With the White Sox officially in their first gut rebuild since the late 1990's, attention turns to not only the domestic Rule 4 Amateur Draft in June, but also the international amateur market. The new period beginning on July 2nd presents some big opportunities for the South Siders, and there may be some value to be had even before then. To understand what the club might do, it's important to first get a read on recent history.
Marco Paddy is an important cog in the White Sox power structure. Paddy, previously with the Braves and Blue Jays, is highly lauded for his scouting work and relationships in South America. The 52-year old was brought into the organization in November 2011 as a Special Assistant to the General Manager in charge of International Operations. Even though most other franchises were well immersed in international scouting at that point, this was a sea change for the White Sox. After the bonus skimming scandal involving former International Director Dave Wilder in 2008, the White Sox presence internationally was basically non-existent.
Scouting and player development are often referred to as the life blood of an organization. The White Sox lack of depth in the past decade has really underlined that ideal. Paddy and the White Sox getting back on track in the Latin American ranks could become an essential part of team's future building. In his short tenure with the White Sox, he has added some intriguing young talent to the system. It wasn't necessary for the organization to spend excessively on the international front initially, but Paddy's presence made the White Sox a viable option to young international prospects once again. Almost immediately, Paddy signed RHP Luis Martinez out of Venezuela. He also led the charge on signing then 26-year old Jose Abreu out of Cuba for a club record $68 million. During the 2013-2014 signing period, Dominican OF Micker Adolfo signed for $1.6 million - the fifth highest payout of that period. In the following period, Paddy signed Dominican Infielder Amado Nunez and Colombian Catcher Jhoandro Alfaro for $900,000 and $750,000 respectively. OF Franklin Reyes from the Dominican Republic was another hefty expenditure in 2015 when the White Sox signed him for $1.5 million.
For the current period (July 2, 2016-June 15, 2017), the White Sox were awarded a pool of $2,973,900. They spent $1.1 million on OF Josue Guerrero (Nephew of Vladimir Guerrero) and also signed outfielders Luis Mieses and Anderson Comas for bonuses of $428,000 and $450,000. Ben Badler of Baseball America had all three of these prospects ranked among the top 40 of that class. Whether the club will continue to add during this period remains to be seen, as they do have some money left to spend, but it seems unlikely at this point (though we will revisit that shortly).
The White Sox have been criticized by some fans for not spending past the pool thresholds allotted by Major League Baseball. If a team were to spend over its international pool limit under the current period's rules, a 100% overage tax would be enforced for all dollars over their pool, and the team would be limited in future spending periods in terms of signing bonuses. Teams like the Braves and Padres spent close to $30 million on the international market this past year. When the Red Sox plucked White Sox top prospect Yoan Moncada out of Cuba for a $31.5 million bonus, they had to pay a 100% tax for a total cost of $63 million.
With that in mind, if a team did have plans of blowing past their spending pool, it is advantageous to maximize the talent return by greatly exceeding the limit. Paddy and other members of the White Sox front office have noted previously that such a strategy is possible but emphasized the need for the White Sox to first add players on an annual basis to reignite their international infrastructure. Hahn, Paddy, and Director of Amateur Scouting Nick Hostetler have all mentioned the importance of the club being active on the international front during this rebuild.
A new Collective Bargaining Agreement brings new international signing rules for the upcoming J2 period. Similar to the new amateur draft rules implemented recently, the hard-capped nature of these rules should help an organization like the White Sox. All MLB teams will be allowed to spend between $4.75-$5.75 million annually on international amateurs. As a large market team, the White Sox are priced in the $4.75 million group. Players that cost $10,000 or less do not count against the spending pool. Teams may also trade away their entire allotment of international money or can acquire up to 75% of their total pool. If the White Sox were to acquire more international dollars from another club, they could acquire up to 75% more for a max total of $8.3 million. Acquiring extra money to spend in the 2017-2018 period that begins on July 2nd of this year should be very possible given there are many teams that will be in the penalty phase and restricted to spend no more than $300,000 on any prospect. Eleven teams (Astros, Athletics, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Nationals, Padres, Reds, and Royals) are all in the penalty stage during the 2017-2018 period that runs from July 2, 2017-June 15, 2018. International free agents over the age of 25 (was 23 in prior CBA) are not subject to the new international rules. It will be interesting to see what new strategies are adopted by teams in the upcoming hard cap era.
At a recent showcase, many of the top international players for July 2nd were present. Multiple unofficial agreements for top talent have already been reported. Dominican SS Wander Franco is regarded as a big prize on the international class and has a rumored agreement with the Tampa Bay Rays for $4 million. Other early names with commitments are Venezuelan C Daniel Flores ( Texas Rangers), Dominican SS Luis Garcia (Philadelphia Phillies, and Dominican OF Larry Ernesto (Milwaukee Brewers) among others.
White Sox Outlook
The White Sox don't have any reported 'agreements' with players as of yet for the upcoming signing period. This is rather puzzling for a couple of reasons. Hostetler and Paddy have both referenced spending internationally during this rebuilding period. It's not atypical for rumored deals to be announced in February. In an interview with FutureSox last year, Marco Paddy told our Brian Bilek that he was excited about a young pitcher that the club was interested in signing for the upcoming period. Regardless, Baseball America's Ben Badler, the most prominent international baseball reporter, seems to think the White Sox are keeping their options open.
The prize that they could be hoping for is Luis Robert, the latest potential superstar to defect from Cuba. He is said to have the talent of a high 1st round draft pick and is on a short list for the best international talents available. The 19-year-old player was in the Serie Nacional and in 232 plate appearances, he slashed .401/.526/.687. He is a 6'3 outfielder with an athletic build, plus right handed power, and the chance to stick in CF. Badler mentioned numerous teams in connection to Robert including the White Sox. In fact he states, "The team that comes up the most in discussions of where Robert might land, however, is the White Sox." Badler even speculated that the Sox could blow past their bonus pools to close a deal.
The team that comes up the most in discussions of where Robert might land, however, is the White Sox.
How This Works for White Sox
Robert's paperwork has been submitted to the Commissioner's Office and it appears possible or even likely that he'll be cleared to sign prior to June 15th. If this chain of events occurs, a team that is already in the penalty phase like San Diego, St. Louis, or Houston could offer him a hefty contract with the old rules still in place. It would certainly benefit Robert to be cleared prior to the start of the 2017-2018 signing period when he wouldn't be subject to a hard-capped market. If he isn't cleared to sign until after June 15th and is placed in the next July 2nd period, the White Sox are in a good position to sign him and could even be considered the favorites to do so. If the lack of rumored agreements with other big names holds water, they could offer Robert the majority of their pool and even trade for more.
Badler's speculation about the Sox going over their pool is quite interesting, given the club's historic reticence to blow past draft and acquisition rules. It would seem the White Sox do not have a great shot at signing Robert if he's cleared prior to June 15th. Badler is usually spot on with the information he receives and him linking Robert to the Sox is a positive development for any stakeholder who wishes to see the White Sox secure a top international talent, but going to the Sox seems much more likely in the upcoming period than the current one.
If the White Sox spent over their pool amount for the previous year ($2,973,900), it would take them out of the running for any player for more than $300,000 this coming July. That could be an issue if Paddy and the White Sox already had some verbal agreements in place with prospects. If that isn't the case, then the Sox could blow past their pool to sign Luis Robert and add a possible superstar to slot right near the top of their budding farm system. These are unprecedented times for the White Sox organization and spending the money it takes to add a talent like Robert will soon be more viable than ever and could give the system another impressive jolt. It might be time the relatively new blood in the White Sox front office to further push the envelope.
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