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Tigers have gotten little value from international free agent signings

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The Tigers have not struck it big in the international free agent market in recent years.

Dave Sandford/Getty Images

The signing period for Major League Baseball’s international free agent players began on Thursday, July 2. Most of the players eligible to sign with major league clubs are 16 years of age and will have their 17th birthday over the course of the next year. Almost every player in Major League Baseball who came to the game from outside of the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico was at one time signed by a club as an amateur free agent.

The Detroit Tigers currently have Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Anibal Sanchez on their roster, three players among countless others in baseball that were signed and developed by clubs at a young age. Many clubs have built their current rosters around players signed via international free agency. The Tigers just saw such a group in the Pittsburgh Pirates, who boast international signees Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco in their outfield.

I decided to take a look at the players who have been signed by the Tigers as international free agents since Dave Dombrowski became President of the team in 2002 and see how those players have fared.  Here is what I have found.

  • Fifteen players have been signed by the Tigers as international free agents since 2002 and made it to the major leagues in Detroit
  • None of those players has produced at least 1.0 rWAR for the Tigers
  • Only one player -- Jair Jurrjens, who was signed in 2003 -- has gone on to achieve a rWAR of 1.0 or better. Jurrjens has posted 10.8 rWAR, which is more value than all the other players combined.

So, the Tigers have gotten almost no direct help from the international free agent market.

The Tigers have traded some of their international prospects for value, such as Avisail Garcia and Brayan Villarreal in the deal that brought Jose Iglesias to Detroit. The Tigers also traded Francisco Martinez in the first Doug Fister deal, Willy Adames in the trade for David Price, and Lester Oliveros for Delmon Young. Some players never made it to Detroit, but were signed as international free agents by the Tigers and then turned into major league talent via the trade route.

There are not many players signed by the Tigers who have been traded and then gone on to be productive major leaguers with another team. The exception is Jurrjens, who was traded with Gorkys Hernandez for Edgar Renteria in 2008. Eight of the 15 players who were signed as international free agents and contributed in Detroit are relief pitchers, three are infielders, and three are outfielders. Jurrjens is the lone starting pitcher.

Player Signed Det rWAR MLB rWAR Status
Jair Jurrjens 2003 0.3 10.8 Traded for Edgar Renteria
Wilkin Ramirez 2003 0.0 -0.1 Traded to Braves for cash
Freddy Dolsi 2008 0.8 0.8 Claimed by White Sox on waivers
Brayan Villarreal 2005 0.1 0.1 Traded for Jose Iglesias
Lester Oliveros 2005 -0.1 -0.1 Traded for Delmon Young
Luis Marte 2005 0.7 0.7 Released, 2014
Jose Ortega 2006 0.0 0.0 Released, signed with Colorado
Avisail Garcia 2007 -0.4 -0.9 Traded for Jose Iglesias
Hernan Perez 2007 -0.9 -0.9 Claimed by Milwaukee on waivers
Bruce Rondon 2007 0.6 0.6 Detroit Tigers MLB roster
Eugenio Suarez 2008 0.4 0.4 Traded for Alfredo Simon
Steven Moya 2008 0.0 0.0 Tigers 40 man roster
Melvin Mercedes 2008 0.1 0.1 Off roster, Toledo
Dixon Machado 2008 0.2 0.2 Tigers 40 man roster
Angel Nesbitt 2009 0.0 0.0 Tigers 40 man roster
Total 1.4 11.3

I expected to find that the Tigers had gotten greater value from international free agents that they had signed, but many international players came from other clubs. Al Alburquerque was signed as an international free agent by the Chicago Cubs. Armando Galarraga was signed by the Texas Rangers, and Alexis Gomez by the Kansas City Royals. Omar Infante, Ramon Santiago, and Fernando Rodney were all signed by the Tigers in the 1990s (before Dave Dombrowski was with the organization).

The Tigers have gotten much more value by trading their prospects than by signing and developing them on their own. The prospects are given a nice signing bonus but are more likely to be traded for a major league player than to make it to the major leagues as a Detroit Tiger. That has been effective for the past several seasons, but it is an expensive way of doing business.