Yesterday the Yankees made another splash in the international free agent market, two months after the July 2nd signing period opened. According to Ben Badler, the Bombers signed Ronny Rojas, a 16-year-old shortstop from the Dominican Republic. Badler reports that the Yankees and Rojas agreed to terms on a contract with a signing bonus of $1 million.
Rojas ranked as the 11th best prospect in this year’s international free agent class. MLB.com described him as “arguably one of the best hitters on the market”. He’s a switch-hitter with notable gap-to-gap power. Baseball America, on the other hand, finds Rojas’ power projection more optimistic. Their scouts believe he can hit close to 20 home runs a season in the big leagues. While his advanced bat draws the attention, it’s believed he can remain as a middle infielder longterm.
The Yankees have been connected to Rojas since the signing period opened. The problem is that they had to wait until he turned 16 on August 23rd. With his birthday in the rearview, the team became free to sign him. It took a few extra weeks, but the Bombers finally got their man.
This signing proves interesting for a few reasons. First, it helps explain why the Yankees have hoarded international pool money of late. Brian Cashman made it a point to expand the team’s pool during this summer’s trades. He acquired $3.25 million in trades with teams such as the Orioles and the Athletics. After opening the period with a $4.75 million cap, the club expanded it to the maximum $8 million limit.
Jon Heyman believes the Yankees and Red Sox, among other teams, padded their pools to make a run at Japanese two-way superstar Shohei Otani. The Yankees clearly have interest in him, considering Cashman himself attended a recent scouting trip to Japan. Should the Nippon Ham Fighters post the 23-year-old in the offseason, he would be subjected to international free agent limitations, making things complicated.
While stories of an old-fashioned showdown over Otani are exciting, there’s no guarantee he will be posted. It’s entirely possible he waits until his 25th birthday so he can truly hit the open market. The Yankees are aware of this possibility. That’s why they spread their money around, signing a number of top July 2nd prospects as well as Rojas. Would it be nice to offer Otani the full $8 million? Sure, but the more prudent move involves acquiring the most talent possible. The Yankees did just that.
After trading away several top prospects at the deadline this summer, the team refurbished the farm system with international signings. Over the last calendar year, the Yankees began to see the payoff of in-house development. The Bombers certainly want to keep that pipeline going. That starts with landing young talent, namely ones that are actually available, not hypothetically. The club already had a successful July 2nd haul. Signing a high-upside bat like Rojas puts the cherry on top.