Saturday Links: Otani, Denbo, Judge, Sanchez, YES Network

(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)
(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)

The Yankees and Indians have an off-day today as the ALDS shifts from Cleveland to New York. The best-of-five series will resume with Game Three tomorrow night. Here are some links to check out in the meantime.

Otani dazzles in possible final start in Japan

Shohei Otani, who may or may not come to MLB this offseason, made what could be his final start for the Nippon Ham Fighters earlier this week. He struck out ten in a two-hit shutout of the Orix Buffaloes, and Jason Coskrey says dozens of MLB scouts attended the game. Otani finished the season with a 3.20 ERA in 25.1 innings and a .340/.413/.557 batting line in 63 games. He missed time with quad and ankle problems, hence the limited time on the mound.

Joel Sherman says the Yankees are “known to be extremely interested” in Otani, who, if he does come over this year, will come over under the old posting rules. That means the (Ham) Fighters will set a $20M release fee. MLB and NPB are currently renegotiating the posting agreement for other players going forward. The Yankees have roughly $2M in international bonus money to offer Otani based on my estimates, though if he comes over this year, it won’t be for top dollar. Basically no team has much international money to offer. Otani will go wherever he thinks is the best fit based on his own personal preferences. Good luck predicting that.

Denbo expected to join Marlins

Folks in baseball expect Yankees vice president of player development Gary Denbo to join Derek Jeter and the Marlins this offseason, reports Jon Heyman. Marlins general manager Mike Hill is expected to remain on, with Denbo coming over to head up their player development department, the same department he runs for the Yankees now. Denbo’s contract is up after the season, so he’s free to come and go as he chooses.

Jeter and Denbo are very close and go back a long away, and I figured Jeter would try to poach him once we found out he was buying the Marlins. Denbo has done a phenomenal job turning around the farm system and the Yankees will miss him, assuming they can’t convince him to stay. Who will take over the farm system? I have no idea. The Yankees will find someone. I’m curious to see which Yankees farmhands the Marlins try to acquire going forward. You know Denbo has some personal favorites in the system.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Judge had most popular jersey in 2017

The most popular player jersey this season, according to sales on MLB.com, belongs to Aaron Judge. Here is the press release. The average age of the top 20 players in jersey sales is 27, so that’s fun. Here’s the top five:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees
  2. Kris Bryant, Cubs
  3. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
  4. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  5. Bryce Harper, Nationals

Also in the top 20 jersey sales: Gary Sanchez. He ranked 15th in jersey sales overall and sixth among AL players, behind Judge, Mike Trout, Francisco Lindor, Mookie Betts, and Jose Altuve. Only two pitchers in the top 20, which is kinda weird. Kershaw is fourth and Noah Syndergaard is 19th. The people love dingers, I guess.

YES Network ratings up 57%

Not surprisingly, the YES Network’s rating were up a whopping 57% this season, the network announced yesterday. This season’s ratings were the best in five years. Primetime game broadcasts on YES had higher ratings than the primetime schedules of all other cable networks in New York, plus ratings for non-game broadcasts (pregame and postgame shows, etc.) were up as well. Ratings outside the city also increased substantially. Turns out if you put a very good and very fun team on the field, people will watch. Who woulda thunk it?

Thursday Links: Top High-A Prospects, Shohei Otani

Tate. (Presswire)
Tate. (Presswire)

The Yankees and Rays wrap up their three-game series later today — final night game of the regular season! — so, until then, here are some stray links and notes to check out.

Two Yankees among top High-A prospects

Baseball America (subs. req’d) continued this week with their analysis of the top 20 prospects in each minor league. They covered the High-A Florida State League today, with Blue Jays 3B Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Blue Jays SS Bo Bichette sitting in the top two spots. Two Yankees farmhands made the top 20:

  • 7) RHP Dillon Tate: “His fastball reaches 98 mph consistently, and unlike past seasons, he held his velocity, often getting up to 97 as late as the eighth inning of his last two starts. His fastball command, changeup and slider all have improved from 2016.”
  • 14) 2B Nick Solak: “(He) has fast hands, a feel for hitting and above-average speed. He’s put in the work to become an average defender … ‘He’s a baseball player who can really hit,’ one league manager said. ‘He’s a pain in the butt to have to play against; that’s a compliment.’

