When the Sox signed Luis Robert for a club-record-for-an-international-prospect $26MM, I was perhaps the sole voice of dissent in the fanbase. Robert came at a steep price. The Sox had $2.973MM in their bonus pool, and every dollar of that $26MM exceeding that figure was subject to a 100% luxury tax, bringing the effective price tag to roughly $49MM (while USA Today reported the number at $52MM, that estimation appears to disregard that the pool figure itself is not taxed). $49MM buys a lot on the open market, though if you buy into the FG prospect valuations, it looks like the club got quite a bargain. You don’t have to squint at all to slap a 60 FV on Robert, and he didn’t cost the Sox a pick in the upcoming amateur draft. The reason I dissented, however, was because I wanted the Sox to hold out for Otani. Given that Otani ended up foreswearing Midwest and East Coast teams other than the Cubs and, in the end, just signed up to play with Baseball Jesus in any event, with 20-20 hindsight I ended up being very, very wrong. These things happen.
That said, there is one, lingering downside to the Robert signing. Having exhausted and exceeded their bonus pool, the Pale Hose are unable to sign any other international players for more than $300K in each of the next two signing periods. Granted, Robert is a much better bet than anyone else that might come along, but the club is nevertheless hamstrung with respect to future signings.
Enter the Atlanta Braves disaster. If you haven’t been paying attention this offseason, which can be forgiven due to the glacial pace of free agent signings, Atlanta’s chickens came home to roost, cross the street, and serve as interim safety inspector at the power plant during the Be Sharps tour. Specifically, erstwhile Braves GM John Coppolella has joined the Black Sox, all-time hit leader Pete Rose, garbage human and baseball Krampus Marge Schott, and alleged stolen car salesman Benny Kauff* on Major League Baseball’s lifetime ban list. Coppolella caused the Braves to furtively funnel illicit, additional bonus money to a host of foreign prospects. Braves’ international scouting chief Gordon Blakeley, who many in Atlanta view as a fall guy, also received a one year suspension. Atlanta will also forego its third-round pick in the upcoming amateur player draft. Most importantly for purposes of this article, however, Commissioner Manfred voided the signings of 13 Braves prospects, as well as a verbal agreement to sign 14-year old** Dominican shortstop Robert Puason. The thirteen prospects are free to sign for a bonus with any club through January 15, after which time they will remain free to sign with any team but cannot receive a bonus. The prospects can resign with Atlanta starting May 1.
* Kauff was acquitted in a court of law, but that mattered not to then-commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who refused to overturn the ban. Landis, for his part, was a storied bigot who did much to delay the integration of baseball. Kauff went on to scout and sell clothing. Landis went on to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and his visage appears on the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award, more commonly known as the MVP award. We can at least take comfort in the fact that the Award is presently held by a pair of guys named Giancarlo and Jose.
** You read that right. This is getting as crazy as FCB Escola.
Unsurprisingly, most of these prospects were snatched up ASAP. On December 5, eight players were set to be inked, per BA, as follows:
Yunior Severino, 2B – Twins, $2.5 million (Braves bonus: $1.9 million)
Kevin Maitan, SS – Angels, $2.2 million, 2018-19 pool (Braves bonus: $4.25 million)
Juan Carlos Negret, OF – Royals, $1 million, 2018-19 pool (Braves bonus: $1 million)
Livan Soto, SS – Angels, $850,000, 2018-19 pool (Braves bonus: $1 million)
Yenci Pena, SS – Rangers, $675,000, 2017-18 pool (Braves bonus: $1.05 million)
Yefri del Rosario, RHP – Royals, $650,000, 2018-19 pool (Braves bonus: $1 million)
Abrahan Gutierrez, C – Phillies, $550,000, 2017-18 pool (Braves bonus $3.53 million)
Guillermo Zuniga, RHP – Dodgers, $205,000 (Braves bonus: $350,000)
Maitan, of course, was the marquee player. Though Fangraphs lead prospect Eric Longenhagen had soured on Maitan by the time the penalty was announced, there was still enough there for the Angels to open up their considerable wallet and guarantee the seventeen year old an additional $2.2 million. It seems a bit unfair that the Halos were able to swing both Maitan and Otani in a four day period, but then the Yankees also got the MVP for a league average market-rate 2B, because Jeets. That’s the way she goes, I suppose.
