Different owners have different philosophies on the International Free Agent market. Some attack full bore looking for the next Sammy Sosa, Yu Darvish or Ichiro. Others seek to fill out their minor league rosters with players that can be had for less than a 12th round draft pick. But are these players worth what ends up being offered for a signing bonus? In the early years of this world we were a cautious bunch, but cation was soon thrown to the wind as the bidding for the internationals became as competitive as the pre-season free agent market. So let's look at those players who have commanded the big signing bonuses and what their career brought after the signing. I am limiting the discussion to the just top three each season, although each of the three may not get any recognition if the signing bonus was under $8M.
We were all rookies back then and really didn't know what to expect. $6.8M was the top bonus offered by the then Chicago White Sox for Javy Arroyo. Javy went on to log the following numbers:
Hits: 2060 Runs: 1204 HR: 454 RBI: 1377 BA: .287 Fldg: .971 (3b)
Boom or bust? Javy has been on the HoF ballot but has yet to get the votes to enter the Hall leading this reported to think that his career was just short of the BOOM it could have been.
A little more ambition but still not ready to go crazy with our money the top signing bonus was offered by the Louisville Diamond Kings to SS Mac Nakamura. MacNak spent the next 16 seasons with the same franchise and moving to center field where he put up some solid numbers:
Hits: 2617 Runs: 1272 HR: 218 RBI: 978 BA: .271 Fldg: .982 (CF)
Boom or bust? MacNak has not even been nominated for the HoF but does that keep him from being a star player for his franchise?
Nobody else from S2 was over the $8M basement number.
Looks like this was the season we lost faith in the amateur draft and started looking towards the international stars, or maybe we just changed how we budgeted a little so that more IFA were noticed. Whatever the reason we had four signings over the 8M limit; Jose Park received a $15M bonus from the Seattle Depressions and became the first IFA pitcher signed, Jesus Cordero got a $13.4M bonus from the Rochester franchise, Nashville signed Aramis Cabrera offering a $10M bonus, and Seattle weighed in again signing a second pitcher in Rafael Oliva with a $9.6M bonus. Were any of these players worth the investment in the first season of big spending?
Jose Park- Spent 10 seasons with Seattle before testing free agency and seeing a mild revitalization of his career.
Wins: 197 K: 2537 WHIP: 1.30 ERA: 3.94
Jesus Cordero- Also spent his first 10 seasons with the franchise that signed him before going the free agent route and in his career earned 3 Gold Gloves (3b) and 3 Silver Slugger Awards (3b) and stole 498 bases
Hits: 2282 Runs: 1336 HR: 268 RBI: 1249 BA: .283 Fldg: .978 (3b)
Aramis Cabrera- Signed at age 18, this guys is still playing today and winning games for the Milwaukee Cheesers. Even though his career has not yet ended, his numbers have been impressive including 3 World Series rings.
Wins: 217 K: 2735 WHIP: 1.32 ERA: 3.98
Rafael Oliva- Seattle's second IFA signing is also still an active player with the Buffalo Wild Wings. Spending most of his career in the bullpen, Rafael didn't amass great numbers but was his contribution significant for the teams he suited up for? Might want to ask the bullpen coach in Buffalo what he thinks.
Wins: 86 Saves: 28 WHIP: 1.52 ERA: 4.71
Next we'll look at Seasons 4 through 6 as more and more players started to see big bonuses while GM's found themselves reaching for the medicine cabinet (or their own big bonus).