In the chat, John Manuel said RHP Taylor Widener has a chance to be “in the Adam Warren family of swing man,” which would be an amazing outcome for a 12th round pick. Widener successfully transitioned from college reliever to pro starter this year, though Manuel says it’s unfair to compare to him to RHP Chance Adams because Adams has more fastball. Still pretty cool that Widener raised his stock this year.

Anyway, glad to hear Tate is back to being the 2015 fourth overall pick version of himself after the Rangers tried to tweak his mechanics last year. Keith Law had a similar report recently too, so we’re getting a consensus here. OF Estevan Florial did not spend enough time with High-A Tampa this season to qualify for the top 20 list. Interestingly enough, neither Athletics SS Jorge Mateo nor Twins RHP Zack Littell made the top 20. I wonder if that was an oversight. I figured both would be locks, especially Mateo. Whatever.

Otani interviewing MLB agents

According to Jon Heyman, two-way superstar Shohei Otani has started interviewing prospective agents. This is another indication Otani is indeed preparing to make the jump to MLB, though it doesn’t confirm anything. He could just be doing his homework. Here’s more from Heyman:

Big-time agencies Wasserman (led by Joel Wolfe and Adam Katz), Octagon (headed by Alan Nero), The Legacy Agency and the Scott Boras Corporation are believed to be in the early mix and seen as among the favorites, as all have experience repping Japanese stars. Many groups declined comment or ignored messages regarding the process, but other big-time agencies with experiencing repping Japanese stars include Excel (Casey Close), CAA (Brodie Van Wagenen) and John Boggs.

Otani is basically interviewing the who’s who of player agents, and the Yankees have relationships with all of ’em. Brian Cashman and his staff have hammered out deals with Wasserman (Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui), Octagon (Hiroki Kuroda), Legacy (CC Sabathia), Boras (Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez), and Excel (Derek Jeter) plenty of times over the years. I wouldn’t say those relationships give the Yankees an advantage — every team has a relationship with every agent! — but they can’t hurt.

Otani will be exempt from new posting agreement

MLB and NPB are currently negotiating a new posting agreement — MLB is trying to knock down the cost of acquiring players from Japan again — and, according to Jim Allen, the next agreement will not apply to Otani. Should he come to MLB, it will be under the old posting agreement, meaning the Nippon Ham Fighters will set the release fee — it’ll surely be the max $20M — and whichever team signs Otani will pay it. That’s good. It means no delay in Otani’s posting as the two sides haggle over the posting system.

There are two posting system proposals on the table: a flat 15% of the player’s contract, or 15% up to $100M with a flat $20M fee for deals in excess of $100M. Under that arrangement, the (Ham) Fighters would receive less than $1M for Otani given the international hard cap. Allen says MLB’s international rules, which say players under 25 count against the hard cap and come with six years of control, effectively tell Japan’s best young players to come straight to MLB out of high school. Don’t bother playing in Japan because it’ll just delay your big payday. Junichi Tazawa did that. NPB teams aren’t thrilled, as you can imagine.

Saturday Links: Otani, Top Double-A Prospects, Robertson

Dingers. (Getty)
Dingers. (Getty)

The final road series of the 2017 regular season continues this afternoon with the middle game between the Yankees and Blue Jays in Toronto. That’s a 4pm ET start. Here are some links and notes to check out in the meantime.

Manfred doesn’t expect any side deals with Otani

While speaking to Jim Hoehn earlier this week, commissioner Rob Manfred said he doesn’t expect teams to get away with any sort of side deal with Shohei Otani, should he come over to MLB this offseason. There’s been plenty of speculation that whichever team signs Otani could agree to a massive contract extension in advance, then sign him after some predetermined length of time. Here’s what Manfred said:

“With respect to the speculation about what clubs are going to do, in today’s basic agreement structure, there’s only so much that you can do in an effort to avoid the rules and I have an outstanding staff in New York,” Manfred said. “If you’re talking about doing something with a 14-year-old kid in the Dominican Republic that nobody’s ever heard of, you might get past us. Given the focus on Otani, not only by our office, but by the clubs as a group, I think that it’s very, very unlikely that a club is going to be able to avoid the rules and not be caught.”

