Who's Had the Greatest International Class of All Time?

And how much does the Giants class of 2018 need to accomplish to join the list?

Photo Credit: proudatheists.files.wordpress.com

International Signing date is finally here! Calloo! Callay!

On Friday, January 15, we’ll get to the opening of the long-delayed “J2” signing class for 2020/21. “J2” is short for July 2nd, the normal beginning of each year’s signing class, but major league owners pushed that date back six months last year in order to defer costs during the pandemic. I’m sure some are grumbling today that they didn’t get pushed quite far enough, but regardless, the date is here and we’re in a mood to celebrate!

So here at There R Giants we’re going to have International Week! On Wednesday I’ll preview the expected Giants’ signing class and on Friday I’ll have a few thoughts on organizational philosophies and how the international class connects to other things the Giants are doing.

But for today’s post, let’s dig into history a bit shall we? Recently, my friend Shelly Verougstraete tweeted out an excellent conversation starter:

It’s been a long, long time since the Giants dominated the international scene — like Roger-was-a-tiny-tot-begging-to-get-to-go-the-games-with-his-brothers long time ago. They were one of the very first teams in baseball to leap into the players’ market in the Dominican and Puerto Rico back in the 1950s and early 60s, and much of their success in that era was the result of branching out internationally. In the decades since, Giants’ fans have mostly watched in envy as other organizations have mined the deep veins of talent around in the baseball diaspora. So the Giants J2 class of 2018 doesn’t just represents a hoped-for return to major league glory — there’s something of a “we’re back, baby!” feel to it, too. We SHOULD have deep ties to the market that first brought us the Alou brothers, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda and so many others!

But leaving aside the opportunity to bask in the warm glow of our hopes and desires, Shelly posed a darn good question! What IS the best collection of talent that any one team has gained in a single international class? And that’s a question I’m going to try to answer here today.

First a few ground rules:

  • Timeframe: International signings were an entirely unregulated market for several decades. But then in 1985, the Blue Jays signed 13-year-old Jimy Kelley. That seemed beyond the pale to the game’s leaders, and that event finally led MLB to step in and establish some rules regarding age eligibility. Ultimately, other rules around when and how teams could sign amateur international players developed, leading to the current signing-calendar and bonus regulations. That began what we might call the “modern” international era and I’m going to start from that point. So, no Alou brothers bonanza, no Roberto Clemente — nobody before 1985 will make the cut for this particular exercise.

  • Obviously, there’s some place in time where we move from classes which are historically completed into those which are still establishing their value. In recognition of this, I’ll create two lists, and somewhat arbitrarily make the cutoff date 2005. By and large, players signed before that time have seen their careers come and go, while those signed in the latter half of the century’s first decade are still active. We’ll have an “All Time” Best list followed by an “In Progress” Best.

  • What qualifies as best? Simply by overall value, one could argue that the signing of a single superstar is the best. So that, for instance, the Marlins 1999 signing of a young Miguel Cabrera for $1.9 million might qualify as one of the best classes ever. While this is indisputably true — finding a superstar “makes” an international class just as it “makes” a draft — I’m going to avoid “one player” classes. And I’m even going to try avoid those two-player classes that are the equivalent of Hank and Tommy Aaron being the greatest pair of home-run hitting brothers ever (look it up!). We’re looking for multiple big leaguers here with some semblance of balanced distribution of talent, threading the needle between quantity and quality.

  • As much as possible I’m going to adhere to the modern mechanism of the J2 calendar — where the annual class runs from July 2nd of one year through the middle of June the following year. That’s been the way the market has been run for many years now, so it’s just the simplest approach, even if the early years of our era, didn’t adhere to that schedule. That means that, although the Yankees had themselves a pretty great 2001 on the international market, signing Robinson Cano in January of that year and Melky Cabrera in November, I’m not going to consider those two players as part of the same “signing” class. Sorry, Yankees fans! But know that was pretty terrific example of concentrated scouting.

