Earlier this month, we gave an update on the amount of money the Pittsburgh Pirates had remaining in their 2017-18 international bonus pool and what that could mean for them. That total came about due to Japanese superstar Shohei Otani entering the international free agent market and the Pirates having one of the highest bonus pools remaining. There is another reason to look at that bonus pool now after the Atlanta Braves had to give up 12 of their recent international signings.

I’ll start with Otani because he is the bigger prize, but I still don’t think the Pirates have a shot at signing him. My bet would be on him going to an AL team so he can continue to be a two-way player, serving as the DH when he isn’t starting. He is going to make a lot of money in the future, so it’s highly unlikely that bonus money is going to be the determining factor, especially when we are talking about such a small amount in baseball terms. If he was concerned with money short-term, then a better market for endorsements would be his choice. MLB has said that they will crackdown on any team luring him with promises of future money in his salary as a way to circumvent their remaining bonus pool.

Otani hasn’t ruled out any team, so if you want to ignore all of those reasons I just gave, then you can check out this article about the questionnaire he reportedly sent to all 30 teams to give each club a chance to give a sales pitch on why they are a good fit. I think the Pirates should at least give it the old college try for Otani, but I don’t expect them to be able to convince him that an NL team in a small market is his best fit. On the flip side, I don’t see any NL Central team as a good fit either since he wants to hit and he’s a DH. Otani could be posted as early as this Friday, as long as the new posting system is approved by the 30 MLB clubs.

The Pirates might be better served at this point in contacting the Seattle Mariners and see what they will give up for some international bonus pool money. The Mariners plan to go all in on Otani, to the point that they are willing to use aging star Nelson Cruz in the outfield three days a week. For reference, Cruz turned 37 on July 1st, played five games in the outfield in 2017 and has been a below average outfielder every season since 2006.

The Mariners recently traded a hard-throwing pitching prospect to the Chicago White Sox for bonus pool money, so the Pirates could possibly get something nice in return for a chunk of their remaining bonus pool. The Pirates have $2,226,750 left in their pool and they haven’t signed any international players since that article linked in the intro was posted. If the Mariners are desperate to pick up more money, then the Pirates should be thinking realistically about their chances of getting Otani and see what they can get in return for bonus pool money.

That brings me to the second part of this article, which is the news about the 12 prospects that the Atlanta Braves lost. You would think that having a large remaining bonus pool would help the Pirates in that area, but that’s not true. Jonathan Mayo outlined the rules for signing these 12 players and they don’t favor the Pirates.

The 12 prospects lost by the Braves will be available to sign on December 5th and you should expect all of them to agree on a deal by January 15th. After that latter date, the player is ineligible to receive a signing bonus from any club, which basically means all they would get is your standard minor league contract.

The part of the rules that hurts the Pirates is that clubs are allowed to use money from their 2018-19 bonus pool. The Pirates had the highest international bonus pool in 2017-18, but they won’t during the next signing period. Teams either get the highest international pool ($5.75 M) and a comp round B draft pick in the amateur draft, or they receive a comp round A pick in the draft and a $5.25 M international bonus pool. The Pirates recently received the highest comp round A pick, so that gives them the smaller bonus pool total.

What that means is that almost all 30 teams are in competition for these 12 players. The only advantage the Pirates have over 12 teams this year is that those clubs are in the penalty for going over their bonus pool in 2016 and can’t sign any players for over $300,000. Mayo notes that since clubs can use their 2018-19 bonus, part of that advantage has been taken away from the Pirates. Four of those 12 clubs in the penalty this year are only in penalty for 2017-18, so they can all compete for these players using their 2018-19 pool. That leaves eight clubs that can’t go over $300,000 for any of these players, plus the Braves can’t re-sign any of them before May 1st. The Pirates also can’t combine money from both pools to put in a higher offer.

Allowing teams to use 2018-19 bonus pool money makes sense for the players. If all 12 of the players looked for deals with the remaining 2017-18 pool money, then they have limited options and would likely have to settle for a smaller deal.