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement includes language targeting potential international hard cap circumvention. Ben Badler has a breakdown. Among other things, teams can not agree to sign players to an MLB contract at a set point in the future, or give him non-monetary compensation. Masahiro Tanaka‘s contract, for example, included moving allowances and an interpreter and round trip flights between New York to Japan.

MLB wants to treat Otani like any other player, meaning when he inevitably signs a big extension, they want it to be in line with other players at that service time level. The largest contract ever given to a player with one year of service time is the seven-year, $58M deal the Braves gave Andrelton Simmons. That was five years ago, so inflation has to be considered. If Otani comes out and throws 170 innings with a 3.50 ERA and hits .280/.350/.450 in 400 plate appearances next year, how would MLB be able to argue he is not at least a $150M player?

Three Yankees among top Eastern League prospects

Baseball America (subs. req’d) continued their look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league this week with the Double-A Eastern League. Red Sox 3B Rafael Devers sits in the top spot. Three Yankees farmhands made the list, not including Athletics SS Jorge Mateo, who placed eighth on the list based on his time with Trenton before the trade. Here are the three Yankees:

  • 10) 3B Miguel Andujar: “Andujar has above-average raw power and should have the bat to profile at third base … His hands are soft enough and his arm is strong enough, but he has a tendency to lower his arm slot, which leads his throws astray.”
  • 11) LHP Justus Sheffield: “He couples his fastball with a slider and changeup that waver in their consistency but project as plus for some scouts … Some see him as a No. 2 starter, while others see a back-end starter or a potentially dominant reliever based on his shorter stature and durability questions.”
  • 12) RHP Domingo Acevedo: “Opposing managers marveled at the way Acevedo can place his fastball, which parks in the mid-90s and can touch as high as 98 mph …He tends to throw mostly fastballs, so the Yankees mandated he go offspeed in certain counts, even against his instincts.”

That Acevedo mandate is pretty interesting. It’s certainly not uncommon for teams to mandate pitchers throw, say, a certain number of changeups per start. But go offspeed in specific counts? That’s a new one. I wonder whether that shows up in the stats at all. Acevedo had a 2.38 ERA (3.19 FIP) in 79.1 innings for Trenton, but did he get predictable because he was throwing offspeed in certain counts? Hitters could’ve keyed in on that.

Anyway, Sheffield and Acevedo are the two highest rated pitchers on the list. Also, SS Gleyber Torres was not eligible for this list because he only played 32 games with Trenton before being promoted, otherwise I’m sure he would’ve ranked first or second. The conflicting scouting reports on Andujar are kinda funny. This report says his hands are “soft enough” while the Triple-A International League list said his “hard hands could be too much to overcome.” Hmmm.

Also, in the chat, Josh Norris said SS Thairo Estrada was very close to making the list. “Managers around the league paid him plenty of compliments for his ability to get on base and play solid defense at both second and shortstop (once Torres left for Scranton) as well as his leadership abilities on the field and work ethic behind the scenes,” said the write-up.

Robertson a Marvin Miller Man of the Year award finalist

MLBPA announced this week that David Robertson is the AL East finalist for this year’s Marvin Miller Man of the Year award. Eduardo Escobar, Mike Trout, Steven Matz, Anthony Rizzo, and Buster Posey are the finalists for the other divisions. Each team nominates a player and the six finalists were chosen through fan voting. The winner will be decided by a player vote. The Marvin Miller Man of the Year award goes to the player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community most inspire others to higher levels of achievement.” MLBPA makes a $50,000 donation to charity on the winner’s behalf. Mariano Rivera won the Marvin Miller Man of the Year award back in 2013, so Robertson is trying to follow in Mo’s footsteps (again).

Yankees sign shortstop Ronny Rojas for $1M, and they remain connected to several top international prospects

According to Ben Badler, the Yankees have signed 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Ronny Rojas to a $1M signing bonus. The Yankees had been connected to Rojas for weeks, but had to wait until his 16th birthday on August 23rd to actually sign him. Now that he is of age, the two sides put pen to paper. Badler has a photo of the contract signing, if you’re interested.

