Thoughts on the Upcoming International Signing Period for the Pirates

The 2019-20 international signing period just wrapped up on Thursday night with the Pittsburgh Pirates signing a total of 49 players. We had scouting reports on every player, which can be found linked here to our signing tracker. We will have a recap of the signing period here later this week. I wanted to look ahead a bit to the 2020-21 (or just 2021) signing period, which will run from January 15, 2021 until December 15, 2021. This is the group that would have been eligible to signing this past summer, but they had to wait due to the shutdown all around baseball this spring.

The Pirates were able to spend a lot of extra money on international players this past signing period because they made four trades to acquire extra pool space. They also started with $6,481,200 as their bonus pool before those additions. We didn’t get the exact amount acquired, but we know that they spent over $8,000,000 total. If you’re hoping for something similar this upcoming year, don’t hold your breath. MLB shut down that possibility when they decided that there would be no trades of international bonus pool space during the upcoming signing period. To make matters a little worse for the Pirates, this is the year that they have the second tier bonus pool. While it’s still a significant amount, their pool has a hard cap of $5,899,600 this upcoming year.

Thanks to Ben Badler at Baseball America, we already had our sneak peek at the upcoming signing period and that hasn’t changed. The Pirates are reportedly going big on outfielder Shalin Polanco, who is one of the top international players available for this upcoming signing period. One person I talked to said that he was a top ten player for this period and that ranking had nothing to do with his $2.5 M expected bonus, though he’s getting that type of bonus due to that high talent.

While you should be excited about Polanco, it’s important to remember that a lot of this class is riding on him now with that lower hard cap set in place. He’s taking up 42.4% of their pool all by himself. Badler’s preview noted that Dominican right-handed pitcher Darlin Diaz would be getting $500,000 (expected amount), so you’re now talking about more than half of their pool is being spent on just those two players.

Those were the only amounts mentioned, but the link above has info/video on the other six players also connected to the Pirates, which includes five outfielders and a left-handed pitcher. We probably won’t hear all of the bonus amounts because two of those players are from Venezuela and their bonus info is usually keep quiet to protect them. The eight players mentioned in that article are all players of note, so it’s safe to assume that they are going to be taking up a large portion of the overall bonus pool.

It’s not bad to spend that much of your pool on eight players. No one has figured out the good/bad way to spend international bonus pool money yet. That’s part of the problem of agreeing to deals with 14/15 year old kids and then giving them a large sum of money and eventually sending them to a different country. It’s a lot of hurdles to get from talented at a young age to the majors on the international side. Anyone who has followed the draft knows how much can change with high school seniors during the spring before they get drafted, so imagine trying to find high school freshmen before everyone else. It obviously works well enough that the signing period is a huge deal, but there’s no proven way to attack it, especially not now with a hard cap and no trades.

What we do know is that the Pirates are spending a lot on outfielders in 2021 and the signing period will likely be fairly quiet after the initial wave of players are announced. After that point, the important part will be the trench work by the scouts looking for hidden gems with the small amount of remaining bonus pool money. I say that while noting that they will most certainly be signing more than eight players on January 15th and those scouts are already putting in work towards the 2022 signing class. Some of the best international signings over the years received low four/five-figure bonuses.