Young

imo, it is awfully hard to project the future of skinny 16 year olds and put them in a new country where they don’t speak the language.

That is where the Dominican Academy comes into play. It teaches them life (and American) skills.

Wilbur Miller

It’s not unfair to look at the numbers now–with the hitters as pitchers develop very differently–because the numbers are so freaking bad. As I said, striking out a third of the time, even at a very early stage, absolutely is a major cause for alarm. Guys with a ML future just don’t do that. None of the guys who turned into real prospects came close to that.

John W

I could not agree with you more Wilbur. A few questions:

This isn’t a binary situation: if the Pirates spread the money around strategy is as good as Tim intimates isn’t that even more of an argument to exceed the 300K one year and go after higher pedigree talent? Because they can still execute the exact spread the money around strategy Tim supports and simply pay the fine and not spend 300K the following years.

2nd question: I don’t follow minor league baseball as closely as you but I do follow it closely and try to keep up with other systems as best as possible. I feel that our International Talent does not compare well with most other teams across the league and that we are at a disadvantage there and most likely will see that gap widen instead of narrow as these kids get more time to develop( in other words I don’t development of prospects like Portorreal and others in system to yield a lot of results while others will reap the benefits of higher priced signing with more development) Do you agree or disagree?

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