In baseball nerd circles, International Signing Day is a big deal. July 2 is the day that teams can officially announce deals they’ve had with teenagers for months, snatching prospects from all over the world. The Dodgers got a dude from Aruba, and I can respect that.
The Giants signed 11 prospects according to Baseball America, including three who received a $300,000 bonus. They did not get any of the top 50 prospects (yet). You might never read their names again, but if you scroll through that tracker, you’ll notice that some teams did far less. The Orioles didn’t just ignore their international efforts; they traded some of their bonus pool money away.
But there’s a bothersome side to what the Giants did on International Signing Day, and it’s a dead horse that I’ve flogged before. The Giants couldn’t spend more than $300,000 on any one prospect for the second straight season because they blew past their bonus pool allotment to sign Lucius Fox in 2016. That’s not the part that bothers me. Even though Fox was dealt (and is performing well in the Rays’ system), I understood the rationale of the trade at the time. Matt Moore was exponentially more likely to help the Giants contend than Fox ever was
I miss being optimistic about Moore, if we’re being honest.
Even though that trade looks like something of a flop right now, I’m still not mad that the Giants are limited to $300,000 prospects because of Fox. They seized an opportunity to acquire a top prospect who captured their fancy, and they used financial muscle to do it. Good. More of that please.
What bugs me to this day is that the Giants didn’t keep spending after acquiring Fox.
I wrote about this back in 2016, and I made a comparison that I was pretty sure that I just thought of today.
So either they want to save money in the next two years, with Fox playing the role of Michael Tucker, or they liked Fox and the class of international free agents so much, they've decided to gobble up as many of the players in this class as possible and not worry about the penalties over the next two years.
The Giants apparently wanted to do the Michael Tucker bit, where the penalties are a feature, not a bug. You want this expensive international prospect? That’s fine, but you’re using your money for the next two years up front. The Giants didn’t decide to blow past their bonus pool because they were enamored of so many prospects. They did it because they figured one $6.5 million prospect and a handful of $300,000 prospects over three years appealed to them more than three $2 million prospects over the same time frame. Or six $1 million prospects. Or 12 prospects for a half million.
Edit: The Giants still spent all of their international pool money this year, which invalidates at least part of my thesis. I still think they should have spent more after Fox, but the penalties forced them to spread the money around, which they did. They didn’t save money. Mea culpa.
Which is fine if you believe in Fox (and the early returns back them up), but it’s a wasted opportunity for a big-market team. The Giants have been incredibly generous with their major league payroll, but they haven’t developed an international pitcher in years. And just to add insult to incompetence, the most accomplished international prospect since Francisco Liriano might be Luis Castillo, who was traded for Casey McGehee.
The Giants opened up the Felipe Alou Baseball Academy since the Fox signing, so in a way, that qualifies as a massive international investment, and I can appreciate that. The last homegrown Dominican player to win a game for the Giants was Sergio Valdez in 1995, so something needs to change. The academy is a strong start, and it’s possible that the Giants budgeted for its construction with the savings by consciously deciding to limit international bonuses for a couple years.
Edit: Nope. Screwed that up. Things are going well over here. Hope your day is going well.
At the same time, there weren’t any additional penalties for continuing to blow past the pool and acquiring more international prospects after Fox, and it’s not like the Giants’ weak farm system in recent seasons snuck up on anybody. They’ve been absent in the international game for a while, and the hope was that they’d dive back into the mosh pit after blowing past their limit for Fox. They did not.
So for the last two seasons, the Giants have been drafting in the second and third round, so to speak, when it comes to the international signing pool, instead of pushing their way into the first round. That would have been fine if they picked up Fox and several other first rounders to get those penalties. That’s not what happened, though, and it’s left me a little cold.
It’s only fair to remind everyone that Eddy Julio Martinez was one of the players the Giants reported signed after Fox, though the deal fell through, and he’s struggling in the low minors for the Cubs. It’s easy to pick out the international successes on a list like this, but it’s just as easy to notice the steep dropoff. For every Miguel Sano and Gary Sanchez, there are about 10 of the guys you don’t hear from again.
Still, it’s a situation worth watching now that the Felipe Alou Baseball Academy is up and running and the Giants are leaving the Fox penalties behind. Will they join the international stalwarts like the Padres, Dodgers, Rays, and A’s, or will they continue their traditionally unexciting ways? Hopefully for the Giants and their future farm systems, they’ll start elbowing the Dodgers out of the way for some of the best international prospects.