International Notes: Ohtani, Braves Free Agents and a Pitcher from Japan

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.


John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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Mariners traded a portion of their international money and a few draft picks to the Marlins for Dee Gordon. Now why would the Pirates not make a move like that (I am sure he is just too expensive)? Dee Gordon is the exact type of player they need right now. He will play center field for the Mariners and is obviously more than capable of playing second base since that was his primary position with the Marlins. He would bring stability up the middle which is desperately needed. He would also be a high average left handed hitting lead-off man who would steal tons of bases and hit for much more power as a lefty in PNC. Fact is, the Pirates are way too cheap to sign a player like Gordon so, why would we expect them to spend money on actual baseball players? The Pirates, even with the large international money pool, are not going to make a substantial investment in any of the top Braves prospects, or any prospects for that matter. I do not know when it will occur to management that they can’t keep signing cheap international players in bulk while bringing in wash-ups or flame outs and hope they improve a rapidly degrading team with issues at all levels. The Bucs missed their competitive window (by way of their own mis-management) I get that, but they now have leverage in an opportunity to sell international money to teams desperate to sign Ohtani or to improve their squads future, a concept that seems foreign to the Pirates brass. I am sure they have a “Plan” for the international money, just like they had a “Plan” for the Liriano money. Ah Screw it, I am looking forward to a good laugh when a Cutch deal is done for a disasterous and obviously miserable return.


“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.”

Yet, this is likely what the Pirates will do – waste another asset – they are good at wasting assets.


This woe is me stuff is getting old.


It is not woe is me, its called expectations based on recent decisions and performance. If the Pirates don’t waste International signing money from 2017, let me know and I will admit I was wrong.

IC Bob

John you have indicated in the past that most of the signing bonuses are agreed upon prior to the July start date. Did the Pirates have a plan for this excess money? If so should not matter if they sign a player for the Braves or not. If not then why the heck not! Why are so many teams already spent there money yet we are still holding 40% of ours for a rainy day or did they actually know something like what happen to the braves was going to happen


But $2m+??

If a kid pops up mid-signing period that’s worthy of even half that, he’s almost certainly going to just wait until team can reload next July. This was a ton of money to leave unused, and they’re going to struggle to find ways to utilize what’s left.


I agree. The best Intl Prospects are usually gone or committed to be gone by July 2 – what is left is worth nowhere near the $2.2 mil the Pirates are holding.

Congrats to the Angels who were not afraid to spend $2 mil to get Kevin Maitan, who has been and still is a Top 100 MLB Prospect at age 17. And, the Pirates are still waiting for an opportunity to use their $2.2 mil.

IC Bob

Thanks for your follow up. I hope we get all the late glimmers.

Zachary N

I saw Miles Mikolas thrown out as a possibility to come back. He’s put up great numbers and has always had good stuff. Any idea if he’s a legit option to come back to the states?


Cardinals signed him today.


In regards to Makita, I have thought for years that we need a change of pace guy in the pen. NH doesn’t seem to think it matters as long as they are talented (I think he would be happy having four straight 6’4” three-quarter delivery sinkerball pitchers every game.)

I think it is one more thing to make a batter uncomfortable…

Adam Y

Wade LeBlanc anyone?

Todd Tomasic

What do they have a pool for if not to spend it? Keep the 33 year old soft-tosser.
Invest in some of the Atlanta talent.

Arik Florimonte

It’s not free money — it still comes out of the Pirates’ coffers if they spend it and remains there if they don’t. The asset that is the bonus pool is the ability to spend it, not the money itself.

joe s

The pirates will not sign any of Atlanta’s lost bounty. They have a new international head of scouting and he should make a splash with a signing or two before next year but will he? I doubt that Pirate’s management/ownership realize that the remaining international bonus pool is an asset. Instead, I think they see it as money not spent and saved or should I call it additional profit, if in fact they had any profit this year.


Trevor Williams is taking the Ohtani news well.


Why isn’t Julio Pablo Matinez getting any love? I thought that I read where he has established residence in Haiti?


Thanks for the link! Hadn’t heard about him.


I’d rather have him than any of the Braves ‘prospects’.




Tim: Gayo is gone, but in many signings of his, the name I see most is Juan Mercado followed by Victor Santana and Jose Ortiz, and others. I assume they were all a part of his “team” – are they all still in place? Will the Pirates try to increase their pool in the next day or two?


Thanks John and a question. They cannot combine pools on any one player. If they were inclined to do so, could they offer all of this year’s to get Kevin Maitan, and then use $1.5 from next year’s pool to get the Catcher, Abrahan Gutierrez?

I understand the scouting reports were less, but the kid played all of 2017 as a 17 year old, and most of his time was spent a level above the GCL. He will not turn 18 until February. Gutierrez did not turn 18 until after the season ended. 223 innings at GCL with only 3 E’s and 3 PB’s and a 38% CS %. Those two added to an already “off the charts” group that played at the GCL in 2017? I like that a lot.

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