The Pittsburgh Pirates were one of 23 teams eliminated from the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes last night, with the timing of the announcement perhaps helping them with their next possible targets, although it may have hurt their case just as much.
The Atlanta Braves recently lost 12 of their international free agent signings as punishment from MLB for wrongdoings on the international side. Those players are eligible to be signed starting tomorrow and they will all likely be signed by January 15th. We went over that in depth last week here, but the timing of the Ohtani announcement changes things up a bit.
The good news for these possible international signings is that the Pirates now know that they can spend their $2,266,750 bonus pool money this year on these players because Ohtani is no longer a possibility. The bad news with regards to the timing of the announcement is that the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins were also eliminated and they have more money to spend on these players than the Pirates.
The Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners are two of the seven teams who are still in on Ohtani and they have two of the top remaining international bonus pools. However, the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are four of the other five teams still in on Ohtani and because of penalties from exceeding their bonus pool prior to this year, they are capped at $300,000 per signing. That means, nothing changed with them regarding possibly signing the former Braves players. They were only going to be able to compete for the lesser prospects from the Braves whether they were eliminated by Ohtani or not. I’d say 5-6 of these former Braves could receive bonuses of $300,000 or less.
So Ohtani’s announcement two days before the former Braves become eligible to sign lets the Pirates know that they could use this year’s bonus pool on them. On the flip side, he also eliminated two teams with more money to spend, so they too know that they can go all in on these free agents.
The reality of the situation however is that no teams have been eliminated from signings these 12 new free agents. Major League Baseball is allowing teams to use their 2018-19 bonus pool to sign these players and teams can still trade to acquire more bonus pool money at any point. So if a team really wants one of these Braves then they shouldn’t have trouble signing the player they want. The eight teams under penalties can still only spend $300,000 on a player, but they can still compete for the lesser prospects. That means that up to 22 teams could compete for the best 6-7 players from this group.
Teams like the Mariners, Rangers and Los Angeles Angels (the seventh team still in on Ohtani) won’t be spending their 2017-18 bonus pool money on these Braves players tomorrow, that’s a guarantee, unless Ohtani narrows his list even more. That’s unlikely, because he wants to meet with each team on his short list. All three of those teams still have their $4.75 M 2018-19 bonus pool to work with, although I will note that they have probably made handshake agreements with some players already who can’t sign until July 2nd.
So it’s possible we could hear about a major international signing soon. Saving the bonus pool money does the Pirates no good. If they have no intentions of signing anymore international players, then they still have the option of trading their remaining bonus pool. It doesn’t rollover, so doing nothing with it would be a wasted asset.
There is one of option on the international side that hasn’t received any attention for an obvious reason. Kazuhisa Makita, a 33-year-old reliever from Japan, is also going to be posted soon. His posting fee won’t approach Ohtani’s $20 M fee (likely will be a low seven figure total) and he won’t require international bonus pool money due to his age. Makita is a groundball pitcher, who has posted a 1.91 ERA during the last two seasons combined. He’s not a hard-thrower, but his submarine delivery and deception has made his a successful pitcher recently. It’s tough to say how he will translate to the majors, but it’s a low cost gamble for some team willing to take a shot.
UPDATE: Tuesday 11:00 AM: The first of 12 players has signed. Pitcher Yefri del Rosario, who Baseball America rated as the fourth best from this group, signed for $650,000 with the Kansas City Royals. That’s down from the $1 M bonus he got from the Braves. De Rosario turned 18 after the 2017 season ended. He had a 3.90 ERA in the GCL and throws low-90s, with the ability to get it up to 97 MPH. His biggest flaw is his delivery, which could use some fine tuning.
UPDATE: 12:45 PM: Kevin Maitan is off the board for $2.2 M, going to the Angels, who are still in on Ohtani. That’s the advantage of being able to use 2018-19 bonus pool money for these former Braves. Angels can still give all of their 2017-18 remaining bonus money to Ohtani and they signed the top player available today.