Baseball America recently gave updated scouting reports on the eight best players lost by the Braves (subscription required). There seems to be five top prizes who have solid prospect potential, a catcher who is raw and might not hit, two players who seem very raw and had poor pro debuts, then four players that they didn’t feel were worth mentioning. The top prospect is 17-year-old shortstop Kevin Maitan, who originally signed for $4,250,000, but his prospect status has taken a hit since scouts got to see more of him this year. I would assume that some of the lower profile players will sign for $300,000 or less, so 29 teams can compete for them (everyone except the Braves).

The Pirates likely have some of their 2018-19 bonus pool set aside for a handful of players, just because that’s how international signings work. Teams agree to deals well in advance of July 2nd, which is when they can officially sign those players. The Pirates haven’t been linked to any of the top names yet for next year, so there should still be a large amount of bonus pool money open for these Atlanta players.

The good part of all of this news for the Pirates is that they can pursue a trade for their remaining 2017-18 bonus pool money and still compete for these 12 new free agents. If the Mariners or another team like the Yankees are willing to give up something nice for added bonus pool money in their pursuit of Otani, then the Pirates could end up with a strong prospect.

The Pirates could still choose to make an attempt at Otani, as unlikely as it seems he would sign with them. The fallback of pursuing him is that they could still use that money for the 12 new Atlanta free agents if he doesn’t sign, but once Otani picks a team, the trade value of international bonus pool money will take a huge hit.

There are also some remaining top 2017-18 international prospects who haven’t signed yet. That is another avenue that the Pirates could take, but it appears that the best plan for attack would be looking to trade 2017-18 remaining bonus pool money while it’s at peak value. That could land them a top prospect with much less risk than a young international player, while also allowing them to go after one or more of the better players from the Braves.

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  1. Given their obvious lack of high-end position player prospects (with a few exceptions, like Lolo Sanchez) in their system, how can the Pirates justify not spending all of their International pool money last year – especially when they leave such a significant amount unspent?

    Compared to how much money they waste year after year on marginal major league players (SRod, Stewart, Gosselin, Hudson, to name a few), spending $2-3 million on a handful of high ranked LA prospects would seem to be a worthwhile risk and investment.

  2. If the Pirates sign any of these players, when will they be eligible for rule 5 draft? I would hate to sign one or more of these players, just to lose them in the rule 5 draft a year later bc their original contract was voided – just like with Wang to the Brewers a few years ago

    • I haven’t seen anything about that, but I would imagine there has to be some type of guarantee worked in for such an odd case. It wasn’t the team that voided the contract, it was MLB.

      Also the Wang case isn’t something to worry about, especially with how it worked out. It took him three years to get back to the big leagues and the Brewers had to pay him a lot more than your average minor leaguer over that time because of the 60% salary rule. All that pay for someone who has an 11.09 ERA in 22 big league games. Pirates could have had him for free (technically $15,000 waiver fee) in 2016 when he went through waivers and cleared.

  3. What are some worthwhile players in the Mariner or Yankee systems that the Pirates could target with this money?

    • Even without Ohtani headlining everything, there has never been this level of talent available among international free agents this late into the year’s signing period. Spend the money on the kids while you have the chance and advantage over a lot of other teams in MLB instead of trading for other organizations fringe prospects.

    • It seems generally accepted that Ohtani would be in line for more than $200m if he simply waited two years to bypass the cap rules.

      Is that really the type of player who will pick a team because of an extra $500k? $1m?

      If you were a GM, would you bet on that enough to give up an impact prospect?

      Seems fairly implausible.

      • I follow your reasoning. But Ohtani may not want to wait the two years if he is motivated by fame in addition to money.
        The Seattle area has a sizeable Japanese population to draw fans from. Ichiro originally tapped into that. They may be willing to take unwise risks because Ohtani represents more financial upside for them in direct ticket revenue and indirect ad revenue than any other MLB team.

  4. Maybe a team in the Otani sweepstakes will be desperate enough to part with something legit for bonus money, but I’m really not hopeful.

