Pittsburgh Pirates: International Signing Period Trends

Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Pirates are preparing for the international signing period to open up on July second.  What is their philosophy over the last few years when dealing with this period in baseball?

The International signing period is always an interesting time of the year.  The Pittsburgh Pirates, and the rest of the teams in the league, hand out a lot of money to 16-year-old Latin American players.  The Pirates have always done a good job finding talent in Latin America.  This can be attributed to head scout Rene Gayo.

One thing that has distinguished the Pirates from the rest of the league is that they tend to stay away from the high-priced prospects and look to add a high quantity of players instead. The Pirates highest priced signing of all time was to right-handed pitcher Luis Heredia, who received a bonus of 2.6 million dollars in 2010.  Fast forward to 2016, and Heredia is still grinding through the minors and now is a relief pitcher.  The Pittsburgh Pirates changed their international philosophy after watching Heredia struggle over the years.

Some notable international signings in the last ten years or so are as follows:  Startling Marte signed in 2007 for a bonus of 85,000 dollars.  Gregory Polanco, who was scouted as a pitcher, signed as an outfielder with the Pirates for 150,000 dollars in 2009.  Alen Hanson, who signed as a shortstop and is now playing second-base, signed for 90,000 dollars in 2009.  The common theme in all of these signings is how they received very small bonuses.  The biggest bonus given out since the Heredia signing went to Harold Ramirez in 2011.  The outfielder received a 1.05 million dollar bonus.  

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The common theme the Pirates have is that they are able to find talent with lower bonus players.  Anymore in baseball you hear about teams giving huge bonuses to several players.  They face penalties such as paying a tax on their overage, or even being restricted the next year.  Teams like the Cubs spent over 6 million dollars last year in the international market, when they were allotted only 3.3 million dollars. Because of this, they are not able to sign any prospects for more than 400,000 dollars this year.

The Pirates will not ever operate like this.  As stated earlier, the Pittsburgh Pirates organization has found a lot of top prospects for a low-cost.  The Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, head scout Rene Gayo, and their scouting department in general, rather sign a bunch of raw, athletic players rather than just a few who are supposed to be more advanced.  At the end of the day these are 16-year-old kids that they are signing.  It is hard to project what they will do in a major league environment, not to mention how they will physically and mentally develop as they enter adulthood. They found this out with Luis Heredia, who continued to put on weight and had an immature attitude toward off-season training, which lead to being out of shape.  The Pittsburgh Pirates front office rather have quantity over immediate quality because of these reasons.  The more athletes signed, the better chance at a few maturing and developing into legitimate prospects.

The Bucs typically sign 8-10 notable players to bonuses.  Last year they signed 8 players, none who received more than 350,000 dollars.  With that they were able to sign multiple players while staying under their slot restriction (disclaimer, the Pirates signed more than 8 players, just 8 are media noteworthy).

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This year the Pittsburgh Pirates have been given a bonus pool of 2.04 million dollars.  This ranks second to last in the league, as they had the second best record in baseball.  With already having a lower bonus pool, the Pirates are not expected to be competing for any of the top 30 international prospects. The Pirates likely will continue to spread their money out over numerous prospects, who they believe they can develop into legitimate prospects and hopefully beyond that.