  • Lastly, while I will consider amateur players from all over the world, I’m not going to include veterans posted from the NPB in Japan. Undeniably, the Yankees also did yeoman’s work around the world in 2002-03, signing Hidecki Matsui out of Japan to go along with Cuban veteran Jose Contreras and 16-year-old Venezuelan catcher Francisco Cervelli. But I’m not going to be including that class either since Matsui was an established NPB star. Sorry again, Yankees fans! But, hey, all those flags can no doubt keep you warm!

And with those ground rules laid, let’s get to the best international signing classes ever, and see what the Giants’ 2018 group is going to be competing with! I do have to warn you, there is going to be a LOT of Dodgers content coming. Sorry about that, Giants fans! Also, though they aren’t going to be mentioned anywhere in the following, I do want to give props to both Detroit and Cleveland, who never put together an exceptional signing class, but consistently signed productive major league players year after year after year. Great work — have a “Participation” ribbon!

Top 10 International Classes (1985-2005)

  1. Dodgers (1990): Roger Cedeño, Ismael Valdez, Omar DaalMiguel Cairo, Antonio Osuna and Juan Castro
    39.2 fWAR

If you’re the type who likes your players on the “gritty overachiever” side, then do I have a class for you! The Dodgers 1990 international signings may not have a lot of black ink on their Baseball-Reference pages, but there is really no other team in the past 40 years that comes close to finding this much talent in a single year. The Dodgers had been dominating the international market for more than a decade — finding a Jose Vizcaino here, a Ramon Martinez there, Felix Rodriguez, Jose Offerman, Juan Guzman — it was like a metronome year after year after year. This class was the culmination of that period. By the measure of WAR nobody in this group is particularly superlative. Juan Castro’s NEGATIVE 6.2 career fWAR gives him an argument for the least productive player of all time. But that value was accumulated over the course of 18 big league seasons, and the fact that teams kept finding a reason to run him out there speaks to some level of presence that maybe escapes the finer analytics. All six of these guys were major league players for at least 11 seasons in the majors and cumulatively they put 86 big league seasons in the books.

Bill James once said that if you had to sum a player’s worth in a single stat, you could do a lot worse than using Games Played. In that vein, it says something mighty impressive that Cedeño, Cairo, and Castro collectively played 3,693 MLB games in their careers, while Valdez, Daal, and Osuna chucked 3,514.2 innings between them. We’ll probably never see the likes of this haul ever again.

  1. Marlins (1992): Edgar Renteria, Luis Castillo
    63.4 fWAR

Yes, it sure did! Here’s how hard this club is to break into: nabbing eight All Star appearances, three Gold Gloves, three Silver Slugger awards, two World Series MVPs, and more than 60 career WAR barely sneaks you into the back end of the list! It’s not every day that a team picks up an entire homegrown starting middle infield for a World Series championship team in a single shopping trip, but that’s effectively what the Marlins managed in the summer of 1992. Both of the Marlins teenagers turned into productive starting big leaguers for well over a decade, and both piled up hits — Castillo had almost 1,900 hits over 15 seasons and Renteria amassed 2,327 hits over 16 seasons. Even better, unlike a lot of the groups we’ll see here today, the Marlins kept a tremendous amount of that value for themselves. Castillo played ten seasons with the Marlins and, while Renteria was only there for three years (being part of the Marlins first great sell-off), he maximized his value to the team by picking up the championship-winning hit against Cleveland in the 1997 World Series. Hard to beat that return!

And then, of course, there was that other World Series hit he had:

  1. Red Sox (2000): Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez
    73.0 fWAR

Sometimes history provides its own perfect segues. While Boston’s bounteous 2000 J2 class didn’t become homegrown World Series heroes like the Marins’ group above, they still helped provide the home team a championship thanks to the Marlins Great Sell-Off Vol. II. Ramirez and Sanchez were the prospects in a prospects-for-veterans deal that brought Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, and Guillermo Mota north and helped build the Red Sox second World Series team of the decade. Ramirez would immediately blossom into a star in Florida, being named Rookie of the Year in 2006. He’d receive down-ballot MVP consideration four times (finishing second behind Albert Pujols in 2009) and made three All Star teams in his long career. Though he was sometimes a controversial presence, particularly in the second portion of his career, he was certainly one of the dominant stars of the first decade of the century.