    Baltimore is (in)famous for trading away their pool money and just coughed up $500,000 of it to get Konner Wade. From MLBTR:

    “Wade, who’ll soon turn 26, repeated Double-A last year and showed strides against his 2016 performance. Over 109 1/3 innings, split nearly evenly between starting and relieving, Wade pitched to a 4.28 ERA with 6.5 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9.”

    He’s Rule 5 eligible and, it appears, Baltimore hasn’t even placed him on the 40-man. If this is what half a million in bonus money gets, unless the Pirates are going to lump the entire $2.2M together and shoot for genuine prospect or two in return for the cash, they’d be better off throwing it at the Braves prospects.

    • Mariners just gave up Thyago Vieira, who has hit 104 MPH, for $500,000 in pool money. So it’s more a matter of being smart about the money, which the Orioles obviously weren’t. Add in that the Pirates have more than 4x that amount left and I’m sure they could end up with something strong. The flip side is that you get absolutely nothing for holding on to the money, so if they have no plans to spend it, then there is no reason not to just give it up for the best offer available.That best offer is going to come in during the next couple of weeks and then after that, the value really drops.

      • The Orioles have been weird about these deals as of late.

        But I do agree, if the Pirates can find someone of potential impact in a swap like this, I’m all for it…spending it on marginal or extreme long hot talent, though, would be pretty close to flushing the money.

  5. If they can trade money for a decent prospect at C or 3B, I say do it. But if it’s for another projectable RHSP, I say use it to sign the Braves Catching prospect.

  6. Not holding my breath for anything interesting. Two things for sure seem to happen now annually- the rules change seemingly intentionally to go against the Pirayes (see mlb first year player draft post Josh Bell), and the Pirates have been reluctant to make any big moves in any arena recently (draft, FA, trades, international draft). Best and most significant move was trading Melancon for Rivero. Other than that, recent drafts devoid of high-end talent (Mitch Keller the exception), coupled with unwillingness to spend in international markets. Where is the path back toward contention? I don’t see it, this team needs to go into rebuild mode.

  7. Well the catcher seemed to be highly rated-the farm has next to nothing in the way
    of catchers. He may be worth a shot.

    • His price tag was $3.53 M. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets less than half of that this next time due to the questions with his hitting.

      • Good deal for these Atlanta free agents, they get double bonuses. Hope Boris (auto correct) doesn’t think he can do this with the players he represents.

      • I could be wrong, but I don’t think any of the Braves’ prospects is going to get anywhere near what he got to sign originally. Some of them may get some good money, but I’ve seen some comments from people who should have more insight than me that most of them will probably get $300K or thereabouts. MLB set it all up so that teams will have to fit these guys into their pre-existing plans for their bonus money (this cycle’s or next cycle’s, both of which most teams probably have largely committed already), which will greatly reduce the potential for bonuses approaching what they initially got. Unless their money is already spent, the Pirates should easily be able to afford one or two of these guys. (Preferably Soto, Severino or Del Rosario.)

        • I imagine their bonus will be based on whichever team offers them the most rather than just trying to be comparable to what they got before, meaning they are fielding offers instead of sticking to a price tag.These players are all in a position to take 29 offers, while at the same time, they don’t have long to make a decision. They kept that money from the Braves, so it’s not like they will need a huge payday, but 29 teams are in play for 12 players, so there is sure to be a few bidding wars.

          Four of them signed for $350K or less, so unless they improved a lot, every team should be able to afford them and that makes them more likely to get close to what they got before. If a penalty team wants to compete, other teams know they can be outbid by just going over $300K. The other eight players got better bonuses, so they could cost close to the same if the scouting reports improved. Basically, I wouldn’t bank on bargains and definitely wouldn’t expect any team to get 3-4 players. Pirates, like every other MLB team, have less than a 50% chance to end up with one of them.

          • “Pirates, like every other MLB team, have less than a 50% chance to end up with one of them.”

            Well, no, because only 4-5 teams have as much pool money left as the Pirates, and some of those teams are focused on Otani, who’s not coming to Pgh. They’ve got more flexibility than most.

