As the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline approached, Yankees fans were enrapt. Which players would GM Brian Cashman acquire to help the club with this year’s playoff push, and at what cost in terms of prospects?
Ninja Cash came through, landing a quartet of big-league players without giving up a single top prospect. He also made some under-the-radar moves, trading away spare parts in exchange for international bonus pool signing money.
These dollars were immediately spent to sign top available talent. Switch-hitting shortstop Alexander Vargas (ranked number eight by MLB Pipeline) and right-handed pitcher Osiel Rodriguez (number ten) — both from Cuba — headlined the haul. Outfielder Kevin Alcantara (No. 11, Dominican Republic) and catcher Antonio Gomez (No. 12, Venezuela) were joined by right-handed pitcher Denny Larrondo (No. 30, Cuba).
The quintet of players cost the Yankees a total of $5.25 million in signing bonuses. This marked the second straight year that the club landed five of the top 30 — including four of the top 12 — international amateur free agents.
International signings are critical to the continued on-field success of an organization like the Yankees, which almost never receives a high first-round pick in the June amateur draft. The Bombers have only had six top-12 draft picks in the last 50 years. The most recent one came all the way back in 1992, when the team selected Derek Jeter with the sixth overall pick. To get four top-12 ranked prospects in one swoop is really something. That the Yankees did it two years in a row is even better.
The Yankees have enjoyed much success with their international signings over the years. Bernie Williams (Puerto Rico, 1985), Mariano Rivera (Panama, 1990), and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez (Cuba, 1998) were all vital contributors to multiple World Series championships. Yankees history over the last quarter-century would look drastically different without those three legends.
The current roster also boasts a trio of stars who were inked by the Yankees as international amateur free agents. Two-time All-Star Luis Severino (2011), 2016 Rookie of the Year Award runner-up Gary Sanchez (2009), and 2018 ROY contender Miguel Andujar (2011) were all signed out of the Dominican Republic. Andujar was MLB Pipeline’s No. 18 ranked international amateur prospect when signed with the Yankees for $750,000.
Beginning with the 2012 Collective Bargaining Agreement, Major League Baseball and the Players Association agreed to change the rules regarding international free agent signings. The changes — which included the introduction of slot values, soft caps on spending, and penalties — were designed to prevent teams like the Yankees from using their financial clout to buy up all of the top talent.
Cashman rolled with the changes, deftly adapting to the new system to ensure that the Yankees continued to enjoy a steady flow of top international prospects. Frankly, he has dominated the competition.
This year, the Yankees were the only club that inked multiple top-12 prospects. Just six other teams managed to grab more than one in the top 30, with only Milwaukee getting three.
Each of New York’s signees is only 16 years old, so it will be awhile before we see how this year’s class pans out. If the recent past is any indication, then we have reason to be optimistic. In addition to the players who have already graduated to the major-league roster, ten of the club’s top 30 prospects were signed by the Yankees as international amateur free agents. Estevan Florial (ranked second, signed 2015), Domingo Acevedo (ranked fifth, 2012), and Luis Medina (ranked ninth, 2015) head that group.
Perhaps we will see one or more members of this year’s international amateur free-agent class star in pinstripes six or seven years from now. Or maybe they will be used as trade chips to acquire that missing piece in a future pennant race. Either way, Cashman had an incredibly successful July. With many fans wondering if he would trade away the future to aid this season’s postseason chase, he managed to improve the current team while simultaneously adding top prospects to the pipeline. That’s quite a feat.