As of the time of publication, I have been unable to find any reports that the five remaining former-Braves prospects have inked deals. These players are RHP Juan Contreras (Braves bonus: $1.2 million), OF Antonio Sucre (Braves bonus: $300,000), OF Brandol Mezquita, OF (Braves bonus: $300,000), SS Angel Rojas, SS (Braves bonus: $300,000), and 18-year old SS Ji-Hwan Bae (or Bae Ji Hwan, depending on how you want to transliterate), who was offered, according to Manfred’s statement, “extra-contractual compensation.” Specifically, according to the New York Times, the Braves planned to pay Bae an additional $600k, in addition to the $300k he likely received as a legitimate signing bonus. While I’m sure we’d all love to see the Sox ink each and every one of these guys, it is Bae that I’m here to plug for, in case Rick Hahn or one of his minions starts reading Shop Talk with J. Reinholdt, brought to you by Sox Machine.
Bae is listed at 6’1”, 170 lbs, according to Baseball America, but those numbers look a bit inflated when you see the kid. That said, the contact tool has serious potential. Bae received the 2017 Lee Young-min Batting Award, which is granted to the top high school hitter in Korea, on the strength of a 45-for-95 season. Bae would have gone at the top of the board in the KBO draft, but because he initially signed with Atlanta, he is now banned for two seasons from signing with a professional team in his home country. I found one article indicating that he may be suing the KOB over the whole affair, but given that I was at the mercy of google translate, I didn’t think it appropriate to link what amounts to conjecture-based-on-automated-interpretation here. Regardless, as (reliably) reported in the above-linked Yonhap News Agency article, the youngster has managed to stay remarkably positive through it all:
“I think time will heal everything,” he said. “Right now, I don’t know whether I’ll move to the United States or stay in Korea to play baseball. I’ll leave all the possibilities open. No matter where I end up, I’ll prepare myself to play the best baseball that I can play.”
Though no doubt hyping their new prospect, the Braves compared Bae to likely perennial 3 fWAR Nationals SS Trea Turner upon his signing. As reported in the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
“It’s an elite runner, top-of-the-scale runner,” [Braves special assistant Chad] MacDonald said. “He’s very athletic. He stays at shortstop, he’s going to be a solid to plus defender there. His bat-to-ball skills are really good. There’s more power in the bat. If everything clicks, we have a left-handed version of Trae Turner, who I signed in San Diego. Again, maybe not that much power, but certainly the impact speed and defense, with bat-to-ball skills and a left-handed hitter.
“We’ve scouted him for a couple years, developed the relationship there. We felt like he’s the best prospect over there this year. It works out that it happened.”
The raw tools, according to the scant scouting info I’ve been able to track down, are there. Here you can see him flash a bit of leather and show off a perfectly cromulent arm on a ranging play to his left at the U-18 Baseball World Cup. At that tournament, according to Korea JoongAng Daily, Bae played in all of Korea’s nine games, going 8-28 with six walks and two steals. Overall in 2017 national competitions, Bae went 40-for-86 (.465) with a home run <b>and 29 steals</b>.
Scouts also grade him out at a 70 speed tool.
Here you can see his swing. He does the NPB-style leg-kick-then-run-out-of-the-box, which certainly wouldn’t make for much power if no hitting coach is able to talk him into adopting a conventional approach. It’s cheap and borderline offensive to throw out a Mr. Go comp, so instead I’ll just link to the trailer for a movie that totally exists. Even if the power doesn’t develop, Bae’s pitch recognition is highly regarded – kid can take a walk – and he boasts impressive bat speed.
Without power Bae’s ceiling is understandably capped, and so the Trea Turner comparisons are obviously the best of the best-case-scenarios. Still, Andrelton Simmons put up 8.2 fWAR between 2014 and 2016 in nearly three full seasons clubbing just 15 HR. While Simmons is the greek god of defense and Bae is very, very unlikely to turn into that, I point it out to say…there’s potential. If this kid can .300/.350/.350 his way through baseball with elite speed on the basepaths and solid defense, there may well be a major leaguer here. We just inked Jose Rondon, whose offensive ceiling with his current approach lies somewhere between Adam Engel and bat-on-chair, for “cash considerations.”
Bae is presently stranded, unable to sign in Korea and unsigned, as of yet, by an MLB club. For $300k or less, isn’t it worth taking the flier?
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