2010 International Signing Period Preview

Last year at this time all of the talk was about Miguel Angel Sano, the top prospect on the international market, who was believed at the time to almost be a lock to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  After a long summer filled with an age investigation, and a breakdown in communications between the Pirates and Sano’s agent, Rob Plummer, Sano ended up signing with the Minnesota Twins for about half a million more than what the Pirates were offering.

The 2010 International Signing Period began this morning, Friday July 2nd, at midnight, and while the Pirates probably aren’t in line for the drama we saw last year, from all accounts they aren’t going to be shying away from their pursuit of more top prospects.  Let’s take a look at what we can expect for the upcoming international signing period.

Luis Heredia

The big name the Pirates are linked to is 15-year old Mexican pitching prospect Luis Heredia.  The Pirates are believed to be heavy favorites to land Heredia, who is projected by Baseball America to receive the number two bonus on the international market this year.  Heredia has been linked to a $2.2 M price tag, although in recent weeks that number has been rumored to be $3 M.

Dejan Kovacevic did a feature on Heredia earlier this month, describing the young pitcher as having four “plus” pitches: a fastball, changeup, slider, and curveball. Heredia can’t sign until August 16th, when he turns 16 years old.  That also falls on the deadline for the Pirates to sign top draft prospects Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, plus every other member of the 2010 draft class.  If the Pirates could land Taillon, Allie, and Heredia, it would be a massive boost to the pitching depth in the farm system.

The main competition for the Pirates will be the Toronto Blue Jays, who have been named as the other heavy favorite for Heredia.  The Dodgers, Yankees, and Athletics have also been reported to be interested in Heredia.  Heredia doesn’t have an agent.  Instead, teams will be negotiating with his Mexican team, Veracruz, which should avoid a repeat of the Miguel Angel Sano situation from last year.

Dejan Kovacevic is already reporting that the Pirates have bid $2.5 M for Heredia, with Toronto bidding $2.8 M.

Elvis Sanchez

Sanchez, a power hitting third baseman out of the Dominican Republic, is the other big name the Pirates are linked to.  Sanchez probably will cost less than $1 M, although he may not sign right away due to a situation brewing in the Dominican Republic.

Last week top Dominican prospect Edwin Moreno tested positive for steroids, and rumors spread that half of the Dominican players tested had failed their steroid test.  Because of the uncertainty of this situation, it’s likely that we won’t see many Dominican players signed right away, as most teams will wait until further information is discovered on the steroid situation.

Sanchez has some of the best power in Latin America, with plus-plus raw power derived from his strength and bat speed.  He plays third base, although most scouts feel he will eventually move to first base.  Sanchez has a plus arm, which plays well at third, so he could be another Pedro Alvarez situation, with his signing team wanting to keep him at third as long as possible.  The Mets are the other favorite for Sanchez, with Houston and San Francisco also interested.

The Budget

There has been no official word on the budget the Pirates have this year, and for obvious reasons.  The Pirates don’t like to release this information, as it hurts them in negotiations by telling agents and players what they’re willing to spend.  However, the budget is believed to be $3 M, and maybe higher than that with some of the money left over from the 2009 season.

The Pirates have already signed several players this year, with the totals most likely going towards that $3 M budget.  The reported bonuses are:

Willy Garcia – $280,000
Jonathan Herrand – $185,000
Isaac Sanchez – $180,000
Miguel DeAza – $150,000

The four signings are the only reported bonuses this year, although the totals for just these four players amounts to $795 K.  It’s clear that the Pirates are planning on spending more than $3 M this year, as their rumored $2.5 M bid on Heredia would put them at $3.295 M, and that’s not even counting all of the other signings they have made, or will make this year.

A Repeat of the Miguel Sano Situation?

You can’t mention the fact that the Pirates are pursuing a top international prospect without someone bringing up the Sano situation.  However, there’s no chance that the Heredia situation ends up the same way.

The Sano signing was a mess, due to the negotiation tactics employed by Plummer.  Plummer didn’t want any bids while Sano’s age investigation case was ongoing, a process which lasted until early August.  The Pirates were interested the whole way, and even submitted some offers.  The Pirates made an offer in August, but Plummer insisted that he had other teams showing more interest than the Pirates.  All of the news and rumors suggested otherwise, stating that the Pirates had the top offer.

Finally, in early September, the Minnesota Twins came in, made an offer, and Plummer accepted it, without giving the Pirates a chance to top the offer.

