Mariners Add Cortes for International Bonus Money

Yesterday, the Yankees traded utility lefty Nestor Cortes Jr. to the Mariners for international bonus pool money. A source indicated to Eric and me that the deal was for $30,000 of pool space (we’re told it’s all Seattle had left in their pool), while others characterized it as being in that range, if not that number exactly.

This move may seem insignificant, but it hints at the motivations and strategies of both clubs. Back in July, the Yankees were one of a couple teams we spotlighted as having a 40-man crunch on their hands (we had Cortes as the last guy to make the roster), so being able to get something in return for him rather than throwing him on waivers because they needed to clear roster spots makes for an easy decision. The price of claiming a player on waivers is $50,000, while we’ve found the return on investment of an international bonus dollar, including operational expenses, is about 300%. Most teams think of bonus pool money as being worth at least double its nominal value, but the Yankees — who consistently trade for extra pool money, with GM Brian Cashman emboldened by their quick returns on high-variance prospects in the international market — likely see it as much more valuable than that. Factor in that given Seattle’s interest, the odds of Cortes passing through waivers was zero, and this makes a ton of sense for New York.

Meanwhile, Seattle is ramping up to compete in 2021 and has open spots on its 40-man roster, so adding an accomplished depth piece with major league experience and remaining minor league options for just a bit over the waiver price, while shifting a little international money into their 40-man roster, fits their competitive posture. Cortes is a 5-foot-11 lefty who sits 88-91 mph and relies mostly on his fastball and slider, but also mixes in a changeup. He’s likely never going to be a role 5, 50 FV or a reliable bulk innings rotation piece, so the Yankees probably figured that one of the prospects recently added to the roster, or a veteran on a minor league deal who won’t need to be added to the 40-man until next season, can fill the same role.

For a sum this small, the Yankees might not even have someone specific in mind who they plan to spend the bonus money on. One international director opined that this is what you spend for a 17- or 18-year-old arm with a few attractive elements — like a good body and delivery that sits around 90 but that is otherwise unpolished — who has been on the market for a year or more.

There are some bigger fish on the international market, but some already appear ticketed to wait for the 2020 J2 period. Cuban shortstop Yiddi Cappe is eligible to sign now, but industry sources say he has a deal with Miami in 2020 for about $3.5 million. Scouts don’t think a rival club will be able to steal him the same way the Yankees grabbed Alexander Vargas from the Reds last summer in a similar situation. (There’s also enough variance in the evaluations of Cappe that some teams don’t think he’s worth that price, anyway.)

Back in September, erstwhile FanGraphs writer Josh Herzenberg wrote up the open workout of Cuban right-handed pitcher Norge Vera. We’re hearing that he’s drawing enough seven-figure interest that he’ll likely wait until the 2020 period to sign, when more teams can bid and more money is uncommitted.

With the Padres signing Mexican left-hander Zayed Salinas recently, that leaves only Cappe, Vera, and Taiwanese right-hander Po-Yu Chen as players on our 2019 international iteration of THE BOARD who haven’t signed yet. Chen is a target for multiple clubs with remaining pool money (we’ve heard the Phillies and Yankees mentioned most often) and could get as much as $1 million. Yoenis Céspedes‘ little brother Yoelkis defected months ago when Vera did, during a tour of America by the Cuban team, but we haven’t heard much about his workout process and he’s more of a high six- or low seven-figure type of talent. The best players who played on that Cuban team that toured America and haven’t defected are right-hander Yariel Rodriguez (92-95, five 50- or 55-grade pitches, chance to start), second baseman Cesar Prieto (contact-oriented with average speed and low-end regular upside), and left fielder Yoelkis Guibert (likely platoon type with average tools). They represent most of the best prospect talent who are still on the island and are over the age of 18.

Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.

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Paul G.member
4 years ago

Nestor was useful for the Yankees for the opener games as the second pitcher. He was useful in that he tended to either pitch well or pitch badly, so you knew whether this was going to be a mop-up day or a chance to win before committing better pitchers. The problem was late in the season he was consistently bad, driving up his ERA up a full run in September.