The Pirates signed Starling Marte eight years ago today for $85,000. Since then Marte has become a star. That's easy to miss after a year in which Marte shared a lineup with three legitimate MVP candidates, but it's true -- he had a 128 OPS+ last season and is now at 121 for his career, and he produces good value in the field and on the basepaths, despite occasional baserunning mistakes. And he didn't turn 26 until October.
It's remarkable that Rene Gayo and the Pirates managed to sign him in the first place, particularly since Dave Littlefield was still the Pirates' GM when it occurred. The Pirates were about to fire Littlefield, build their new Dominican facility, and triple their international signing budget, but they hadn't done that yet. (Dejan Kovacevic's excellent series on what was going on in the Dominican at that time is well worth revisiting.) And so Gayo was working with a yearly bonus budget of about $700,000, and he found Marte anyway.
Since then, the Pirates have made huge strides to acquire better Latin American talent. They've signed dozens of players to bonuses bigger than Marte's, and their list of signees in the Nutting/Coonelly/Huntington era includes Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson, Harold Ramirez, Elias Diaz, Willy Garcia and Luis Heredia. They also traded Dilson Herrera in the Marlon Byrd trade and Joely Rodriguez in the Antonio Bastardo deal. But depending on how Polanco turns out, Marte might wind up being the best player out of all of them.
Via High Heat Stats MLB.