Anibal Sanchez has had a long career full of ups (a no-hitter and several other near-no-hitters) and downs (mostly surgeries, ugh… pitching!). He’s been a rotation stalwart for post-season participants five times in his career, before finally winning a ring with the 2019 World Series’ champion Nationals. It’s somewhat amazing that Sanchez is the one of this pair who is still active, but Hanley declined rapidly past the age of 30 while Anibal found a “crafty righty” phase of his career and made it stick.

  1. Braves (1993): Andruw Jones, Bruce Chen
    75.4 fWAR

In truth, this class comes as close as possible to the “Hank and Tommy Aaron Club” with Jones providing the vast majority of value here. But I included it for a few reasons. First and foremost, while Bruce Chen didn’t exactly light up the WAR board, he did have a 17-year big league career, making 227 career starts and throwing more than 1500 major league innings. As noted above, that kind of sustained career is nothing to look down our noses at even if most of that WAS close to replacement level production. If anything, Bruce Chen’s career is perhaps a testament to just how hard it is to BE a consistently replacement-level starter in the big leagues. Combining that with Jones decent Hall of Fame argument (and the first half of his career was clearly HOF worthy) gives you an extraordinarily valuable international class. This class also showcases the Braves’ willingness to push past traditional avenues of talent. Jones was just the second player in the majors out of what’s become the baseball hotbed of Curacao (our own Bam Bam Meulens paving the path back in 1989). Panama, where Chen grew up, had sent a small but steady stream to the majors since the 1960s (including Hall of Famer Rod Carew and Meulens’ friend and former colleague Roberto Kelly) but it was still somewhat uncommon to sign major leaguers out of nation in 1993.

Finally, I just wanted to give the Braves their due as they have perhaps more really strong international classes that weren’t quite good enough to make this list than any other team. As, for instance, their 1996 class that netted them Rafael Furcal and Wilson Betemit, the 2000 class that nabbed future Giant Gregor Blanco and Martín Prado, or the 2004 class that ended up giving the Rangers so much value with Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, and Luis Avilan. The Braves have consistently been a leader if finding excellent international talent for decades.

  1. Rangers (1986): Juan Gonzalez, Jose Hernandez, Wilson Alvarez
    70.1 fWAR

The Rangers mid-80s run of international signings has a strong argument for the greatest of all time. The year prior to this group they landed a young Sammy Sosa — the only player in history with three 60 HR seasons. And two years later, their international signings included future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez. The 1986 group didn’t quite reach those heights, but its depth was tremendous. Juan Gonzalez would give the Rangers five 40 HR seasons — leading the league twice — and two MVP seasons. He teamed with IRod to lead the Rangers to a run of division titles in the late 90s, though they could never get past the Division Series hump. It probably would have helped had they kept Alvarez rather than packaging him with Sosa for White Sox DH Harold Baines. Though Alvarez often fought arm injury, and maybe never quite lived up to his promise, the talented lefty won 100 games in the majors with a solid career ERA+ of 112 (12% better than league average). The White Sox sent him to the Giants in the infamous “White Flag Trade,” and he helped the Giants to their surprising 1997 Division Title which proved — not for the last time — that when it came to baseball, Brian Sabean was definitely “not an idiot.” Jose Hernandez had a 15 year career in the big leagues as a utility infielder, scoring a surprising All Star appearance with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002.

