The international market obviously differs from the draft in a number of significant ways. The primary difference is due to the large gap in terms of the numbers of players produced by the two methods. Each draft produces about 150 major leaguers. From that group of 150 players there may be 10-20 players who you’d consider “good” and another couple dozen who would be recognizable as “useful”. Since there aren’t organized international signing records it’s hard to make a direct comparison, but given the 70/30 split between drafted and international players you might assume roughly 45 international players per year at least make the majors, but only 3-6 are “good” and another handful or so “useful”. With thirty teams chasing so few international players even successful teams are going to have a spotty, hit or miss year to year track record. Additionally, a single great player is going to stand out even more because it’s just about impossible sign a broad, deep array of international players.
Although there is some team to team variability in terms of the overall financial commitment to the draft, every team participates and every team signs ~25 players every year. The team to team variability in the international market is much, much greater. There aren’t strong international signing records to compare, but it is evident from things like academy sizes, number of teams in the DSL and VSL, reported signing bonuses, etc that some organizations have made the international markets significant priorities and some organizations have treated them like after thoughts. Simply based on participation in the draft, just about every team just about every year will graduate some players to the majors and any team can get lucky such that one of their ~25 signed players unexpectedly blossoms into a star. In the international markets, it’s far more likely that a team with marginal commitment can go years without ever signing a notable player.
With that background in mind I tried to rank each of the 30 major league organizations by their international productivity during the years of Duquette’s Red Sox tenure, 1995-2001. Nearly all of the Sox productivity is locked into three players, Ramirez, Ohko and Sanchez (if he can come back from injury) so I looked for the three best international players signed by each organization in this period. As you’ll see in a bit most organizations did not sign three notable players in this seven year period. The players, especially the ones signed in the latter part of this period, are still very young and have not necessarily established how good they really are so I did not bother looking up exact WARP (or whatever metric) totals for a quantitative ranking. These are all very subjective. The main point isn’t so much in the specific relative rankings, but the overall groupings.
In my opinion, there are ten organizations that stand out for having signed a single star level player. There are another eight organizations I grouped together as “solid to good”. I originally tried to split them apart, but the distinction wasn’t very meaningful, certainly not in comparison to the distinction between these teams and the ones who had signed a star. The next group I labeled “Something” because they had at least signed something of note. The last group of five teams I simply labeled “Nothing”.
I should note that I only wanted to consider international amateur players. That’s generally an easy distinction because this period mostly predates the influx of Japanese professional players. I included (and astericked) Alfonso Soriano, Livan Hernandez and Danys Baez. Soriano did play professionally in the Japanese minor leagues, but I included all three here because they signed relatively young and weren’t really established. Orlando Hernandez and Rolondo Arrojo also signed with MLB teams in this period, but I did not count them because they were over 30 and were clearly signed with the intention of being immediate MLB contributors.
Let’s look at each group of teams.
|1||NYY||Alfonso Soriano*||Chien Ming Wang||Robinson Cano||Dioner Navarro|
|Melky Cabrera||Juan Rivera||Wily Mo Pena|
|2||Florida||Miguel Cabrera||Livan Hernandez*|
|3||Houston||Johan Santana||Felipe Paulino|
|4||Cleveland||Victor Martinez||Fausto Carmona||Jhonny Peralta||Danys Baez*|
|5||Boston||Hanley Ramirez||Tomo Ohka||Anibal Sanchez|
|6||Cubs||Carlos Zambrano||Felix Pie||Carlos Marmol||Juan Cruz|
|7||Anaheim||Francisco Rodriguez||Ervin Santana||Alberto Callaspo|
|8||Mets||Jose Reyes||Jae Wong Seo||Yusmeiro Petit|
|9||Atlanta||Rafael Furcal||Wilson Betemit||Andy Marte|
|10||San Francisco||Francisco Liriano|
It does pain me to say it, but the Yankees were fantastic in this period signing a star and contrary to what I said earlier a deep group of players a couple of whom are near star level. In fact all of these players with the exception of Juan Rivera were signed between 1998 and 2001. That’s just a fantastic burst of talent for the sparse international markets. And it’s painful to acknowledge, because it was so easy to make fun of the Yankees bumbling largess at the time. This is also the era when they signed Andy Morales and Adrian Hernandez for 4M each for no apparent reason. The decision to give a raw teenage Wily Mo Pena a major league contract was colossally stupid. Hell, I even remember goofing on Wang when he was suffering shoulder problems in the minors – at least the Sox weren’t the only team throwing away money on Asian pitchers.
