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How the Yankees missed out on some of the game’s brightest stars

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The Yankees went all-in on the International Free Agent market in 2014, only to watch members of 2015 class emerges as stars.

2019 World Series Game 7 - Washington Nationals v. Houston Astros Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

As the World Series played out this season, young and talented players such as Juan Soto and Yordan Alvarez impressed over the seven games. Both were signed as part of the 2015-2016 international signing period and rose through the minor leagues, establishing themselves among the best bats in the majors. They are the vanguard of an international signing class that is shaping up to be historically productive.

It was also a signing period that the Yankees were heavily restricted from due to their indulgences from the previous year.

Even prior to the 2013 audit of the Yankees’ farm system, the organization knew that they needed to find a way to get more talent through the system and into the major leagues. As one of the major sources of talent acquisition, the international free agency period that spanned from July 2, 2014, to June 15, 2015 was targeted as a prime opportunity to load the system with an injection of youth.

The plan heading into that signing period was simple: sign them all. By the time they were done, the Yankee had signed 10 of Baseball America’s top 30 International Free Agents, and numerous other highly regarded prospects, blowing by their spending limits in a way that no team had previously.

The immediate penalty was a 100% tax on every dollar spent over their $2.19 million initial limit and a total bill of more than $30 million. That was a small price to pay for the potential reward that would come from adding so many talented and potential impactful players to the farm system.

Beyond the financial penalty was the international restrictions that the organization would face over the next two years. The Yankees would not be able to sign any individual players for more that $300K during the next two signing periods. The Yankees clearly had the resources to pay that tax, and by signing so many top players they would not miss out on a few top players over the next few years, or so they thought. What the Yankees did not forecast was that they would miss terribly on their 2014 signing period, while members of the 2015 group rose to the majors and immediately procued.

The Yankees spent over $1 million in bonus money on seven players during the 2014 signing period. Estevan Florial likely would have been the eighth player to receive a seven-figure bonus from the Yankees, but he was suspended in early 2014 due to an issue with his birth certificate. Florial eventually signed and has consistently been the top Yankees prospect from the group over the last few years.

Only Hoy Jun Park has reached Double-A Trenton for a full season, and no player outside of Floiral from this signing group is currently ranked among the Yankees’ top 30 prospects. Several of the premier names at the time they joined the organization have now been released, while others have struggled to develop into the consistent and elite talents the Yankees were looking for.

Standing front in center during the World Series was Soto, considered one of the best pure hitters the year he signed with Washington. Soto exploded through the minor leagues reaching the majors at age-19, and has promptly posted a 140 OPS+ through his first two seasons. His rise to stardom saw him finish second in the 2018 Rookie of the Year voting, and culminated with three home runs, and numerous big hits, in a World Series winning effort.

Another young member of the 2015-2016 International signing class was Alvarez, the likely Rookie of the Year for the American League in 2019. While Yankees fans might have come away unimpressed after Alvarez was neutralized during the ALCS, that does not take away from a regular season where he posted a 1.067 OPS in 87 games after a mid-season promotion from the minors.

Alvarez was a 19-year-old prospect during at the time he signed, and was just days away from becoming part of the next year’s class when the Dodgers signed him for a little over $2 million. He never played a game for the Dodgers and was quickly traded to Houston in 2016, becoming an offensive force over the next several seasons and making the major-league roster this season at age 22.

Two other talents from this international class emerged on the major-league stage in 2019. The Yankees are quickly becoming familiar with Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. who was the number one prospect in baseball prior to his promotion to the majors early this season. While Guerrero was the consensus top prospect, he had a challenger in Fernando Tatis Jr. The infielder put together a spring training campaign that was so impressive that he broke camp with San Diego, despite never having played in a game at the Triple-A level. Beyond these players are even more names consistently ranked among the top 100 prospects in the sport who will start hitting the majors next season.

While the Yankees were facing signing restrictions, they focused on signing pitchers, who generally sign for lower signing bonuses on the international market. In that facet of the game, it looks like they did well for theirselves; they have four signees from that year who are either at High-A and above, including Deivi Garcia. Luis Medina, Miguel Yajure, and Rony Garcia are the other young arms who may all help the Yankees feel that 2015-2016 was not a lost time on the international market. Yet even with the Yankees boasting an incredible young, and successful core group of talent, it will be hard to look around the league for years to come without a reminder of the class that missed, and the restrictions that followed