Baseball America, MLB.com, and FanGraphs all ranked Rojas as the 11th best prospect available during the 2017-18 international signing period, which opened July 2nd. Pretty rare that three scouting publications all agree on a ranking like that, especially beyond the top two or three prospects. Here’s a snippet of MLB.com’s scouting report:

Rojas succeeds in large part because of his quick hands and a good hitting approach from both sides of the plate. Scouts think he has a chance to hit for average and they love that he makes hard contact from both sides. In games, Rojas has displayed gap-to-gap power and there’s a chance he could hit home runs in the future … He makes all of the routine plays and has enough arm strength to keep him at the position now and in the future.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement teams can trade for an additional 75% of their original bonus pool. I didn’t realize that. It used to be 50%. The Yankees made three separate trades for international bonus space this summer — they made two minor deals with the Orioles and also netted bonus money in the Sonny Gray trade — and have reportedly maxed out their bonus pool. They started at $4.75M and are now at $8.3125M.

Bonus information for so many international deals goes unreported, and based on what we know, the Yankees have now spent $4.45M of their $8.3125M bonus pool. It is extremely likely they’ve spent more than that. Not necessarily a lot more — the big bonuses are always reported, but the small six-figure deals add up — but more. And, according to Badler (subs. req’d), the Yankees are still connected to several top unsigned international amateurs:

The Rangers still appear to be the favorites for Patiño, and while there’s more uncertainty with Salinas and Cabello, several sources believe they could go to the Yankees, who have traded up for additional bonus pool space.

The Yankees are also the favorites to sign Venezuelan shortstop/center fielder Osleivis Basabe, the No. 46 prospect, though there is talk he might wait until 2018 to sign.

Salinas is Venezuelan outfielder Raimfer Salinas and Cabello is Venezuelan catcher Antonio Cabello. Salinas and Cabello are ranked among the top 15 international prospects by both Baseball America and MLB.com, so they’re not nobodies. If they sign, they’re getting a nice chunk of change. As for Basabe, I’m not sure why he’d wait to next year to sign, but hey, if he’s willing, that saves 2017-18 bonus space.

All things considered, the Yankees may end up spending north of $6M on international amateurs this signing period should the Salinas and Cabello signings happen. Probably more than $6M. That’s just me guesstimating. All those smaller signings add up, and as consensus top 15 prospects, Salinas and Cabello should be locks for mid-to-high six-figure bonuses, maybe even seven figures. For now, $6M to $6.5M is a guesstimate.

Every international signing these days is viewed through the Shohei Otani lens. Otani, should he come over to MLB this offseason, will be subject to the international hard cap because he is only 23. That $1M for Rojas means the Yankees have $1M less to offer Otani. That $8.3125M is a hard cap and it, along with whatever international signings the Yankees have made and will make, will determine how much they can offer Otani.

Based on my guesstimate, the Yankees would have approximately $2M for Otani after the season. Will it be enough? Who knows. This much is true: Otani won’t be coming over because he wants top dollar. Most teams have spent (or traded) most of their international bonus money, so while that $2M may not seem like much, few teams may be able to offer more. If Otani wanted to maximize his earning potential, he’d stay in Japan, where he’s making $2.3M this year and would make even more next year.

For now, the Yankees added another high-end international prospect in Rojas, and might add two more in Salinas and Cabello. Maybe even Basabe too. How that impacts a pursuit for Otani, assuming he comes to MLB this winter, remains to seen. I know this much: the Yankees aren’t stupid. They’re making these international signings with Otani in mind. It’s all part of the plan and hey, maybe they don’t like Otani and the plan is to not pursue him.

Cashman heads to Japan as Otani scouting frenzy heats up

Part-time pitcher, part-time hitter, full-time fun as hell. (Getty)
Part-time pitcher, part-time hitter, full-time fun as hell. (Getty)

The 2017 regular season is fast approaching the stretch run, meaning rosters will soon expand and postseason races will really start to heat up. Four weeks and three days. That’s all that remains in the regular season. I swear, the season goes by a little faster each year. I guess that’s a function of getting old.