  1. Padres (1985): Roberto Alomar, Carlos Baerga
    79.3 fWAR

Ah, the Hall of Famers are here. As I mentioned at the top, just signing a Hall of Famer doesn’t get you on this list. The Rangers’ aren’t represented by the year they signed Hall of Famer Rodriguez, but rather by the year in which they brought in a star and multiple complementary pieces. But get a Hall of Famer paired with a long-time starter and you’ve got a signing class for the ages. Ironically, Baerga seemed to be every bit Alomar’s equal in their early years. He had back-to-back 5 Win seasons for the Indians in 1992 and 1993 and appeared to be the leader of the stunningly talented Cleveland teams of that decade. But though he would play 14 years in the big leagues, he was never as good again after ‘93 and spent much of his long career in decline as a sub-replacement starter. Still he appeared in three All Star games, won two Silver Slugger awards, and received MVP votes in both the ‘92 and ’93 seasons.

Alomar would end up far outstripping his friend and former teammate, going to 12 All Star games, starring for three different contending teams, and winning back-to-back World Series championships with the Blue Jays. He was a thrillingly athletic player who displayed a stunning range on the fast-moving Astroturf of his era. Alomar’s 63.6 fWAR stands 11th all time among 2b.

Of course, there’s a wide difference between signing talent and making use of it. And in what’s something of a common refrain for this post, the Padres ended up squandering this talent, as well as Roberto’s older brother Sandy, Jr. who had been signed a couple of years earlier. Sandy and Baerga went to Cleveland in return for Joe Carter and, almost exactly one year later, Carter was packaged with Roberto to get Fred McGriff from Toronto. The Blue Jays ended up with multiple rings and a Hall of Famer. San Diego would finish in third place or worse for each of the next six years. So it goes.

  1. Expos (1992): Vlad Guerrero, Orlando Cabrera
    79.1 fWAR

It’s supremely fitting that MLB’s very first franchise outside the United States should have a proud history of finding international talent. Through the 1980s and early ‘90s they unearthed such stars as Andres Gallaraga, Ugueth Urbina, and Wilfredo Cordero, putting much of that talent in the hands of manager Felipe Alou. But the crowning achievement of their efforts in the international market came in 1992 when they signed future Hall of Famer Vlad Guerrero and long-time starter Orlando Cabrera. Giants fans have malevolent feelings towards O-Cab, whose 15-year career ended with the frustrating 2011 Giants — pushing rookie Brandon Crawford back to the minors for most of the second half of the season. But he was an above average starter for the Expos, White Sox, and particularly the Angels, with whom he averaged nearly 4 WAR per season from 2005-2007.

Of Vladdie, little needs to be said. His .318 career batting average is the 4th highest in the Expansion Era (behind just Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, and Rod Carew) and he famously accumulated that average swinging at balls that bounced in the dirt or came in at helmet-level. If you want a picture of an 80-grade hitter, you couldn’t do much better than this:

Guerrero was too young to be part of the fabled 1994 Expos, and consequently his brilliant time in Montreal always had a level of melancholy about it — his bright star shining alone during the long, slow fadeout of post-strike Montreal baseball. The nine-time All Star twice led his league in Total Bases (once in each league), received MVP votes in twelve different years, and capped them all by winning the American League MVP in 2004.

  1. Mariners (2002): Felix Hernandez, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Luis Valbuena
    89.8 fWAR

Pity the poor Mariners. Seattle’s foreign scouting department has been one of the most productive in baseball for decades. They’ve consistently scouted and signed talent in the Caribbean; they were at the forefront of the wave of Japanese talent coming into the game in this century; and they even blazed new trails into previously unexplored markets, signing Shin-Soo Choo and Ji-Man Choi out of Korea. But the Mariners front office has made a legacy out of spinning gold back into straw. The aforementioned Choo was dealt for Ben Broussard. Omar Vizquel stuck around long enough to win the first of his 11 Gold Gloves before being shipped off to Cleveland for Felix Fermin. And 20-year-old David Ortiz became the PTBNL for Dave Hollins, who played all of 28 games with the franchise. That’ll leave a mark!

