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The best international signings for every club

May 11, 2020

Baseball is a diverse game, with players coming from all over the globe. And while free agency, trades and the Draft are obviously important, clubs can also unearth franchise-altering stars via the international marketplace. The players below are proof of that. Here is each team's best international signing ever.

Baseball is a diverse game, with players coming from all over the globe.

And while free agency, trades and the Draft are obviously important, clubs can also unearth franchise-altering stars via the international marketplace. The players below are proof of that.

Here is each team's best international signing ever.

American League East

Blue Jays: Carlos Delgado (Signed in 1988)
Country of origin: Puerto Rico
Delgado at catcher? That’s how this all started, with Delgado behind the plate as a young prospect out of Puerto Rico. He played there until 1994 in the Minors and had a short-lived run as an outfielder in the Majors, but it was at first base where Delgado found a home. Following his rise as one of the top prospects in baseball, Delgado played 12 seasons for the Blue Jays, where he launched 336 of his 473 career home runs. He still leads the club all time in that category, along with doubles (343), RBI (1,058) and OPS (.949). Blue Jays top 5 >

Orioles: Dennis Martinez (Signed in 1973)
Country of origin: Nicaragua
The Orioles’ most successful international signing ever, Martinez became the first Nicaraguan-born player to play in the Majors when he debuted in 1976, and remains the most accomplished to this day. For 20 years, Martinez held the record for wins by a pitcher from Latin America, his 245 standing until Bartolo Colon eclipsed the mark in 2018. The plurality of those victories came in Baltimore, where Martinez went 108-93 with a 4.16 ERA from 1976-86. A four-time All-Star later in his career, “El Presidente” led AL hurlers in starts, complete games, and innings in ’79 with the Orioles, and led the AL with 14 wins in ’81. Orioles top 5 >

Rays: Akinori Iwamura (Signed in 2006)
Country of origin: Japan
Iwamura was the Rays’ first significant signing from Japan, and the second baseman quickly endeared himself to the fans. Iwamura played a key role in the team's run to a World Series appearance in 2008, and the image of him raising his arms after recording the final out of the AL Championship Series will always be engraved in the history of Tampa Bay. Iwamura gave the Rays a presence at the top of the lineup, hitting .281 in his three seasons with the team. Rays top 5 >

Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts (Signed in 2009)
Country of origin: Aruba
Boston initially signed Bogaerts as a 16-year-old out of Aruba in 2009 and never looked back. After debuting in 2013 and gaining valuable experience in the postseason that year, which ended with the Red Sox winning a World Series title, Bogaerts swiftly developed into one of the best all-around shortstops in the AL. The club won another World Series crown in 2018, with Bogaerts hitting .288 with 45 doubles, 23 homers, 103 RBIs and an .883 OPS in the regular season, and he raised his game again last year, slashing .309/.384/.555 with 52 doubles, 33 homers and 117 RBIs. Red Sox top 5 >

Yankees: Mariano Rivera (Signed in 1990)
Country of origin: Panama
The son of a Panamanian fisherman, Rivera’s first love was soccer, a sport that he abandoned following a series of ankle and knee injuries. At age 18, Rivera joined a local amateur baseball team and was invited to a tryout camp run by Yankees scout Chico Heron. Rivera had no formal pitching training and was only said to be clocked between 85-87 mph, but the Yanks’ Herb Raybourn was impressed by Rivera’s athleticism and smooth mechanics. On Feb. 17, 1990, Rivera agreed to a contract that included a signing bonus of $2,500. That turned out to be money well spent for the eventual all-time saves leader and baseball’s first unanimous Hall of Famer. Yankees top 6 >

AL Central

Indians: José Ramírez (Signed in 2009)
Country of origin: Dominican Republic
It wasn’t that long ago that Ramírez was in Lake County, playing for the Tribe’s Class A team, hitting .354 with an .865 OPS. Ramírez made his MLB debut on Sept. 1, 2013, settled into an everyday role in ’16 and has been more than what the Indians could’ve asked for. Ramírez hit .312 with an .825 OPS in his first full season and followed that with a .318 average in ’17 with a .957 OPS, 29 homers, 83 RBIs and a league-leading 56 doubles to place third in the AL MVP race. He came in third in the AL MVP voting again in ’18 and rebounded from a first-half slump last year to post a 1.105 OPS after the All-Star break. Indians top 5 >

Royals: Salvador Perez (Signed in 2006)
Country of origin: Venezuela
The Royals struck gold when scout Juan Indriago signed a skinny 16-year-old Perez out of Venezuela in 2006. By 2011, Perez had made his MLB debut, launching a career that is a slam dunk to wind up in the Royals Hall of Fame and possibly even Cooperstown. Perez has won five Gold Glove Awards, earned six All-Star selections, won two Silver Slugger Awards and was the MVP of the 2015 World Series. “Best defensive catcher and best catcher period I’ve ever been around,” teammate Danny Duffy said. Royals top 5 >