And as I mentioned, this doesn’t even count El Duque who was an immediate and direct contributor to multiple championships.
Florida gambled big money on Cabrera and Hernandez and came up with a Hall of Fame track young slugger and a quality starter who directly contributed to championships.
Houston dominated Venezuela in the first half of the 1990s, but Johan Santana, who signed in 1995, was their last great signing. Paulino, a pretty drastic step down, has kicked around for a few years as grade B prospect.
Cleveland was an underrated international power in the 1990s. Most of the credit for their long run as a playoff team was given to their drafted position players and John Hart’s decision to sign so many to long term, cost controlled deals. But they were also very successful internationally starting with Bartolo Colon, who was signed in 1993 and is not listed here, and on thru Martinez, Carmona and Peralta. One good to great international player every 3 years or so is easily enough to make an organization one of the most productive in baseball.
I put the Duquette Red Sox at 5th in baseball mostly based on Ramirez’s emergence as a pre-FA superstar. Ohka contributed several years as a solid #3/4 starter. Sanchez’s arm injury makes him a wild card at this point, but a superstar and a single solid contributor definitely at least gets a team into the top ten.
Zambrano has been a durable top of the rotation starter for the Cubs. For whatever reasons, the Cubs have also had a number of very highly ranked international prospects (and I didn’t even include Angel Guzman here) that struggled to transition to the majors and meet the hype. If Pie realizes his potential the Cubs will jump a couple spots.
The Angels did well with a pair of expensive pitchers. Rodriguez only pitches ~70 IP per year, but he’s been very good and did directly contribute to a championship. Santana is one of those later signs (in this case 2000) whose perceived value has bounced up and down like a yo-yo the last couple of years. If he can maintain his current “up” status he makes an excellent second best international player.
Jose Reyes’ perceived value has also bounced a bit. At this point he may be underrated a bit (or at least taking too much unfair criticism). Seo and Petit are examples of well regarded international prospects that didn’t pan out.
The Braves had been arguably the best team in baseball in the late 1980s to mid-1990s (Javy Lopez, Vinny Castilla, Andruw Jones to Rafael Furcal in 1996), but really fell off internationally after that as represented by the high profile busts, Betemit and Marte.
The Brian Sabean Giants certainly are not what one would ever think as amongst the best in baseball at any component of scouting and player development, but the Giants did sign one excellent player in this period.
I think the key take home message from this group is the difficulty these teams had finding a second good player. The name of the game in amateur scouting is finding stars and these ten teams were the only ones that did that. In theory, you’d like to look at this kind of top ten over a pretty substantial seven year period and conclude that these were organizations that demonstrated a real skill in signing and developing international players. And yet, most teams really only found that one very good player. The Yankees, Marlins (with an expensive Cuban defector), Indians and Angels were the only teams that could find a star and another pretty good player. The Duquette Sox with either Ohka or Sanchez playing second fiddle to Ramirez aren’t that bad in this regard. If one single player can make or break a seven year stretch of international scouting how comfortable can we ever really be that these teams are here because of skill or luck? Not very comfortable, in my opinion.
Here is the next group of teams with average to solid production in this period.
|Rank||Team||Solid to Good|
|11||Arizona||Byun-Huyn Kim||Vicente Padilla||Erubiel Durazo|
|12||San Diego||Oliver Perez||Rodrigo Lopez|
|13||Colorado||Juan Uribe||Ubaldo Jimenez||Manny Corpas|
|16||Philadelphia||Carlos Silva||Carlos Ruiz||Robinson Tejada|
|17||Seattle||Jose Lopez||Rafael Soriano||Chris Snelling|
|18||Pittsburgh||Jose Castillo||Francisco Cordova||Ricardo Rincon|
The Diamondbacks didn’t quite get a star – or even a real consistent contributor over a several year span – but each of these three players at least made brief and significant contributions in the majors. This is about as good as a team can do internationally without a star.
