Padres poised to sign unprecedented international class
On July 2, 2008, the Padres set a club record by forking over nearly $5 million in signing bonuses to five international prospects. A state-of-the-art, $8.5 million facility in the Dominican Republic had opened three months earlier. Optimism coursed through the air.
The above numbers lend context to what will unfold this weekend. When the 2016-17 international signing period opens Saturday, the Padres will obliterate the aforementioned record.
Under general manager and foreign-talent maven A.J. Preller, the organization is widely expected to spend upward of $30 million on teenage Latin American players in the upcoming period. The planned spree will be the culmination of an undertaking that began soon after Preller’s arrival two summers ago.
“Fans can expect to be excited,” said international scouting director Chris Kemp, whom Preller hired in October 2014. “They’re going to see a scouting department be aggressive and try to land some impact guys for the future.
“This has been an 18-month process. ... You don’t just show up on July 2 and make a bunch of signings. It’s taken 18 months to put this thing together and build strong relationships with players and their families.”
Starting Saturday, international players who are 16 years old or will be by Sept. 1 are eligible to sign with major league clubs. Players with at least three years’ professional experience who are 23 or older are exempt from international bonus pools.
The Padres have a bonus pool of $3,347,600 for the 2016-17 international signing period. Teams face penalties for exceeding their allotted pools:
Players considered likely to sign with the Padres include Dominican shortstop Luis Almanzar (ranked the second-best available international prospect by Baseball America), Venezuelan shortstop Gabriel Arias (No. 4) and Dominican outfielder Jeisson Rosario (No. 6). The club also is the favorite for a pair of coveted Cubans — left-hander Adrian Morejon and outfielder Jorge Ona — though they are still awaiting MLB clearance and likely will not sign Saturday. A third Cuban prospect, Lazaro “Lazarito” Armenteros, has long held the Padres’ interest, though where the outfielder will land remains unclear.
The anticipated haul would represent a marked departure from recent years, when the Padres have exercised moderation in the international market. That approach has been understandable.
None of the five prospects San Diego landed in 2008 ever advanced past Double-A. Right-hander Adys Portillo, whose $2 million bonus remains the largest the Padres have given an international amateur (that will change Saturday), became a free agent after last season. Another signee, Alvaro Aristy, received $1 million and later admitted his real name (Jorge Guzman) and age (three years older than initially believed).
Seven years after its inauguration, the Dominican academy has yet to produce a Padres major leaguer.
Ownership believes the current baseball-operations chief could produce vastly different results. As an international scouting director for the Texas Rangers, Preller was afforded the funds and latitude to pursue many of the market’s best prospects. The fruits of those efforts include such successes as Jurickson Profar and Nomar Mazara.
Padres officials have circled the ’16-17 signing period as a prime window for loading up on top talent. Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement will expire after this season, and owners have interest in implementing an international draft or some type of system that will more effectively regulate prices. (Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler, the head of MLB’s labor committee, is leading CBA negotiations for the owners.)
Meanwhile, a wide swath of rival teams incurred penalties for exceeding their allotted bonus pools in recent signing periods and will be barred from signing any player for more than $300,000. The Padres, with a 2016-17 bonus pool of about $3.3 million, are prepared to potentially triple that sum — and to pay a 100 percent tax on overages. A $30 million expenditure essentially would double, to $60 million.
The club will not confirm specific targets before Saturday — early agreements are a prohibited, albeit universal practice — but many believe the Padres, along with the Atlanta Braves, will be this weekend’s most active procurers of international talent.
Early this year, in a sign of the organization’s commitment, Kemp moved his home base from Charlotte, N.C., to Santo Domingo, not far from the Padres’ Dominican complex.
“It’s just a matter of dedicating our lives to this job,” said Kemp, who has been spotted in locales ranging from Mexico to Japan. “We want to do something special.”