Wednesday, January 11, 2017

International signings - Time to make them a high priority and back it up with dollars!

OK, I am an Indians' geek and I have been for a half a century since I was a little kid.  Part of the legacy of following the Tribe for that long is that I always looked to the there wasn't usually much of a present.   So, even with many of us being giddy about the Indians' 2017 season, I am looking towards 2020 and beyond.  

So, the acquisition of talented prospects, something that has always been front and center on my radar, is what I wanted to talk about today.  

The Indians, with the signing of Encarnacion, find themselves in an unusual place.   For only the 3rd time since the draft started in 1965, the Indians don't have a first round pick.  Plus, their excellent record last year means they will pick near the end of each round of the draft AND their competitive balance pick is buried after the second round of the draft.  What this means is that their first pick in the draft will be around #65, which is second worst opening pick in Indians' history.  

I wrote about the loss of the first round pick and the implications to the draft in December but, in summary, it is likely that we will not be able to get an impact player in the 2017 draft unless (a) a highly rated guy falls out of the first round and (b) we sign a bunch of college seniors to save up money to sign that one guy.   Other than that scenario we are likely to get a bunch of guys who will sign for slot money.   While the Indians have been very good about getting what, on paper, looks like decent talent to sign for slot money in rounds 2 and beyond, none of the guys we drafted below #65 in a draft are looking like more than complimentary players, even if we went over slot to sign them!   The guys who ARE looking good were selected using first round (and first round supplemental) picks and who were very highly rated at the time they were drafted.

So, since our 2017 draft is likely to produce, on paper, one top prospect at best, if everything falls our way, we need to find a way to fill the prospect pipeline in ways other than the draft. 

Since we all like to spend the Indians' money (really, admit it, you like to do that, too!), I want to state again something I said right after the Encarnacion signing:

We need to apply a lot of our amateur talent acquisition resources (i.e., scouts, bonuses) to the international market.  To bend an old expression: we need to spend like drunken scouting directors. 

I hope that the Indians already had a budget for the 2017 draft before they signed Encarnacion. If they did, the projected money for the draft doesn't simply go away and, hopefully, they didn't use that budget to sign Encarnacion.   If that money still exists, I think it is a MUCH better idea to target it toward the international free agent market and, maybe, even take some of the remaining draft money and push it towards international free agents.    

I see two areas to spend money....and I think we should be spending a lot of money internationally this summer:

1. Posting on or signing outright high quality  international professional free agents

2. Signing big name amateur free agents from Latin America starting on July 1st. 

I don't advocate #2 very often as the Indians have done a good job getting and developing good talent from Latin America on the cheap (Danny Salazar, Jose Ramirez, etc.) and have had not so good luck when they did spend anywhere close to $1 to sign a young Latin free agent.   However, this year I think we should go for a couple of high budget (>$2 million) Latin signings.   While they are high risk as these guys are only 16 years old, these guys can be acquired more easily as there is no draft and the penalties for going over the international budget are much less severe if you don't do it every year than they are for going over the draft budget pool.  Plus, there are Cuban players like Yandy Diaz (and better) who are/will be available.  Bottom line: if done correctly I think we can limit our risk and maximize our rewards, probably to a level much greater than if were able to spend all the money on draft choices.

As far as #1, this is generally reserved for big budget teams but  teams like Minnesota have been able to sign quality talent for a reasonable price in this process so maybe it is time for the Indians to dip more than their toes in this pool.  Maybe it is time for them to do a full out belly flop from the high board into the deep end! 

In summary, it has been pointed out by a lot of writers with a lot of data over the years saying how bad it is to miss an entire year of coming up with prospects for a team's prospect pipeline.   The Indians can attest to that as they had gaping holes in their prospect pipeline in years where they either did not have a first round pick or where their first round pick(s) flamed out early.

So, we can roll the dice and MAYBE get one gem out of this draft if everything goes our way (see Albert Belle years ago).  But, in 2017, the place we ought to be spending the Indians' hard-earned dollars is internationally...and at levels never seen before in Cleveland.

That is how we keep this prospect pipeline flowing. 


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