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Rays Among Leaders in International Market

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Adrian Rondon signs with Rays

Rays fans have had to endure rooting for one of the league’s most tight-fisted franchises since they came into MLB. To remain competitive in the AL East, the team has needed to be very good at finding low cost ways to stockpile talent.

Since 2012 this has included becoming one of the more aggressive major league franchises when it comes to signing international talent.

With the help of the “2012-2016 International Free Agent Signings “ by Nick Melotte (@melotticus)” (FanRags), I was able to assess and compare the performance of each AL East team but found so many gaps between those signed and not included in the list that I decided to concentrate on Rays investments. Since some of these investments don’t attract attention, it is useful to bring these transactions to light.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays-Media Day Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

2012

In March of 2012, BA put out a list of the Top 25 international bonuses handed out to that point and the Rays were nowhere to be seen on that list. Some of the players on that list include Gary Sanchez, Nomar Mazara, and Miguel Sano, an indication of how fruitful such investments could have been for the Rays.

Having only spent $1.73M in 2010, and barely more at $1.79M in 2011, the Rays altered their international focus in 2012 and spent more that year than it did those two seasons combined.

Here’s a list of their international signings from 2012 which includes two players in the Rays top 30 list from BA’s 2017 Handbook:

Pos - Player (age as of Feb ‘17) $bonus - last level played as of Feb ‘17

Total Spent: $4.1M on 10 players (avg $410K per player)

Total Spent: Unknown: $_M on 7 players

*If we assume $50K average minimum per unknown player cost, the total becomes $4.45M

Overall, this list holds some promise. Alvarado is likely to be the first to be of impact, possibly as early as 2017, and Rodriguez is making his way to Charlotte (HiA) this season. Chirinos could get a look in the near future as well, and Pujols, Moreno, Mujica and Rojas are all still on the radar as prospects to follow closely.

2013

With their aggressive international investments from 2012 behind them, the Rays seemed to take a deep breath in 2013 and returned to the spending levels of 2010-2011 with added numbers. It may be that they wanted to monitor how well their 2012 investments turned out to be after a full season, or that the talent was missing, but they cut spending by a few million in 2013.

The signed international prospects for that year include the following:

Pos - Player (age as of Feb ‘17) $bonus - last level played as of Feb ‘17

Total Spent: $1.75M on 9 players (avg $180K per player)

Total Spent: Unknown: $_M on 12 players

*If we assume $50K average minimum per unknown player cost, the total becomes $2.35M, and Baseball America estimated the total to be $2.85M (their total includes overlap year-to-year)

Most Rays fans now know about G. Cabrera, and if you read DRB you know we’re fans of Pinto, but there are a few other gems in this class. Yepez and Brito should be on most radars as guys to follow, as well as Ramirez, Romero, and E. Cabrera. It was a little light on high-end signings, but as we’ll find out in the next year’s list, the Rays were loading up for quite a spending spree, so the lower spending in 2013 can easily be ignored.

2014

At this point, the Rays had begun to be more aggressive on the international market and had started to see some of their investments show promise. Still, as compared to some of the higher cost prospects, they lacked some punch. So, the franchise decided to dive into the deep end for the first time in their history and sign the top ranked international player - knowing that they were going to have to pay the price down the road with spending restrictions.

Since they knew those restrictions were coming, they went all out and didn’t stop the spending at the top, loading up with 23 investments overall which added up to a record international spending season for the Rays.

The investments are as follows for 2014:

Pos - Player (age as of Feb ‘17) $bonus - last level played as of Feb ‘17

Total Spent: $4.9M on 12 players (avg $414K per player)

Total Spent: Unknown: $_M on 10 players

*If we assume $50K average minimum per unknown player cost, the total becomes $5.4M and Baseball America estimated the total spending at $6.11M for the 2014-15 signing period

With 3 of the prospects listed above reaching the Top 30 list, and two in the top 15 in BA’s 2017 Handbook, this class proves that these investments can in fact deepen the system and talent pool for the Rays in a significant way.

Not only are J. Sanchez, Rondon, and Linares significant talents to follow, but others such as M. Sanchez and Castillo are making noise of their own and could find their way into the Top 30 at some point.

2015

Subject to a $300,000 spending limit for the majority of 2015, the Rays had to change their focus that season. Believe me when I tell you that their aggressiveness did not change despite restrictions, not in the least. Despite not having one of the Top 40 International bonuses of 2015, the Rays spent a lot of money on what wound up being double the number of players, enough to land them 19th highest in spending that year.

Here is the extensive list of 2015 signees.