I may be rating the Padres Mexican duo a bit too highly. The good Perez is a good pitcher and Lopez was a useful complementary player for a bit. I vaguely recall that the Padres push into Mexico in the late 1990s was largely a Larry Luchino fueled marketing directive as much as anything else. The Padres were very productive in Puerto Rico in the early 1980s and then have this little 1990s blip of Mexican productivity and that’s essentially been it in terms of international talent. I probably should double check this, but I’m pretty sure it is true that in the entire history of the organization the Padres have never produced a notable player from the Dominican or Venezuela. This past year the Padres made a strong move to address that deficiency with a very expensive new academy in the Dominican and very significant spending on July 2.
Colorado received some attention last fall for the important contributions of Latin pitchers Jimenez, Corpas and Franklin Morales (signed in 2002). Jimenez has been good this year as well, though Corpas and Moralez have struggled. I probably should put Jimenez above Uribe but to date Uribe has been their most productive international player.
In the first iteration of this I had Texas towards the bottom of the next group because I thought Volquez was well on his way to being a washout. He might yet be a star.
Cabrera is another young pitcher that is hard to rank. The Orioles are another organization that hasn’t done very much internationally and Cabrera is the only notable player in this period.
The Phillies signed one average starter, Carlos Silva. He’s been horrific as a major league free agent, but quite valuable as an amateur international free agent. Carlos Ruiz looked better last year as a potential decent starting catcher.
The Seattle trio has all been disappointing. Nevertheless, that’s at least average production in comparison the industry as a whole.
The Pirates trio is a step down and maybe belongs in the next group.
|21||Tampa Bay||Jorge Cantu|
|22||Toronto||Cesar Izturis||Gustavo Chacin|
|23||Oakland||Angel Berroa||Miguel Olivo||Esteban German|
|24||Los Angeles||Hong-Chih Kuo||Joel Guzman|
|25||Kansas City||Runelvyz Hernandez||Ambiorix Burgos|
These teams either signed one player that was decent for a few years in a smaller role (ie setup relievers Rincon and Rodney) or at least multiple recognizable names. They literally produced “something” internationally. It just wasn’t much.
And tied for 26th place there are five organizations – Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, Montreal Expos and St Louis Cardinals – who generated absolutely nothing from the international markets in this seven year period.
There are some teams that are lousy drafting, but you’d never see this kind of extreme lack of productivity in the draft where several teams are shut out over a substantial time period and more than a third of all teams barely generated any players of note.
Of course, this period ends seven years ago and things have changed. Over the last few years a number of teams have made significant new investments in Latin America in terms of new complexes and/or increased signing budgets. It’s interesting to start at the bottom and see how many organizations have at least generated some publicity for greater international investments. In the “nothing” group the Reds have moved aggressively. The Reds started to boost activity a few years ago under Dan O’Brien and this year signed Juan Duran for 2M and were willing to outbid the A’s for Michel Inoa. The White Sox and Expos/Nationals have both signed some expensive players recently although both have come under the bonus skimming cloud as well. The Brewers made a splash a few years ago with a big bonus to Rolando Pascual, but he seems to have been a bust and they haven’t been active in the real high end market since. The Cardinals under Jeff Luhnow have signed a few six figures bonuses over the last couple of years and I believe recently completed a new academy in the Dominican.
In the “something” group Oakland dramatically increased their presence in the Dominican and blew past the old bonus record in order to sign Inoa. Tampa recently opened a complex in the Dominican. The Royals increased activity last year and signed a half dozen players to six figure bonuses. The Jays signed a couple players to mid six figure bonuses in the last couple of years.
There definitely seems to have been some acknowledgement from these lower ranked teams that they had fallen far behind in a significant area and they’ve started investing money to catch up.