The Cardinals announced their triumphant return to the International market in 2008 with the dual signings of Roberto De La Cruz and Santos Franco. De La Cruz was signed for over a million dollars and Franco for over half a million dollars. They had a shiny new compound in the Dominican Republic and wanted to make a splash. Neither of those players panned out with Franco gone long ago and De La Cruz getting his merciful release this offseason. That being said, the early signing period was not a huge loss as they signed Cesar Valera for about $500k who was buzzing last year and is currently OPS'ing .944 as a shortstop at State College in the NY-Penn League. Another familiar name is Grabiel Hernandez who is now known as Ronny Gil, who was better was when he had his old name and everyone thought he was a year younger than he really was.
The Cardinals also signed a player outside of the typical top 10 or 20 international prospects when they picked up some guy named Oscar Taveras later in the year, so it is hard to call the signing period unsuccessful for the Cardinals, but their highest profile signings early in the signing period didn't work out at all.
In 2009, the Cardinals had been linked all summer to Wagner Mateo. They even had a deal in place before the July 2nd period opened for a $3.1 million contract, which was at the time the second-biggest bonus ever given to an amateur international player from Latin America. Eye issues derailed the signing and voided the contract within the year and the Cardinals never ended up paying any money at all to Mateo, who signed later with Arizona for much less money. The International signing period was at it's wild west best that year with Gary Sanchez going to the Yankees for $3 million, Miguel Sano going to Minnesota for $3.1 million and a little player by the name of Jurikson Profar going to the Rangers for $1.5 million. At least 9 players signed for over a million dollars as amateurs from Latin America. That was fun. The dollars amounts were huge, the media coverage was even bigger, Sano had a documentary crew following him around.
In 2010, the Cardinals tried a different approach, signing Carlos Martinez (then known as Carlos Matias) to a $1.5 million deal immediately after he was re-instated by MLB after a year suspension for falsifying his age. Due to the suspension, Martinez was able to add velocity and was 18 years old by the time the Cardinals signed him. Not too much different from a high school senior draftee. But, the Cardinals were largely quiet around the much-hyped July 2nd.
The Cardinals opted to change their approach slightly in 2011 and spread their money around to more players to increase their chance of a 'hit' with a player as no player got over $500k from the Cardinals as other players were getting $5 million. Future Redbirds covered it at the time.
In 2012, MLB instituted a salary cap type structure to the international signings, limiting each team to $2.9 million worth of signings per year. The Cardinals spread around their bonuses in 2012 as well, likely due to the new limitations. But, they were able to nab Alex Reyes for $950k, an American who had been living in the Dominican for the required year to skip the MLB draft and sign his own free agent contract. As a lot of players take a year or two to even get to the US-based leagues, Reyes did not have that problem as has already started in Johnson City as an 18 year old. They signed Reyes in the winter as well.
In 2013, the Cardinals have even less money to spend as all teams are allocated a base of $700,000 to spend in the market this year. The Cardinals received an additional $1.3606 million based upon their finish in 2012. Other teams like the Astros received more to spend internationally in 2013. This year, the Cardinals have so far signed 4 players, again not touching any of the top 10-15 players listed by most websites.
Center fielder Carlos Talavera (Venezuela) and shortstop Hector Linares (Dominican Republic) headline the Cardinals' signees. Both are 16 years old, making this their first year of eligibility to be signed by a Major League team. Moises Rodriguez, the Cardinals' director of international operations, described both as having "legitimate prospect potential."The other two players who agreed to contract terms Tuesday -- right-hander Sandy Alcantara and lefty Kerrion Bennett...Alcantara, 17, is 6-foot-4 with a fastball registering in the low 90s. The Cardinals plan to develop the Dominican Republic native as a starter. Bennett, who is from Nicaragua, was an attractive find because of his raw athleticism. He, too, is 17 years old.
Talavera was listed as the #28 prospect in the International market by Baseball America. And lastly a little more on one signing from Ben Badler:
The Cardinals signed Dominican shortstop Hector Linares. Linares, 16, is 6 feet, 160 pounds with a wiry build, good bat speed and an inside-out stroke. His trainer is known as "Ninote"
Based on history, it is probably a good idea to take a look at the players the Cardinals sign as amateur free agency internationally this winter as they tend to get their best players during that time period, while getting a few lower profile players during the much-hyped July 2nd week.
The Cardinals have a lot of misses in the International Signing Period. As do most teams. They are all signing 16 year old kids from another country who may not even know English yet and trying to project them forward 7-10 years. It is not an easy task, but the Cardinals have had some massive hits like Carlos Martinez and Oscar Taveras, who are both already in Memphis and still in their very early 20s. And not all successful signings look exactly like Martinez and Taveras, some may be more like Cesar Valera who is moving a little slower.
It may be the combination of the bonus restriction, making the money less eye-popping, and the Cardinals strategy to target players all year long rather than the much-hyped July 2nd day, but I'm taking more of a wait and see approach on the Cardinals new signings. Most of the players sounds great in the scouting reports, but may never even make it to the United States. Most of the kids are just 16 years old, and are exactly that, kids. I'll pay attention to any player who the Cardinals sign, but I'm taking a wait and see approach with these new guys and we can see the scouting reports in 2-3 years as they continue to develop and hopefully make landfall in the US short season baseball in 2016.