But in 2002, the Mariners finally managed to sign a star they could hold onto — and a couple of solid players they didn’t — in one extraordinarily talented class. Sadly, for King Felix, he became the face of a franchise that had faceplanted following their success in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. He made his debut in a 93-loss 2005 year, and, through 15 mostly sensational seasons in Seattle, he has still yet to appear in a post-season game. Hernandez in my mind was often connected to Matt Cain. Though Cain was slightly older, the two precocious teens were often the two best prospects in various minor leagues coming up and both debuted in 2005 as their league’s youngest starters. Both helped revive declining franchises, and both capped their careers with a Perfect Game. King Felix is the one who is likely headed for the Hall, but Cain ended up with the post-season glory.

It’s a mark of Asdrubal Cabrera’s distinction that the power-hitting 2b has been traded for at mid-season deadline four different times in his career, as contenders looked to shore themselves up for the stretch run. He provides a 14 year career and 27.5 WAR of his own to the value of this great signing class, while Valbuena’s 11-year utility career is an excellent third piece.

  1. Astros (1990): Bobby Abreu, Melvin Mora
    87.1 fWAR

I struggled with where exactly to place this class and at first glance it may seem a tad high (though WAR doesn’t think so!). But, in addition to Bobby Abreu’s sneaky Hall of Fame case (the poster boy for excellent swing decisions!), this signing class gets a little boost from its historical significance. Venezuela was certainly not an unknown source of talent — many good and even great Venezuelan players had found their way to the majors by 1990. But the work of the pioneering Astros scout Andre Reiner opened up the country to dedicated professional scouting in a way that MLB teams hadn’t operated before and ultimately led to the establishment of the Venezuelan Summer League, which ran from 1997—2015. From 1990 to 1993, Reiner signed a significant big leaguer out of Venezuela every year for Houston, bringing Richard Hidalgo, Carlos Guillen (who now runs one of the major training facilities in Venezuela), and Freddy Garcia to the Astros. It was a bonanza that helped transform Houston’s system as well as the way the industry operated in the country. So bonus points.

As for the on the field value, Abreu was a two-time All Star — including a memorable appearance at the Home Run Derby — and was a down-ballot MVP candidate seven times in his long career. He was one of the greatest on-base machines ever, reaching base via the walk over 100 times in eight consecutive seasons for Philadelphia. He also led his league in both triples and doubles (with a high of 50 doubles in 2002).

Mora was one of the great, all time late bloomers and something of a proto-Ben Zobrist player. He didn’t make his big league debut until he was 27 but still ended up having a 13-year-career (good news for Mike Yastrzemski fans!) with two All Star appearances and a Silver Slugger award. In his best years with Baltimore he moved around from the outfield to infield, seeing time at 2b, 3b, CF, RF, even SS while providing offensive production 40 to 50% better than league average.

  1. Dodgers (1987): Pedro Martinez, Raul Mondesi, Pedro Astacio
    138 fWAR

I said earlier that the Dodgers dominated the international market, finding useful pieces every single year for a more than a decade. Well, in 1987, they found more than just useful pieces. Even if you removed the great Pedro Martinez from this class (which fortunately, the Dodgers managed to accomplish pretty quickly!), it’s still great value. Raul Mondesi hit 273 home runs in his long career, won the NL Rookie of the Year award and was an All Star and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner. He retired with a career OPS+ of 111 — the definition of a solid major league starter. Pedro Astacio started nearly 350 games in his 15 year career, winning 129 of them. Though he retired with an ERA+ just a hair below league average (97), he swallowed up nearly 2,200 innings for his teams. Those two by themselves combined for a robust 53.6 career WAR.

Then let’s add one of the, oh let’s conservatively say, one of the 5 best pitchers of the Expansion Era to the mix? And now you definitely have a signing class for the ages. This trio combines a Hall of Fame career with 46 combined years of MLB experience and tips the scales at a jaw-dropping 138 fWAR. There’s really just nothing to say other than: those Damned Dodgers! Also, of course, that Pedro Martinez is, and has always been, an absolute treasure and I’m very happy that he mostly didn’t display that treasure for the Dodgers in his career.