            • Didn’t you see the article? Teams can use 2018-19 bonus pool money for these players. Almost every team in baseball has $5M+ to spend on these players and no one has less than $4.75M

              • Yeah, I know, but as you’ve said yourself a lot of that money is already committed. Most, in fact probably almost all, of the worthwhile eligible players in this cycle are already signed, so teams with money left are going to be much more inclined to spend this cycle’s money than next cycle’s. So the Pirates do in fact have a significant advantage over most teams when it comes to the Atl. guys.

                • If a team with most of their 2018-19 pool spent in advance wants one of these players, they can trade for money from this year. There is still plenty of money left out there this year and even more for the next signing period. It’s basically 29 teams can all compete for the bottom players on the list and 22 teams can go after the better players.

  8. ‘Falling Forward’

    Off Topic…. Nice AT&T Sportsnet Special on the 5 guys in the AFL. Lots of fluff among the stuff, but overall, I really enjoyed it.

  9. I think part of the Bucs answer to the Ohtani questionnaire should be that he can be a player/manager/gm if he wants. He can set the lineup, really do whatever he wants. He stands to provide at least $100,000,000.00 in excess value over the next 6 years.

  10. Was waiting for an article that will explain this in detail, glad to say that it did not disappoint, great article. One question, how would Otani fit with the Pirates. Pitcher of course, but other than that?

    • I think he could play some right field. He hasn’t done it in a few years, though. He’d certainly have the arm for it. He could be their primary pinch hitter and dh when they play al teams.

    • I think that when he’d start, obviously he’d bat. And you could actually put him in a decent spot in the lineup rather than just the 9 spot. Pinch hit on his days off and DH during interleague games. Get him 8-10 at bats a week. I think a full season of pitching every 5th day and DHing in between would extremely exhausting over the course of 162 games. That’s why I feel he’s honestly better suited for the NL.

      • He doesn’t play everyday now. He takes off from hitting the day before starts, plus the MLB schedule has added in extra off-days starting next year, so it isn’t as extreme. Pirates had 17 off-days in 2017 and it’s up to 24 next year.

      • Very good take, if you ask me.

        I’m not at all convinced the AL is the better league for Otani.

        In the NL, he’d mostly be hitting for the pitcher’s spot and pinch hitting, with a handful of starts in an OF corner or 1B/DH sprinkled in between. Still able to get probably 200 PA or so, but in role with a very low barrier to entry.

        In the AL, he’d be expected to DH. The position requiring the highest offensive production. Does anyone really think the Yankees, who will be competing for a World Series title throughout his potential tenure, will honor some pitch in a proposal for his services if he’s merely a league-average hitter? What about if he’s worse?

        There’s a very real chance he’s more of a good-hitting pitcher than an actual productive Designated Hitter, and if you believe a club will continue giving him at-bats because of a car-salesman’s pitch then I have some beachfront property in Blawnox to sell you.

        • LOL, NMR, thats funny as hell as well as the very best take I have seen or heard on an Otani signing. Nobody on either MLB channel has had the guts, or possibly brains, to say that.

          • I don’t know, man, it just seems like such lazy analysis.

            Either he’s not so good at hitting, at which point no good AL team will be giving him pity at-bats. Or he’s good at hitting, at which point he’s literally the best talent to play the game since Babe f*cking Ruth. What logic says that a player of that skill and athleticism can’t wear a damn 1B mitt when he isn’t pitching? Why does he *need* the DH?

            Maybe I’m just a better bullshitter than I give myself credit for, but I’d have absolutely nooooo problem making a pitch to Otani if I were with an NL club.

            • In reality, a NL team can *guarantee* AB’s whether he’s struggling with the bat or not, as long as he’s starting. I agree that there’s no contending team willing to let him struggle with the bat at dh. In which case you are taking away all of his at bats. I’m pretty sure that he acknowledged that he may eventually have to go with just one rather than both, which plays in favor of the NL even more. At least he’d still get to hit some. With all the injuries, I find it hard to believe that a team is willing to risk him getting hurt or tired from DHing 4-5 days a week.

