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Tigers ink Cuban outfielder Roberto Campos on International Signing Day

The Tigers broke the bank for Campos by recent standards for international “free agents.”

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MLB: Boston Red Sox at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

For years, the Detroit Tigers were criticized for failing to make inroads in the international market. In the old Wild West days, teams were limited only by their pocketbook and their willingness to play by the rules. The Tigers were busy contending and spending on free agents at the time and missed the boat for the most part. But since hard bonus pool limitations began in 2017, the Tigers have spent their full bonus pool allotment each year, and taken some big swings at teenagers like Jose De La Cruz, Adinso Reyes and Pedro Martinez Jr.

On Tuesday, the Tigers made some waves when they announced the signing of Cuban outfielder Roberto Campos for a $2.85 million signing bonus. The deal is surprising not only because Campos is relatively unknown, though that is par for the course in the international free agent market, but because the amount is among the higher bonuses given out under the new rules.

Campos and his brother defected from Cuba three years ago, escaping to the Dominican Republic. This sketchy and dangerous path to freedom is all too familiar to Cubans, including young baseball players attempting to make their way to a pro career. MLB appeared earlier this year to have an agreement with the Cuban Baseball Federation in place to allow players to participate freely and without censure by the Cuban government, but the agreement was scuttled by the Trump administration back in April.

Either way, Campos is a bit of a mystery. He has apparently been out of the public eye since reaching the Dominican Republic, and did not appear on either FanGraphs or MLB Pipeline’s lists of the top 30 international free agents for this signing period.

Of course, that doesn’t really tell us anything either. As Ben Badler of Baseball America has written recently, evaluating these players has become almost impossible in recent years. Teams are now reaching agreements with players as young as 13-14 years old as the norm. As a result, they don’t participate in showcases or open competitions any longer, limiting their exposure to the public eye. Baseball America essentially declared the entire international free agent market unrankable earlier this season, declining to bother with ranked reports that would be even more guesswork than is normally involved in evaluating 16-year-old ballplayers. The article is open to the public and well worth a read.

In the 2018 signing period, outfielder Jose De La Cruz received $1.8 million from the Tigers, while shortstop Adinso Reyes received $1.45 million. Presumably, the Tigers must like young Mr. Campos an awful lot. But with little to go on, we will have to wait several years to get a feel for how wise an expenditure it was.

Overall, the Tigers have announced eight total international free agent signings as of this writing. We don’t have bonus numbers yet for those players, but the Tigers spending pool was set in the lowest of three tiers again this season, at $5.4 million total, so Campos represents well over half their allotment.

Here’s a look at 16-year-old Venezuelan catcher Samuel Rojas, who was signed by the Tigers on Tuesday.

This is Venezuelan shortstop Manuel Sequera, also inked by the Tigers on Tuesday.

Reports indicate the Tigers have eight players locked up already, but they have only confirmed these five so far.