The Pirates were totally justified in their bidding actions.  For almost a month, Plummer insisted that they needed to meet his price, yet there was no indication that suggested another team was outbidding the Pirates.  The Pirates even upped their bid, but got nothing.  Finally, Neal Huntington told Plummer to contact him when he was ready to negotiate.  Plummer didn’t do that, and accepted the Twins offer.  The Pirates were most likely bidding against themselves, which isn’t a smart practice.  They also had a communications breakdown with the agent, which led to the denial of a chance to top the Twins’ offer.

Overall the Pirates didn’t show much trust in Plummer’s word, and wanted to avoid bidding against themselves, when all signs pointed to the Pirates being the leaders in the Sano race.  You can’t totally fault them for that, but in the end they didn’t get the player, and that’s the most important thing here.

So why won’t the Heredia situation be like the Sano situation?  Simply put, it’s all about money.  It’s a bidding war in a typical auction format.  According to a source within the negotiations, Plummer was operating a sort of Dutch auction, which is where the seller starts with a high asking price, and lowers it until someone accepts the asking price.  This could explain why the Pirates held out.  Plummer had come down on his price a few times, and was getting very close to what the Pirates were offering, with no team showing signs of taking that offer.  Finally the Twins stepped up and took the offer and signed Sano.

Heredia will be auctioned off by Veracruz, and this time the Pirates will have every opportunity to either outbid the highest bidder, or determine that they no longer want to pay the price f

or Heredia.  There won’t be any trust issues in the negotiation process.  There won’t be any waiting for the price to drop.  This is your typical free agent negotiation, and the only thing that matters here is money.

One advantage the Pirates have is that Toronto is linked to a lot of high priced players.  If the bidding gets too high, the Blue Jays might move on to other options, rather than putting too much money in to one player.  Toronto also has nine draft picks in the first three rounds, which means they’ll be spending a lot in the draft, and won’t have unlimited resources to spend in the international market.  They’ve already signed five of those picks for about $2.8 M combined.  The Pirates may sign Heredia, and then again they may not sign him.  However, don’t make the mistake of thinking the Pirates will repeat the Sano situation here.  The two situations are night and day.

The Top Bonuses

The Pirates have yet to sign any Latin American prospects to a reported bonus that includes seven figures, so if they do manage to sign Heredia, it will mark a record.  Here are the top reported bonuses that the Pirates have handed out in the international market:

1. Exicardo Cayonez, 2008, $400,000
2. Jodaneli Carvajal, 2008, $350,000
3. Willy Garcia, 2010, $280,000
4. Jonathan Barrios, 2008, $250,000
5. Jonathan Herrand, 2010, $185,000

Money Doesn’t Equal Talent

One of the biggest misconceptions is that to get talent in the international market you have to spend a ton of money.  That’s not necessarily true.  I forget the source and the exact phrasing of one of my favorite quotes on the international market, but it goes something like this:

The international signing period is like buying electronics the day they come out.  You can get the same quality product two months later for a lower price.

Take a look at two of the top international prospects the Pirates currently have in their farm system:

Starling Marte – Marte was signed for $85,000 in 2006.  Last year he had a breakout season, and is probably one of the top five prospects in the farm system right now, even with his current hammate bone injury.

Jorge Bishop – Bishop was signed for $35,000 in 2008.  After putting up a breakout year in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2009, Bishop moved to the US, where he is off to a hot start in the Gulf Coast League.  Bishop, a shortstop, has a build like a bigger Jimmy Rollins, and if he continues his hitting ways, he might draw more comparisons to Rollins than just build.

One thing I see a lot is that the $5 M academy that the Pirates built in the Dominican has yet to serve it’s purpose because the Pirates haven’t signed a big name player.  The academy isn’t meant for that.  All you need to sign a big name player is a lot of cash.  You don’t need an academy to give Luis Heredia $3 M.  The value of the academy is finding the Jorge Bishop’s and the Starling Marte’s, aka, guys who could become top prospects, who cost a small fraction of what the top prospects cost.

Signing Luis Heredia for $3 M would be amazing, but the Pirates could have the same potential for success by signing 20 guys to $30,000 K bonuses, as long as they’re signing the right guys  Fortunately, the Pirates have an excellent guy in place to find those hidden gems, and he is Rene Gayo, who was responsible for signing Marte and Bishop.  If the Pirates want to be successful in the international market, they can’t just rely on spending big bucks for guys like Heredia.  They also need to find more guys like Bishop and Marte.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect Watch 7/1/10

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