In case you haven't noticed -- and if you're a Pirates fan, maybe you haven't -- the July 2 signing period for international amateurs began today, and most of this year's best international talents flocked to new teams. The Pirates have, as yet, signed no one, or at least no one Baseball America has picked up on. There's still time to sign players, but most of the best ones are already gone.
The Pirates had the second-smallest pool available to any team, at a little over $2 million. That was one problem. The other was that the system meant to control teams' behavior has become farcical, as a glance as the lists of teams and bonuses demonstrates.
Nearly all the best players went to just a handful of teams -- this year, it was the Braves, Padres, Athletics and Nationals, along with, annoyingly, the Cardinals, the only team with a bonus pool smaller than the Bucs'. Those teams will be penalized for their spending and they won't be able to do so quite so heavily next season, but then, unless the rules change, a different group of teams will emerge. Last year, it was the Dodgers who went nuts; the previous year, it was the Yankees; the year before that, it was the Cubs and Rangers. The bonus pools meant to curtail international spending aren't really working, and big-market clubs seem especially eager to ignore them.
Under Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo, the Pirates have mostly focused on finding diamonds in the rough. With Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco currently in the Bucs' outfield after the Pirates lured them with minimal bonuses, it's hard to be too critical of that approach, especially when projecting the futures of 16-year-old kids is hardly an exact science anyway. The teams who dropped tens of millions on young Dominican and Venezuelan players today don't really know what they're getting.
The Pirates' unwillingness to engage the upper end of the international market (with their pursuit of Luis Heredia the primary exception) has real costs, however. One of the products of the Cubs' spending outburst in 2013, Gleyber Torres, is currently the organization's best prospect, for example. To some extent, the Pirates are constrained by the bonus pool system. But I'm sorry they haven't yet been one of the many teams who spend a season flagrantly ignoring it (particularly since they've been contenders the past several seasons, and thus haven't received sizable bonus pools to work with anyway). The system seems sure to change in the next CBA, but for now, the Bucs seem content to sit on the sidelines while other teams grab the best available Latin American talent.