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2018 international signing period begins: Part 2

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Teams can sign international free agents beginning today.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday I posted my summary of the International Signing Period. Today I’ll take a more personal look at one of the two biggest bargains this baseball season, along with the June draft. The Cubs’ recent success can very much be plotted along the graph of how successful they have been in the draft and international fields. Linking the international acquisition/development process with recent Cubs success is the goal today.

Not surprisingly, I’ll start with a degree of subterfuge. Imagine that, over the course of a week, you buy some shirts (tops/t-shirts/blouses/Cubs gear) for $400. Maybe that buys you three, six, or ten. Whichever works in your budget. Over the long haul, how do you determine if these were a good purchase?

Maybe they’re more durable than usual. Perhaps the colors fade, or the fabric frays. Maybe one is what you wear to an interview when you get your dream job. (Obviously the Ryne Sandberg jersey.) As they work their way into or out of your apparel rotation, you decide if you did well or not.

You assess the “purchase basket” on how well they perform their task. If they did their job, you unemotionally shop the same places next time. If they were a nightmare, you look somewhere else next time.

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International spending is an absolute bargain. If your team has any semblance of patience and development skill, you should get well over your value from the annual international spending jamboree. Whether you buy into the “a win above replacement is worth $7 or $8 million” theory or not, money that is permitted to be spent is a finite resource.

Teams are no longer given carte blanche on much of anything in the MLB spending realm. Which is unfortunate as a fan of a team willing to spend. However, those same limits were a bit of a deterrent for the Yankees and Dodgers this off-season. It cuts both ways. If a team “gets theirs” from a source, it helps long-term.

In the off-season, the Cubs invested rather heavily in pitching. Some of those arms have worked well so far. Others, not as much. While the Cubs had some clear needs on the staff after last October, a team always should value new, young incoming talent.

In the draft, the Cubs will spend about $8 million in bonuses. In the international arena, they will likely want to spend a bit more. What is your break-even expectation regarding the draft? What is your break-even regarding the international cycle? More importantly, if the Cubs sign a pitcher for a two-year $16 million-and-change contract, what do you expect from him over the two seasons?

Let’s imagine you expect two-and-16 to provide three wins above replacement over the two seasons? That seems fair.

The Cubs international and draft classes should provide far more value than that. The main reason for the inverse interest in the poorer investment (veteran free agents) is an immediacy bias. People generally want to see results right-stinking-now.

I don’t. I’m willing to wait. I crave waiting. The waiting on Gleyber Torres provided the last piece to a World Series ring. Eloy Jimenez, along with two draft picks (Dylan Cease and Matt Rose) and an international signing (Bryant Flete) helped fetch Jose Quintana.

While the names at the top of the Cubs list will be the four I mentioned yesterday (Richard Gallardo/RHP Venezuela. Jose Lopez/CF Dominican Republic. Joel Machado/LHP Venezuela. Rafael Morel/IF-OF Dominican Republic), the class itself will be much bigger.

You’re welcomed to guess who will be the chief producers, but the Cubs figure to have between 20 and 40 players they will sign in total. If any of them succeed, the Cubs have a successful class. If any debut in MLB, the class looks rather good. If any are traded, the class looks better because of it. What it takes is development and patience.

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To get to their maximum in spending, the Cubs will have to make some moves. Talent will have to be sent elsewhere. Among the eight teams in the international sin bin (Astros, A’s, Braves, Cardinals, Nationals, Padres, Reds, White Sox), not many appear to be natural trade partners with the Cubs. The Braves and A’s have traded freely through the Epstein years. Perhaps the Padres?

However, to make a swap, the Cubs would need to have “a piece or more” the opponent would be interested in acquiring. This will be a developing economics project. I doubt the Reds or Cardinals will lift a pencil to help the Cubs.