Anyway, even with the final month of the regular season on tap, clubs are already starting to look ahead to the offseason, either because they’re rebuilding and want to reshape their roster, or they’re contending and want to bring in more help. All 30 teams, regardless of whether they’re rebuilding or contending, figure to be interested in Nippon Ham Fighters ace/slugger Shohei Otani, who may or may not be posted this winter.

According to David Lennon and Erik Boland, Brian Cashman headed to Japan this week to get a firsthand look at Otani, and he is only the latest big name executive to do so. Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman recently went to see Otani as well. Otani has been hampered by an ankle injury all season, though Jon Morosi reports he will make his first start today, so I imagine more talent evaluators are going to see him.

It’s unclear whether Otani will actually be posting this offseason, though, for what it’s worth, Jon Heyman suggests the Yankees and Red Sox could be gearing up for bidding war. (Morosi says the Yankees are among Otani’s most serious suitors.). I say a “bidding war” because Otani will be limited to the international hard caps, so the bids can only go so high. Heyman says both the Yankees and Red Sox have traded for the maximum allowable additional hard cap space, giving them $8M to spend internationally during the 2017-18 signing period.

Both teams have, of course, already spent a lot of that money. They both loaded up on Latin American amateurs when the 2017-18 signing period opened on July 2nd. It’s impossible to know exactly how much of their $8M bonus pools they’ve spent so far because so many international deals go unreported. Here’s the little we know:

Based on that, the Yankees can make Otani a much larger offer than the Red Sox. That’s great. The problem is if Otani does come over this year, it won’t be because he’s chasing top dollar. If securing top dollar was the priority, Otani would spent 2018 and 2019 in Japan, make more than he’d make here as a pre-arbitration player, then come over once he is no longer subject to the international hard cap.

(The Dodgers, by the way, are limited to $300,000 bonuses this signing period as a result of previous international spending. The same is true for other potential Otani suitors like the Cubs, Nationals, Astros, Cardinals, Braves, Padres, and Giants.)

If Otani does come over — and I still think this is a pretty big if — chances are his decision will come down to factors other than money. Example: who will let him hit? That seems like a potential big one. The team that gets Otani very well may be the one that agrees to let him DH on days he doesn’t pitch. Location, chances to win, and things like that figure to be considerations as well. Point is, if Otani does come over, it won’t be strictly for money. Being able to offer more doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t guarantee anything.

Cashman going to Japan is a pretty good indicator the Yankees are very interested in Otani. Cashman isn’t flying halfway around the world for nothing. I’m curious to know who went with him. Cashman is not a scout. He’s an administrator, not a talent evaluator. Very few general managers these days came up through the scouting ranks and even fewer played once upon a time (Jerry Dipoto is the only former MLB player turned GM in baseball right now). Times have changed.

Anyway, Mike Mazzeo says Cashman brought assistant general manager Jean Afterman on the trip, which makes sense. She has worked with Japanese players for a long time, both on the team side and agent side. I’m sure Cashman also brought a few of his top lieutenants on the trip. Vice president of baseball operations Tim Naehring, vice president of player development Gary Denbo, pro scouting director Kevin Reese, special assistant Jim Hendry, senior advisor Gene Michael, and so on. The Yankees had eyes on Masahiro Tanaka for a long, long time before he became available. I’m sure they’ll have (and have had) many different folks see Otani, though the ankle issue threw a wrench in things this year.

For now, the next several weeks are all about the end of the season and the postseason races, and then hopefully a long postseason run as well. We still don’t know whether Otani will come over to MLB this winter. The only thing the Yankees and every other team can do is prepare. Scout him, analyze the numbers, the whole nine. The Yankees have international money to spend, at least in theory, though I suspect money will not be the deciding factor for Otani.

Despite spending restrictions, the Yankees have an impressive collection of Latin American pitching prospects

Medina. (@MiLB)
Medina. (@MiLB)

For years the Yankees built their farm system through international free agency. They haven’t had access to top of the draft talent in more than two decades now, but they were able to spend freely internationally, so they made up for the lack of high draft picks that way. That’s how the Yankees landed Chien-Ming Wang, Robinson Cano, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino, among others.