Note: This list is calendar related, not signing period related. That’s important for when you see some bonuses below exceed the $300,000 restriction put in place for 2015’s signing period (July 2nd onwards).

Pos - Player (age as of Feb ‘17) $bonus - last level played as of Feb ‘17

Total Spent: Known: $2.675M on 13 players (avg $206K per player)

Total Spent: Unknown: $_M on 35 players

*If we assume $50K average minimum per unknown player cost, the total becomes $3.90M and Baseball America estimated the spending at $3M for the 2015-16 signing period, indicating a possibility of lower average cost per signing than our estimated $50K average

**Lucius Fox received highest international bonus from the Giants, $6M, and Carlos Vargas received $1.7M from the Mariners in 2015. Should those be added to the Rays total with unknowns as listed above, it would bring their total spending to $11.65M

Signing 49 players in one year is quite a feat when you consider the restrictions placed on the Rays. While most have yet to make the jump to U.S. soil, some - including Brujan, Ramos, and Rodriguez - have already been making a lot of positive noise there.

While it remains to be seen how many of these players come close to the majors, you have to at least appreciate the efforts made by the front office despite being restricted. After all, the $3M BA estimate is still $1.85M more than the Baltimore Orioles who only spent $1.15M, and remains close to the Yankees (also restricted) who spent $3.42M.

2016

The second year of restricted spending for the Rays on the international market saw them return to lower numbers, adding 26 players to their ranks which still represented a significant investment but left room for a possible spending increase in 2017.

Total Spent: Known: $1.355M on 6 players (avg $226K per player)

Total Spent: Unknown: $_M on 20 players

*If we assume $50K average minimum per unknown player cost, the total becomes $2.355M

The Rays were able to sign Bolivar only because his deal fell through with the Red Sox who were penalized for some shady dealings. Bolivar, Infante, Arcendo, and Verbel represent some of the higher ceiling players in this class, but so far the ones I’d suggest to keep the closest eye on would be Casilla and Collins.

2017

In a bid to make this list as complete and up-to-date as possible, we’ve added the few signings from early on in 2017.

Total Spent: Unknown: $_M on 2 players

*If we assume $50K average minimum per unknown player cost, the total becomes $0.1M

To summarize, our estimates for Rays full season international spending since 2012 are as follows:

  • 2012: $4,450,000 (Bonus pool $2,900,000 - rules explained here)
  • 2013: $2,350,000 (Bonus pool $1,976,500)
  • 2014: $6,050,000 (Bonus Pool $1,998,100)
  • 2015: $3,950,000 (Bonus pool $2,569,400) *Restricted
  • 2016: $2,355,000 (Bonus pool $2,615,900) *Restricted
  • Total: $19,155,000 over 5 years on 134 players, for an average investment of $3.83M per season ($141K per player average)

So why go through this exercise?

International Investments are Worth it

As you can see from the extensive list above, the Rays have been one of the most aggressive teams on the international market and have done their best to spend as much as they can in that market in the hopes that it leads to significant savings in the future.

As previously stated, Sanchez and Rondon already project well enough to be likely to become every day players in MLB. If the Rays are also able to add Alvarado and others to their pitching staff, and Rodriguez and/or Pinto to their catching corps, they’re looking at years of league minimum salaries for players that may surpass what they could have obtained through the draft.

For argument’s sake, let’s say that a mere half-dozen of the players listed above make it to The Show and provide the Rays with starting caliber performances. That would result in 36 years of control at league minimum or arbitration costs. It also accounts for just under a quarter of the 25-man roster, maximizing how much the team can spend on the 18 other spots.

Now take it up a notch and consider what happens if 10 of the 135 players listed above make it to The Show as part of the Rays by 2020. That would represent 40% of the roster, all making league minimum along with some of the upcoming highest rated prospects and draft picks in the system who may add to that. If we can assume that at least 5 of those make it to the Rays, the franchise could be looking at the ability to spend a lot on a few players and therefore maximize the bang for the buck they get.

Rays Among Leaders on International Market

You can be a detractor of the Rays investments on the free agent market and get frustrated about the lack of investment there, but there’s no way anyone should be critical of their efforts in the international market, as described above. Applaud them for that, because it isn’t something that all franchises cough Orioles cough are capable of doing or are willing to do.

With yet another class coming through in 2017 and the restrictions coming off for the Rays, and yet another international system to get accustomed to, the Rays are yet again rumoured to be in the running for the top international prospect, Wander Franco.

Keep close tabs on the Rays international investments, as we surely will, because they could become the game-changer this franchise has been looking for all along. And with the first few players from those investments making their way to the Rays in the coming seasons, everyone’s about to get a feel for just how much of a game-changer they will be.