      • How hard can DHing really be? Maybe every other AB you actually run past 1B. Five or so pitches, maybe two or three swings per AB and run 90 to 180 feet four or five times a night? They probably exert more energy in the batting cage than at the plate.

        What is really tiresome is playing defense.

        • It’s everything that goes with it. If your DHing, then your also taking bp everyday. Your running bases everyday. If your playing defense your making athletic plays daily. There is *literally* no pitchers who are doing that. Pitchers are usually babied. If they want bp they have to use the machines. It doesn’t matter how far they’re running or how many swings theyre taking. One little tweak and the pitching mechanics are affected. Look how pitchers run bases. They don’t hustle, the trot so they don’t get hurt. Teams don’t want to risk injury with the limited at bats pitchers get now, so why would they take some phenom and risk losing him in the rotation just to DH?

  11. Since the Pirates fired Gayo now maybe without him they can compete for some high end talent. I thought I read that Gayo didn’t want to give any kid/international prospect a large signing bonus and he thought that he could always find the diamond in the rough. How did that work out for the Pirates? In my opinion, it was a disaster. At times I thought it was the Pirates dictating the quantity over quality approach but it might have been Gayo’s choice all along. What a shame that the article is not saying that the Pirates should spend their remaining pool money on signing players but instead trade it for a prospect that is better then what they can sign. The Pirates will not be in on Otani or any of the Atlanta prospects, they are finished this year and they will allow the remainder of the pool money sit there so they can save a BUC. Hope I am wrong and they do spend it but past history says they will not.

    • On the flip side of that, the Braves gave large amounts of $$$ to these prospects and from the articles I’ve read, not one of them have, so far, proven worthy of the $$$ given to them.

      The Bucs just released Julio De La Cruz and he got $750,000. Look at Heredia. There is some historical logic to how Gayo operated.

      • These Braves prospects all signed just a year or so ago. It’s way, way, way too early to be writing them off. Starling Marte didn’t hit at all his first pro season.

        As for De La Cruz and Heredia, it’s easy to point to flops, whether it’s int’l signings, the draft, or ML FA signings. Probably fewer than 10% of 2nd round draft picks turn into good major leaguers and they mostly get a million or so in bonuses. Should the Pirates skip the second round? All signings are risky and prospects are always a high-attrition game. Teams shouldn’t be focused on whether there’s some sort of guarantee a signee will succeed, because there never is. They should be focused on doing a good enough job with their scouting that enough of their signees will succeed to help the ML team succeed. It’s obvious from the last two years that the Pirates haven’t done that.

  12. I see from the tags below that top 8 players ranked by BA includes Del Rosario and Severino. I like both. And I see Bae’s name… Braves compared him to Trea Turner, lol.

    I’d be satisfied if we could get one of those top ex-Braves prospect and maybe… Julio Pablo Martinez? This is a lot more realistic than Ohtani, right? 🙁 I just hope we use up all our 17-18 pool money some way.

  13. Any of the Atlanta prospects of particular interest to you or the Bucs? Seems like they should target the position players, other than Maitlan.

    • If you’re just going by prospect status alone, Maitan still sounds like the best, but I doubt his price tag will be as high. For $4.25M, that would be a pass for sure. I like the sound of Livan Soto. Didn’t put up huge stats, but the tools are there.

      • They used Soto as more of a Utility guy. I know our need is not pitching, but Yefri Del Rosario has the build, LHSP/RP, and pitched well in the DSL and then the GCL. Yunior Severino, MI, had a VG year in the GCL, as did Catcher, Abrahan Gutierrez with only 3 E’s/3 PB and a 38% CS. His O and D were better than any of the Pirate Catchers at that level and I think he just turned 18 last month.

        A sleeper could be CF Juan Carlos Negret who had a decent year in the DSL with an .801 OPS, and standing out were the 23 SB’s and 27 Walks in 217 PA’s.

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