The rules have changed, however. MLB implemented a soft spending cap for international players six years ago and a hard cap this year. The Yankees are no longer free to wield their financial might internationally. This year they were held to a $4.75M hard cap, which is nothing. They gave Sanchez a $3M bonus back in 2009. Three years ago the Yankees blew their soft cap out of the water and spent $30M between taxes and bonuses, and once other teams followed suit, MLB pushed for the hard cap, so here we are.

Anyway, as a result of that $30M spending spree during he 2014-15 signing period, the Yankees could not sign a player for more than $300,000 during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 international signing periods. That took them out of the running for the top talent. When other teams could offer millions and you’re limited to $300,000, it’s a huge disadvantage. It figured to be tough for the Yankees to attract top players, and it was. C’est la vie.

The Yankees, however, have become very adept at finding under-the-radar international talent, and turning smaller bonus players into top prospects. Severino, for example, signed for $225,000 as an amateur. Jorge Mateo signed for $250,000. Top outfield prospect Estevan Florial signed for $200,000. The big seven-figure bonuses like $3M for Sanchez get all the attention, but it’s those small bonus signings that make a big difference in the long run.

The Yankees have Donny Rowland, who returning to the organization in 2007 and has been their director of international scouting since 2014, and his army of scouts in Latin America to thank for that. Despite being limited to $300,000 bonuses during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods, the Yankees landed several interesting power arms who make up their next wave of pitching prospects. A partial list:

  • RHP Roansy Contreras: Signed for $300,000 in July 2016.
  • RHP Deivi Garcia: Signed for $100,000 in July 2015.
  • RHP Rony Garcia: Signed for an undisclosed bonus in July 2015. (Had to be $300,000 or less.)
  • RHP Luis Medina: Signed for $280,000 in July 2015.

All four of those pitchers have received quite a bit of attention recently. Contreras was considered the top pitching prospect in the Dominican Republic during the 2016-17 signing period. Jim Callis said Medina has the highest ceiling of any pitching prospect in the system. Both Deivi (“One of the Yankees’ brightest low-level arms“) and Rony (“(He) shouldn’t be anonymous for long“) Garcia received glowing reports from Baseball America recently.

Also, the Yankees have traded for several lower level Latin American arms within the last year, most notably RHP Albert Abreu and RHP Jorge Guzman, both of whom came over in the Brian McCann trade. Also, RHP Juan De Paula was part of the Ben Gamel trade. De Paula and especially Guzman have seen their stock rise considerably this year, and I have no doubt Rowland and his staff were consulted during trade talks. The international scouting department had eyes on these guys long before the Yankees traded for them.

This group doesn’t include RHP Domingo Acevedo ($7,500 bonus in October 2012) or RHP Freicer Perez ($10,000 bonus in December 2014), both of whom received small bonuses, but not while the Yankees were held to the $300,000 bonus maximum. Both are among the better pitching prospects in the system — Acevedo figures to make his MLB debut at some point next season — and both signed for relative peanuts. They’re just two more examples of how well the Yankees identify under-the-radar international talent.

It would be unwise and unfair to expect any of these pitchers to turn into another Severino. Severino has been a top ten pitcher in baseball this season and, as long as he stays healthy, he has the ability to remain a top ten pitcher for several years. It’s hard to expect that from any prospect, no matter how good. The hope is several of these Latin American arms will turn into useful big leaguers or trade chips. These days teams take lower level prospects back as the headliners in trades more than ever before. It might not be long before the Yankees cash these guys in.

The Yankees were limited to $300,000 bonuses internationally from July 2015 through July 2017, and they knew they would be following the 2014-15 spending spree. That was part of the plan. They still managed to land several pitching prospects who are already drawing rave reviews, with Medina and the Garcias in particular becoming hard to ignore. Contreras, who signed just last year, is next in line. The Yankees have graduated a lot of prospects and traded a lot of prospects recently. Now the next wave is in place, despite those international spending limits.

2017 International Signings: Periera, Rojas, Chirinos, Garcia

The Yankees' academy in the Dominican Republic. (Groundskeeper.MLBlogs.com)
The Yankees’ academy in the Dominican Republic. (Groundskeeper.MLBlogs.com)

The 2017-18 international signing period opened this past Sunday, on July 2nd as always, and for the first time in three years, the Yankees are not hamstrung by the penalties associated with their 2014-15 signing period spending spree. They were limited to a $300,000 bonus maximum the last two signing periods, which took them out of play for the top international prospects.