10 Best and 1 Worst “Still In Progress” Classes

Here’s where we begin to veer more into the realm of supposition, and once again we’re faced with the single superstar dilemma. Without a doubt the 2015 classes for the Nationals (Juan Soto), White Sox (Fernando Tatis, Jr.), Blue Jays (Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.), or Phillies (Sixto Sanchez) are all likely to be far greater boons than some the classes making up the tail end of my list. Sign Juan Soto and your great work is done! But in none of those cases did the teams find another player who appears to be developing into a major league talent and, for good or ill, I’m prioritizing finding multiple talents for this particular exercise. But yeah, those teams that grabbed stars in 2015 accomplished their goals (unless they then traded the guy for James Shields).

  1. Mets (2007): Wilmer Flores, Jeurys Familia
    3.3 fWAR

A Giants fan’s delight! Familia surrendered Conor Gillaspie’s game-winning home run in the 2016 Wild Card game and Flores can currently be found whacking the ball all over Oracle Park. Mets fans remember him for his emotional response to the news that he was being traded (a trade that was then rescinded in one crazy night of “Hug Watch” baseball).

  1. - 8. Rangers (2009): Jurickson Profar, Hanser Alberto, Jorge Alfaro
    11.2 fWAR
    Rangers (2010): Leonys Martin, Rougned Odor, José Leclerc
    22.3 fWAR

There’s a degree to which Texas’ signing classes of ‘09 and ‘10 has been more hat than cattle. But coming up with three somewhat useful major leaguers in back-to-back classes is a significant achievement. Profar has rebounded from a long streak of injuries to carve out a career, while Odor and Martin have oscillated wildly between above average starters and below replacement level players. Miami still has hopes that Alfaro’s star-potential will emerge.

  1. Boston (2014): Yoán Moncada, Anderson Espinoza
    10.5 fWAR

This is a total cheat and I struggled with where to place it. Espinoza hasn’t thrown a pitch in more than three years, so by all rights I shouldn’t have included this class — which was considered a monster signing class at the time. And yet — Dave Dombrowski turned this highly regarded pair into Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel, essentially securing the Red Sox 2018 World Series triumph and Moncada is an emerging star for an ascendant White Sox team. It feels like this has to be mentioned somehow.

  1. Phillies (2006): Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis
    22.5 fWAR

It may not be sexy, but Cesar Hernandez has basically been an average major league starter over the last five seasons and capped the run of competence with a Gold Glove award in 2020. The slick fielding Galvis has been a slightly worse player overall, but basically you can plug both of these middle infielders into a lineup and expect somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 Wins every year. Hernandez’ career .350 OBP and double-digit HR power makes me feel like he’s a Giant waiting to happen.

  1. Royals (2006): Salvador Perez, Kelvin Herrera
    19.0 fWAR

The Royals picked up two key pieces of their future championship team in the summer of 2006, right in between the drafting of Alex Gordon (2005) and Mike Moustakas (2007). It was a great time to be a Royal. Salvador Perez made the final out in the 2014 World Series. You may remember it from the multiple strokes you were undergoing at the time. See if it rings a bell.

  1. Boston (2009): Xander Bogaerts, Jose Iglesias
    39.5 fWAR

Here’s a Boston signing class that makes more sense for our list. Bogaerts has turned into a legitimate star, giving the Red Sox a steady 4 Wins per year out of the shortstop position with a high of 7 WAR in the 2019 season. He’s gotten MVP votes in each of the last three seasons and has won three Silver Slugger awards in his young career. Bogaerts presence in the shortstop position made defensive wizard Jose Iglesias expendable, but he’s fashioned a solid career as a glove-first presence who hits juuuuuust enough to be valuable. The definitive “second division starter.” The crazy thing about this signing class is that it almost included Cardinals RHP Carlos Martinez as well, but MLB ultimately voided Martinez’ contract with the Red Sox due to an age discrepancy and he signed with St. Louis the following year.

