Baseball’s Search for International Prospects Faces New Spending Limits
Betting big on unproven commodities isn’t something that makes anyone feel comfortable, but that’s exactly what goes on year in, year out in Major League Baseball’s search for gems in the international prospect pool. With a new system in place to limit spending and give lower-ranking teams an edge, not only will clubs have to chase down these young unknowns, but they’ll do so in a more competitive environment.
Identifying 16-year-old talents that project to be future major leaguers is a process major league teams have spent varying amounts of effort on through the years. So many variables play into it, that each club has developed their own methods — which countries to focus on, how much time and manpower to invest, how many players to target and for what price.
An added layer to it all is in jockeying for favor among those targets — the size of the signing bonus is most often the determining factor as to which club’s system will inherit the would-be stars.
Last year’s spending cap helped even the field with all teams forced to work their offers into a uniform limit. That changes this year.
The signing period for international prospects opens on July 2 and the $2.9 million each team was allotted in 2012 has been replaced with a scaled plan that gives 2012’s bottom team, the Houston Astros, $4.9 million to work with and the Washington Nationals (owners of 2012’s best regular season record) a $1.8 million boundary.
The numbers come from a common $700,000 base enhanced by a system that assigns each team four slots (think something similar to a draft order) with corresponding dollar values. The total of those values is what they have to work with for the year. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez provides a complete breakdown.
Teams can split up their spending pool as they wish, can trade slot values, and have some exemptions for certain signing bonuses that won’t count against their total, but this new structure makes it even more important for teams to perfect their strategy.
Organizations are taking the opportunity to apply full-scale analysis — not just on the players being scouted, but on the process itself. The Houston Astros are one such club that is studying methods employed by different teams and what successes have come from them.
Richard Justice of MLB.com quotes Jeff Luhnow, Houston’s general manager, “There’s analytic work you can do to help focus your resources. Should we be investing in Australia? Taiwan? Brazil? What has history shown about how these markets develop? A lot of what we did wasn’t to put numbers into a computer and see what we learned. There are 30 clubs in baseball. That means there are 30 different ways of doing everything.”
“Let’s take Venezuela as an example. Let’s look at all 30 clubs’ approach to Venezuela. Which clubs have been the most successful? What’s their approach? Do they have four area scouts, five area scouts? How do they carve up the regions? Do they have a cross-checker? Do they send their American scouts down there? Do they have a dedicated guy down there? Do they send their Venezuelan players to the Dominican? Do they send them directly to the States?”
We’ll see evidence in the coming year of the plans that have been put in place and the ability of clubs to execute them effectively. After that, of course, there’s still the bit about molding that newly-signed 16-year-old Dominican shortstop into your franchise cornerstone, but that’s the easy part.
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