Although they are no longer held back by individual bonus limits, the Yankees are now dealing with the international free agency hard cap. Every team is. MLB and the MLBPA agreed to a hard spending cap as part of the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement. The Yankees have $4.75M to spend during the 2017-18 signing period. Some teams have $5.25M and others have $5.75M. It depends on market size and things like that.

The Yankees did, however, acquire more international spending money over the weekend. They shipped minor league righty Matt Wotherspoon to the Orioles for an undisclosed amount of bonus money. Teams can only acquire 50% of their original cap, so all we know is the Yankees did not receive more than $2.375M from the O’s. Chances are they acquired a smaller sum.

Now that they can once again be major players internationally — at least as much as their bonus pool allows — the Yankees dove in and signed several prospects since the open the signing period Sunday. More signings will trickle in over the next few weeks and months, though just about all of the top prospects sign on July 2nd. Here’s a recap of the Yankees’ latest international haul.

The Top Prospect: OF Everson Pereira

If Pereira’s name sounds familiar, it’s because the Yankees have been linked to him for some time now. We first heard about him back in February. Most of these international prospects agree to terms months in advance — sometimes even years in advance — even though those agreements are technically against the rules. MLB doesn’t enforce them though.

Pereira, a 16-year-old outfielder from Venezuela, received a $1.5M bonus according to Jesse Sanchez. Both Baseball America and MLB.com ranked him as the fourth best prospect in the international class while FanGraphs ranked him tenth. Here is a piece of MLB.com’s scouting report:

Scouts love this teenager from Venezuela. Pereira is a true center fielder, and if all goes according to plan, that’s the position he will play in the big leagues one day. He’s considered a plus defender and a plus runner … He has also shown good instincts and a good feel for the game on both sides of the ball. On offense, Pereira has displayed a good line-drive swing and has a chance to hit for average with some power in the future.

The Baseball America (subs. req’d) scouting report says Pereira has “one of the most balanced, well-rounded skill sets in the 2017 class, with a promising combination of tools and game awareness.” Once upon a time the Yankees were all about loud tools, and they still are, for sure. But it seems lately they’ve been emphasizing baseball instincts and things like that.

The Expected Signing: SS Ronny Rojas

Rojas is a shortstop from the Dominican Republic, and while he has not signed with the Yankees, Ben Badler says he expects it to happen. Why hasn’t Rojas signed yet? Because he’s still only 15. He has to wait until his 16th birthday on August 23rd to sign his first pro contract. The Yankees have been connected to Rojas for a while and it’s believed the two sides already have an agreement in place. They’re just waiting for his 16th birthday.

Baseball America, MLB.com, and FanGraphs all ranked Rojas as the 11th best prospect in this international class. Kinda weird they all agree like that. That rarely happens. Anyway, here’s a snippet of MLB.com’s scouting report:

Rojas succeeds in large part because of his quick hands and a good hitting approach from both sides of the plate. Scouts think he has a chance to hit for average and they love that he makes hard contact from both sides. In games, Rojas has displayed gap-to-gap power and there’s a chance he could hit home runs in the future … He makes all of the routine plays and has enough arm strength to keep him at the position now and in the future.

Both the MLB.com and Baseball America scouting reports tout Rojas as one of the best bats available this signing period. A switch-hitter with good offensive potential from both sides of the plate and a chance to stay on the middle infield? Sign me up.

The Second Best Prospect (For Now): SS Roberto Chirinos

Until Rojas signs, the second best prospect the Yankees landed this signing period is 16-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Roberto Chirinos. Sanchez says Chirinos received a $900,000 bonus. MLB.com ranks Chirinos has the 16th best prospect in the signing class while Baseball America ranks him 20th and FanGraphs ranks him 25th. Here is a piece of MLB.com’s scouting report:

A converted outfielder, Chirinos has all of the tools to stay at shortstop, specifically, a plus arm and good actions on defense. He makes all of the routine plays and has a feel for playing in the middle of the infield despite less than two years at the position. He has also impressed scouts with his quick hands and makeup … At the plate, Chirinos makes hard contact to all fields and has shown good bat speed.