As an aside, despite being in the sanction zone last cycle, the Cubs still managed to sign over 40 international players. Most of them are in the Boca Chica complex now. Teams can spend their limit without spending large amounts on any one player.

***

With Mexico development largely by-the-boards, the Cubs would be well-served coming up with a new strategy to out-develop the league. I’m sure thoughts are being bandied back-and-forth, but the Cubs were the primary beneficiaries of the Mexican development system. Losing that hurts.

The Cubs development system through the Dominican Academy has been rather successful. This would be accurate if it only included Willson Contreras. However, since 2011 when Theo Epstein arrived on the scene, international development has become a front-burner issue.

The Cubs top prospect might well be Miguel Amaya (Panama). Adbert Alzolay (Venezuela) and Oscar De La Cruz (Dominican Republic) are atop the pitching rankings. Cuba and Colombia are regular outposts, as well. Look for an increase in outposts of The Netherlands (for instance, Curacao), as the Cubs have added the Dutch national team’s pitching coach in Steve Janssen.

***

While the eyes will be firmly planted at the top (for a couple minutes) with the higher-end signings, don’t dismiss the less-expensive additions. While many of the commitments are made unofficially when players are 15 years old (or less), remember that players develop on their time frames, not ours.

Braves signings Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. were low-end additions. The same with the Astros’ Jose Altuve. They got better after they were signed. Quite a bit better. To assume that the big-money signings are the only valuable types disregards how bodies develop in athletes.

Perhaps, with the Mexican option cut off, the Cubs will “break another unwritten rule” and add a third Dominican team. When a new team is added, more players get to play 40 or more games in their formative years. More pitchers get to toss 30-50 innings at 17 or 18 years old. While most will wash out, adding more players to the facility give more shots at an Acuna. An Albies. An Alzolay (who was signed for a scant $10,000 bonus).

Whether the cycle is more productive or less, the baseball scientists get to learn as of Monday morning. What types of players are worth international signing amounts? How many trades will the Cubs make to add to their allocation amounts? Which players will be the first to be traded?

In a Friday tweet, I noted the Cubs shouldn’t have a window of contention. Instead, they should have an entire horizon. Which should apply if the current season isn’t valued over the bulk of seasons in the future. Developing talent takes time, and the Cubs figure to be benefited by players signed internationally well into the latter half of the 2020s and beyond.

What that requires is patience.

Players from this cycle will benefit the parent club. If the Cubs have success in the 2022 and beyond era, players signed internationally in the cycle starting today will help to that end. Dominican League games are played six days a week through the summer, and the players representing the Cubs may improve from the lessons learned any day.

For the dollar value, the international angle of baseball is a bargain. Like the shirt that starts a friendship, or wins the job interview. It will take awhile for the players obtained in this cycle to help the Cubs. As long as the meshing between the scouts and coaches continue, some of the signed will be of use in five or six years. Some in less time, by trade. And a few may debut with the Cubs. That said and agreed with, players from prior cycles are progressing as we speak.

July 2 is a time of hope. A time to assess strategies. A time to trade talent for spending space. And a time to be very happy that the current front office has ventured into Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, and who-knows-where-else to locate the best young talent available.

Give this cycle of talent a few years, and some of these players will be getting the “Estimated Time Of Arrival” discussions. For the scant amount the Cubs are allowed to spend internationally, the basket of investments will outplay many more advertised signings.

The Cubs have gone to three straight National League Championship Series, in large part due to the effectiveness on the international venue. The period starting today should be successful, as well. However, the more visible, more immediate angles will get the press coverage after today.

For now.

For now.

***

Late Edit

Cubs signings as of Monday morning....

Richard Gallardo RHP Signing Bonus $ 1 million

Jose Lopez OF SB $1.5 million

Joel Machado LHP SB $850,000

Rafael Morel SS SB $850,000

Yohendrick Pinango OF SB $400,000

If Pinango doesn’t have at least a 60 name on the 20/80 scale, I’d be stunned.