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Wetmore: Twins should get creative with money from signing bonus pool, now that Shohei Ohtani is off the table

The Twins reportedly were informed that they won’t be moving onto the next round in the Shohei Ohtani recruiting process, which I’m sure left some in the organization feeling disappointed. It also left them with a pocket full of money, and now would be a good time to get creative with that spending allowance.

The Twins have roughly $3.25 million left to spend on signing bonuses in this year’s international signing period. They are not one of the seven teams that will get a follow-up meeting with Ohtani, per reports, so how can they get smart with that money that otherwise might have gone to him?

I see three distinct possibilities.

  1. The Twins could pocket the money. Nobody forces teams to spend all of their available resources.
  2. The Twins could get on the horn with all seven teams still in the running and ask if they feel that they need any more bonus pool money. That money is tradeable, and the Twins suddenly have an asset on their hands that could prove more valuable to one of those seven clubs than it would to the Twins. Trade that signing bonus space for prospects.
  3. The Braves were just punished severely by Major League Baseball and forced to give up a handful of good prospects who’d signed on the international market. Those players are free to sign with other clubs from Dec. 5 until Jan. 15, per reports, and earn another (capped) signing bonus.

I won’t spend any time on Option 1, since I think it’s squandering resources, and I think this Twins’ front office under Derek Falvey is all about seeking competitive advantages and finding creative ways to improve at the margin.

Option 2: Leverage remaining signing bonus money in trades – as soon as possible.

Someday soon, Ohtani will narrow down his list of suitors. Based on the signing rules, he’ll likely have a decision on where he’ll be playing next year by Dec. 22 – three weeks after he was posted by the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan’s NPB.

These are the 7 teams that reportedly are still in the running to sign Ohtani: Dodgers, Mariners, Angels, Rangers, Cubs, Giants and Padres. The Rangers have the most money available to spend on international signing bonuses, a reported $3.53 million. The next two clubs with the most money to spend – the Yankees and the Twins – have been knocked out of the running.

The Angels last week traded for some international bonus pool money, although they’re still likely nowhere near the available money that the Rangers have.

I would think that the urgency to trade for more international signing bonus pool money just ratcheted up for those clubs. The Twins could swoop in and make an opportunistic play by dealing some of their pool to one of these seven clubs, and ask for a more premium return than they could have asked, say, six weeks ago.

Could a team like the Padres conceivably wait until they know whether or not they’ll advance to the next round? Sure. That would prevent them from trading unnecessarily for bonus pool money only to miss out on Ohtani in the end. But imagine this scenario: the Padres and Rangers, for some reason, are finalists to land Ohtani, and Texas has a much bigger bonus pool than San Diego. By now it’s clear in this process that money is far from the most important factor for Ohtani. But you have to wonder what would happen if the Padres were asked to get at least close to the Ranger’s signing bonus offer. If there were only two teams left in the bidding and the Padres needed to up their bonus pool, other clubs could really drive up the trade price of their international signing bonus allotment, and that’s a tough place to be for the Padres.

Maybe that’s being a little too presumptive about how this process will unfold. My point is just that I’d want to be a little proactive in adding some money if I was one of the 7 teams that remains hopeful of signing a guy who could dramatically improve the fortunes of a franchise.

Option 3: Go get some former Braves

The Braves were forced to let go of some interesting prospects, who are now back in job-seeking mode.

The most intriguing of those prospects is 17-year-old shortstop Kevin Maitan, from Venezuela. He was ranked by Baseball America as the top prospect in the 2016 international class, and originally signed a big $4.25 million signing bonus with the Braves. He’ll keep that money, but he’s now back on the international free agent market. He could sign with the highest bidder and nearly double up his original signing bonus. The other highest ranked prospect that are now looking for work Yunior Severino (a shortstop, ranked 8th by BA in the 2016 class), Abraham Gutierrez (a catcher, ranked 15th by BA) and Livan Soto (another shortstop, ranked 16th in the class by BA).

The main reason the Twins even have this bonus pool money to play around with is that they voided the contract for highly touted Dominican Republic shortstop Jelfry Marte, whose $3 million signing bonus was reportedly cancelled after an apparent vision problem was noted during his physical. (Marte is on the market, too.) He was the class after these former Braves players, but was rated No. 13 in the 2017 international class by Baseball America.

So there are some good players out there that could sign in short order, and the available money to spend is somewhat limited.

The Twins appear to be in good position in those sweepstakes. But there are two snags.

For starters, the Yankees have more money than they do, and can be as aggressive as they want to be to add more good prospects to an organization that looks like it’s on a meteoric rise with the emerging prospect already bubbling to the Majors. If both franchises decide that Maitan is the real deal and worth the last pennies of available signing bonus money, then the Yankees can simply outspend the Twins.

The Yankees have the money to spend, too, and they were disappointed by the news that Ohtani wouldn’t even be making them a finalist. Perhaps Maitan or other former Braves prospects would be a worthy consolation prize.

Those players are eligible to start signing Tuesday. We don’t yet know when Ohtani will further refine his list. In other words, the Twins should move quickly to take advantage of the hand they’ve been dealt.

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