Interestingly enough, both the MLB.com and Baseball America scouting reports identify Chirinos as a candidate to convert to catcher given his tools and baseball aptitude. He’s also a very high-end energy guy. The Yankees have had a lot of success converting infielders into catchers — Jorge Posada, Francisco Cervelli, and John Ryan Murphy are all converted infielders, and Donny Sands is attempting to make the transition now — and I bet they try it again with Chirinos.

Miscellaneous Signings

Garcia. (@BaseballAmerica)
Garcia. (@BaseballAmerica)

Not every international signing is a top prospect, of course. The Yankees inked Venezuelan outfielder Anthony Garcia to a $450,000 bonus, according to Sanchez, though he does not rank among MLB.com’s top 30 international prospects. Baseball America ranks him 28th, however, and says he “could be a power-speed threat, though at (6-foot-5 and 205 lbs.) it’s more likely he slows down as he continues to add weight.”

Here are the last few signings, via Sanchez and Baseball America:

  • Dominican Republic OF Stanley Rosario ($300,000)
  • Dominican Republic SS Miguel Marte ($200,000)
  • Dominican Republic RHP Albert Vega ($100,000)
  • Venezuelan C Engelbert Ascanio (bonus unknown)
  • Dominican Republic SS Ezequiel Duran (bonus unknown)
  • Dominican Republic OF Nelson Medina (bonus known)
  • Dominican Republic 3B Jose Martinez (bonus unknown)

None of those seven players ranked among the top international free agents by MLB.com, Baseball America, or FanGraphs. The fact Rosario, Marte, and Vega received six-figure bonuses tells us the Yankees like them though. They don’t give nobodies six figures.

The Wild Cards

In his AL East signing forecast, Badler (subs. req’d) linked the Yankees to several players who have not yet signed. Here’s where those players are ranked by MLB.com and Baseball America:

  • Venezuelan OF Raimfer Salinas (6th by MLB.com, 10th by BA): “(There’s) a belief the young outfielder has the potential to be a legitimate five-tool player and an impact player in the near future,” says the MLB.com scouting report.
  • Venezuelan C Antonio Cabello (8th by MLB.com, 15th by BA): “(He) hits in games and his makeup is considered off of the charts. He has built a reputation as a tough and hard-nosed competitor who hates to lose,” says the MLB.com write-up.
  • Venezuelan SS Osleivis Basabe (NR by MLB.com, 46th by BA): “On pure athleticism, Basabe is one of the best in the class … Basabe is a great athlete with good bat speed but his hitting remains a project,” says the Baseball America scouting report.

Between Pereira, Chirinos, Garcia, Rosario, Marte, and Vega the Yankees have already spent $3.45M of their $4.75M hard cap space. There are surely other signings we haven’t heard about yet, so they may have less than $1M of their original hard cap space remaining. That doesn’t even include the presumed Rojas deal, which will likely be worth close to $1M if not more.

That said, the Yankees did make the trade with the Orioles, and they did that for a reason. They need the bonus space to sign players. They made that trade because they have deals lined up, not because they merely hope to work something out. Maybe they’re going to sign Salinas, or Cabello, or Basabe, or all three, or different players entirely. That money is going to somewhere though. We’ll find out soon.

So what’s the deal with Otani?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Given everything that happened on July 2nd around the league, I can’t imagine Nippon Ham Fighters ace/slugger Shohei Otani is coming over to MLB this offseason. Every team used up their hard cap space, including potential Otani suitors like the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Mariners, Rangers, Phillies, and Angels. Other clubs like the Dodgers, Cubs, Nationals, Astros, Cardinals, Braves, Padres, and Giants are limited to $300,000 bonuses this signing period due to past international spending.

No team has significant bonus pool space remaining. They spent it all on international amateurs once the signing period opened Sunday. Either Otani is going to take a low six-figure bonus (nope) or he’s not coming over this winter (yup). He could wait two years until his 25th birthday, at which point he could sign a contract of any size. MLB and the MLBPA really screwed this up. They should be trying to attract players like Otani, not push them away.