Dodgers swap prospects Maximo Martinez & Aldrin Batista for IFA money, maybe for Hyun-Seok Jang + musings on valuations

Although the 2023 Trade Deadline has come and gone, some transactions are still able to be executed, and the Dodgers and White Sox announced one such deal on Friday afternoon, as they exchanged prospects for international bonus pool money.


First, the give:

Maximo Martinez, RHP

Possessed of at least a 70-grade name, Martinez is a 6’2, 205 lbs pitcher from Venezuela, whom the Dodgers signed in 2021. Still just a 19-year-old, he works with a fastball at 95-98 that he typically locates well, though it gets beat up on misses over the plate, a slider and a curve that both flash plus, and a changeup that is pretty raw at the moment.

He spent 2023 with the Arizona Complex League Dodgers, posting a 4.73 ERA and a 5.44 FIP in 26.2 IP, with a strikeout rate of 23.3%, and a walk rate of 14.2%. Despite his young age, he is physically maxed out, and is showing solid pitchability. As of their last Dodger farm system update, FanGraphs gave him a prospect grade of 40, noting that absent improvement in the secondaries, he looked like a back of the rotation type.


Aldrin Batista, RHP

Batista is a 6’2, 185 lbs pitcher whom the Dodgers signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2022, putting pen to paper just after turning 19 years old. Now 20, Batista also spent the bulk of the season with the Arizona Complex League Dodgers, mostly working with a sinker that he will dial up to 97, along with a slider, and a changeup. For the season, Batista posted an 3.46 ERA and a 4.25 FIP, with a 33.1% strikeout rate and a 9.2% walk rate, numbers that saw him promoted to Rancho Cucamonga on Thursday, though he was moved before he had a shot to make his debut as a Quake. Although Batista does not have a prospect grade at FanGraphs, I am confident that he will garner at least a 35 when they do their offseason system passes.*

As an aside, Batista was born on May the 4th, and my dreams of a Star Wars-themed birthday bobblehead have now been dashed. Alas.

*More on this later.

Both of these kids are talented prospects, and both are likely to find their way into the rotation with the Low-A affiliate of the White Sox, the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers, in Kannapolis, North Carolina, where they can find out for themselves that vinegar-based barbecue leaves a lot to be desired.


And now, the get: the Dodgers acquired international bonus pool money. This pool space is only able to be used during the current signing period, which runs from January 15th thru December 15th, 2023. Bonus pool dollars can be traded in $250K increments, up until the point that a team has less than that amount remaining, when all of whatever pool space is left would have to be included in the deal.

Via Francys Romero, a baseball reporter who is a BBWAA member specializing in the international scene (and has written a book on ballplayers emigrating from Cuba), as of June 11th, the White Sox had $1.41M left of their initial $5.284M bonus pool total for the 2023 signing period. After trawling through the transaction log of the White Sox, I didn’t see any moves since Romero came out with his estimate that would have reduced this total, so for the time being I’m going to assume that this is the amount that is changing hands.


So, what the heck might the Dodgers do with that much money, this late in the signing period? Welp, if we’re going to dream a bit, then the club will use their newfound scratch to ink South Korean righty, Hyun-Seok Jang.

Jang is a 19-year-old pitcher at Masan Yongma High School in Changwon, South Korea. Listed at just shy of 6’3 and weighing in at 198 lbs, the hurler was the favorite to be the #1 selection in the KBO draft, which takes place on September 15th. Jang boasts a fastball up to 97, along with a slider, sweeper, curve, and a changeup:

Yeah, that’ll work.

With the quality of Jang’s secondaries, I would conservatively put him at a grade of 40+, just a bit ahead of 2023 3rd round pick Brady Smith, whom FanGraphs has as a 40 but mentioned stopping just short of slapping a 40+ tag on him as well. Only 10 pitchers aged 19 or younger received such a nod in the 2023 draft class, and I feel comfortable slotting him somewhere in the latter half of that group.

A pair of factors that may lure Jang into signing are those of recency and industry; this past January, the Pittsburgh Pirates added one of the top prospects out of South Korea to their crew, fellow hurler Shim Jun-seok, giving him a signing bonus of $750K. In an IFA world where bonus amounts are often agreed to several years in advance, it is difficult enough to carve out a significant dollar figure on short notice. So, for Jang to potentially land even more than his fellow countryman received, while being able to get his career started sooner rather than later, may combine to be all the enticement necessary.


Moves like this serve as a window into valuations, both for prospects and for international bonus pool space. In the case of the former Dodger prospects in question here, values are derived from Driveline Baseball‘s study on prospect valuation, with present value of $/fWAR adjusted for the current climate.

(Warning: Some assumptions and guesswork ahead. If you despise such, please feel free to skip the following three paragraphs.)

Maximo Martinez‘s grade of 40 puts him at a valuation of roughly $3.5M. If Aldrin Batista is in fact viewed as a 35-grade prospect, then the valuation here is about $1.5M, so $5.0M total. Again, if the Dodgers are in fact acquiring all of the ChiSox’s remaining pool space, then it puts the $1.41M at a valuation multiple of 3.55, which is probably only coincidentally significant, but it does align.

Back in 2019, Kiley McDaniel, then at FanGraphs and now at ESPN, did a very thorough analysis of the returns found in the international prospect market. During the last three years of the period McDaniel felt was qualified to be statistically relevant, 2013-2015, the return on investment was 433%, 328%, and 307%, which just so happens to average out to 356%. That’s too perfect to omit, but absent similar data for the subsequent four years, while factoring in the effects of stricter collectively bargained bonus situations, it’s more neat than concrete.

As for a valuation for a 40+ prospect grade, unfortunately it doesn’t exist at the close of the Driveline Baseball study, as they only go as far as half grades. While there isn’t a linear relationship from prospect tiers to values (every half grade step up has an increasingly steep value associated with it), the gap between 40 ($3.5M) and 45 ($8.0M) is close enough to average between them and be within shouting distance of where 40+ would likely land. That average? $5.8M, just a bit above the sketched-out value of the prospect capital being sent, and pool space acquired after the multiple, and blah blah blah. Again, it’s neat, if incomplete, and I am anxiously awaiting word on where the actual values lie.


An ancillary benefit of this trade is the reduction of the number of players on the Domestic Reserve List, whose looming reduction was detailed at this very website just a week ago. And, indeed, when Shim was signed, though he never made an appearance for them, he was added to the roster of the DSL Pirates Gold, putting him on the International Reserve List, which would help the Dodgers carve out space state-side until they’ve space for an additional player.

The Dodger farm system is like a loaded piñata; tantalizingly colorful, loaded with sweet promise, and, for the moment, just out of reach. Sure, there will be some Smarties, Tootsie Rolls, and cinnamon Jolly Ranchers inside, but there’s bound to be enough actual goodies that all the other kids at the party will scramble to snap up whatever hits the ground.

This transaction is evidence that the polos upstairs are continuing the work of staying ahead of the reserve list downsize when and where they can to make the best of a bad situation. They’re trying to keep all the best sugary crap for themselves, and if they manage to come away with a prospect upgrade out of the bargain, well, feliz cumpleaños, indeed.

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