There's been a lot made lately of DK's story in the PG last week about 16-year-old Dominican super-prospect Miguel Angel Sano and the Pirates' chances of signing him. The dollar figures being thrown around with Sano's name are staggering. It seems likely that Sano's signing bonus could top $4 million and people are wondering whether (or maybe more accurately, how) a 16-year-old is worth that kind of money.
There are a few things to remember that aren't generally mentioned in this sort of discussion. The first is that Sano is a free agent. He wouldn't be worth $4 million as a draft pick, but then, Pedro Alvarez would've been worth far more than his $6 million tab if we'd signed him as a free agent last year. Much of Latin American scouting is trying to find kids that other teams aren't finding. On the open market, prices are always going to get driven upwards.
Re-read some of DK's stories about Rene Gayo's operation in the Dominican and start extrapolating. How many players does he see in a year? How many does he see that other teams see, too? How many players is only he interestedin? How many players does he have to bid against someone else for? With such sheer volume, it's easy to see why so many players are signed so cheaply. Remember, though, that even though the DR is approximately 1/30th the size of the United States (9.7 million vs. 306 million), around 10% of the players in Major League Baseball are Dominican right now. There is talent to be had and some of it can be found by casting a wide net. That's what was so insane about Littlefield's lack of Latin American operations; he didn't cast a net at all. A blind squirrell may find a nut, but not if it just stands there starving to death.
But again, you can't forget that all of these kids are free agents. While the vast majority are signed for a relatively low price because Gayo thinks he sees something even though that everyone else might not see and other teams might chose to spend their money on other kids that Gayo doesn't like, it's an open market and in some cases the bidding is going to get driven way up. This might seem obvious and I don't want to seem like I'm talking down to anyone, but that's what's going on with Sano. The Pirates didn't find some kid in a sandlot in the Dominican and consider offering him a $4 million signing bonus. The bidding is being pushed so high because everyone is interested.
So is he worth that money? There are a lot of things to be considered. First off, some pointy-haired bloggers would have you believe that there's no real way to evaluate talent in a 16-year-old. It's certainly not easy to project a 16-year-old, but I'll make the same point that I made when talking about the draft last week; if talent and talent development were truly random, then every team that scouts the Dominican would find the same amount of talent and have the same level of success. This would imply the only difference between good teams and bad teams is the ability to keep talent in town, which boils down to money. We know this isn't true; some small market teams succeed where other's fail. Some big market teams fail where others succeed. The difference between good organizations and bad organizations isn't money; it's talent evaluation and talent development.
We can go back to the chicken/egg argument of identifying talent vs. developing it, but I'm sure the Pirates would tell you that part of the value of Sano is that he's sixteen. Don't you think they would've loved to get their hands on Tanner Scheppers before Fresno State's coach ran him into the ground? The Pirates get to control every facet of this kid's development and don't have to worry about a high school coach or college coach more worried about personal glory stepping in the way of it. Sure, 16 is young, but the Rays gave $6 million to Tim Beckham and he was just two years older. That can be a lifetime in prospect years, but we scout juniors in high school in the States. It's young, but is it too young? I'm not sure.
In recent Pirate history, $4 million is one year of Joe Randa. It's three months of Jeromy Burnitz. It's two years of Ramon Vazquez. It's half of Yoslan Herrera's signing bonus. Even if Sano never comes close to Pittsburgh, $4 million is better spent on him than on anything we used to spend it on. And if we're spending that kind of money in the region, we're making a name for ourselves. Sign with the Pirates! Maybe they can't offer you the best contract, but they have Miguel Sano! They have a beautiful facility! This team is serious!
If you trust that Neal Huntington and Rene Gayo have done their jobs and that Kyle Stark will do his, Miguel Angel Sano is worth $4 million.