  1. Minnesota (2009): Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, Miguel Sano
    27.7 fWAR

The pursuit of $3 million signee Sano was the subject of a terrific documentary (“Pelotero”) that exposed the dark underbelly of the amateur baseball world in the Dominican Republic. The Twins not only nabbed the power-hitting prodigy, they ultimately found three key starters for their division-winning teams of the last four years. Ironically, German-born Kepler has turned out to be the most productive of the trio thus far, but it’s just by a hair. The trio have all been excellent for the Twins, and would seem to have their best years still ahead of them. Sano has had trouble staying healthy and consistent, but he’s hit 131 home runs in just six years despite never playing more than 116 games in a season.

  1. Dodgers (2012): Yasiel Puig, Julio Urias, Hyun-Jin Ryu
    39.5 fWAR

This class doesn’t quite adhere to the rules as Puig was signed an eye-popping 7 yr/$42 million deal days before the 2012 J2 class opened. In fact, neither Puig nor Ryu was bound by the international signing rules of the time. Still, it fits together as a class as the new Guggenheim ownership group spurred the front office to make a series of statement-signings on the international front as soon as they took over. Legendary Dodgers scouting director Logan White discovered Urias while on a trip to Mexico to get a look at Puig — a business trip that definitely paid for itself. The Dodgers ended 2012 by spending over $60 million to sign Korean star Hyun-Jin Ryu on the same day they spent $150 million to haul in elite MLB free agent Zack Greinke. They were lighting cigars with thousand dollar bills in Dodger Stadium in those days!

  1. Cubs (2013): Eloy Jimenez, Gleyber Torres, Jen-Ho Tseng
    9.3 fWAR

It takes a little supposition to put this class at the top, but, at least so far, this is shaping up to be exactly the bonanza it appeared to be when the Cubs signed the top two talents available in the 2013 J2 class. Though both Jimenez and Torres are just getting started with their major league career, the early returns are impressive. Torres has been an All Star in each of his first two seasons. The slugging Jimenez finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting and won a Silver Slugger Award in his second season. Flags fly forever so Cubs fans, no doubt, don’t regret sending Torres to New York for Aroldis Chapman. Sending Jimenez to the South Side in return for Jose Quintana, however, could be one that’s haunting the Faithful. Tseng appeared for a few innings in both 2017 and 2018 before being sent to Texas.

And One Really Bad One

There’s been far too much glowing Dodgers content in this piece, so to balance things out just a bit, let’s pick on their work in 2015-16 before we end it. During that signing period, the Dodgers spent just shy of $97 million between signing bonuses and taxes for going over their signing pool. Nearly all of that went to a handful of Cuban prospects — righthander Yadier Alvarez, outfielder Yusniel Diaz, and 2b Omar Estevez. They also spent an additional $30 million on Cuban righthander Yaisel Sierra, who was exempt from the signing pool regulations. Diaz did end up an important piece of the Manny Machado trade, but it’s hard to call that great value in return for $130 million worth of investment. This signing class may have motivated the notorious “criminal matrix” that the Dodgers front office apparently used to try to quantify the criminal behavior of their international staff. Not long after that signing period, the Dodgers fired their vice president of international scouting, Latin American scouting coordinator, and the majority of their international scouting staff. Amazingly, in the final days of the 2015 signing period, the Dodgers nabbed one more Cuban refugee, this time the supremely talented hitter Yordan Alvarez. However, a month later they traded Alvarez to Houston in return for reliever Josh Fields, a trade so lopsided it almost immediately spurred conspiracy theories online. Whether the Dodgers and Astros really did have a nefarious handshake deal over Alvarez, or the Dodgers simply massively overpaid for Fields, this goes down as one of the worst deals of the past decade. Sorry, Farhan!

So, there you have it — if the Giants’ 2018 class wants to be included among the all time greats it’s clear what they need to do. Just getting two solid starters out of an international class is enough to get you invited to the ball; three and you get to sit at the head table! Two All Stars in a single class starts getting a team into the all time great conversation, but to really clinch it you need a superstar paired with another All Star.

Marco, Luis, Jairo, Rayner, Victor….the ball’s in your court. Maybe someday, some younger blogger will look to see what history has to say about your efforts.