Tigers: Eugenio Suárez (Signed in 2008)
Country of origin: Venezuela
The Tigers signed Suárez out of Venezuela for a $10,000 bonus in 2008, then exercised patience as he made his way through the farm system as a shortstop prospect. He made his MLB debut for the Tigers on June 4, 2014, started 71 games at shortstop while hitting .242 with a .652 OPS, then was traded to the Reds for veteran right-hander Alfredo Simon. Suárez blossomed into an All-Star in Cincinnati after shifting to third base in 2016. While the Tigers thought Suárez had hitting potential, they never envisioned him hitting 49 home runs in a season like he did in 2019. Tigers top 5 >

Twins: Tony Oliva (Signed in 1961)
Country of origin: Cuba
Oliva proved to be the most valuable product of the pipeline of Cuban talent that benefited the late Washington Senators and early Minnesota Twins -- both on and off the field. Originally from rural Pinar del Río in western Cuba, Oliva got off the island just before the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 that strained relations between the United States and Cuba. In doing so, he set the stage for one of the most decorated careers in club history, not only as a player, but also as a coach, mentor and member of the Minnesota community. The 1964 AL Rookie of the Year Award winner, eight-time All-Star and three-time batting champion is the only member of the organization to have been involved in all three of the team's AL championships: as a player in '65, hitting coach in '87 and bench coach in '91. Twins top 5 >

White Sox: Luis Aparicio (Signed in 1954)
Country of origin: Venezuela
Aparicio joined the White Sox from Venezuela in 1954 and became one of the greatest players in franchise history in two stints with the organization. The White Sox had a Hall of Fame combination of Aparicio at shortstop and Nellie Fox at second base from 1956-62, and the duo has been immortalized in statue form at Guaranteed Rate Field. Aparicio won the 1956 AL Rookie of the Year Award and finished second in the '59 AL MVP Award voting to none other than Fox. He also was a six-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove winner with the White Sox. Aparicio was the AL stolen-base leader in each of his first seven seasons with the team, and his 318 stolen bases rank second behind Eddie Collins (368) for the most in franchise history. White Sox top 5 >

AL West

Angels: Shohei Ohtani (Signed in 2017)
Country of origin: Japan
After the 2017 season, MLB teams lined up to try to sign Ohtani, a two-way star touted as the Japanese Babe Ruth. He ultimately selected the Angels after a lengthy process that included pitches from just about every club. The signing paid immediate dividends, as he entered the season as MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect and won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2018. Ohtani batted .285/.361/.564 with 22 homers and 61 RBIs in 104 games as a designated hitter while also posting a 3.31 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings as a pitcher. He underwent Tommy John surgery that limited him to only hitting in 2019, but he’s now healthy and will return to two-way status. Angels top 5 >

Astros: José Altuve (Signed in 2007)
Country of origin: Venezuela
Altuve first caught Houston’s attention while playing second base for the Venezuelan 16-and-under national team. The Astros sent Omar Lopez to watch a player named Angel Nieves, but Lopez couldn’t take his eyes off “the little guy.” Special assistant Al Pedrique went to watch Altuve, whose ability to put the bat on the ball couldn’t be ignored. Pedrique met with Altuve’s family and offered him $15,000 to sign. “I was putting that money in my pocket before I answered that,” Altuve said. The rest is history. Altuve is a six-time All-Star and a three-time batting champion, and he was the 2017 AL MVP. Astros top 5 >

Athletics: Bert Campaneris (Signed in 1961)
Country of origin: Cuba
Campaneris signed with the A’s out of Cuba in 1961 with a $1,000 bonus that would only be awarded were he to remain with the organization for at least 60 days. He ended up playing 13 big league seasons with the A’s, establishing himself as the greatest shortstop in club history. Campaneris made five All-Star teams and helped the A’s to three consecutive World Series titles from 1972-74. He also remains the club’s all-time hits leader with 1,882. Athletics top 5 >

Mariners: Edgar Martinez (Signed in 1982)
Country of origin: Puerto Rico
The Mariners have had some outstanding international signees, including Ichiro Suzuki and Félix Hernández. But Martinez tops the list, having become a Hall of Famer and revered figure in Mariners history after signing with the club for just a $4,000 bonus in 1982 as a 19-year-old out of Puerto Rico. Martinez was studying business administration at American University and working two factory jobs at night while playing semi-pro ball on weekends when he signed with Seattle. Though he was a late bloomer in pro ball, Martinez wound up becoming one of the premier right-handed hitters of his era, posting a remarkable .312/.418/.515 slash line and earning seven All-Star berths in an 18-year career with Seattle. Mariners top 5 >

Rangers: Juan Gonzalez (Signed in 1986)
Country of origin: Puerto Rico
Gonzalez was a big name when the Rangers signed him for $75,000 out of Puerto Rico in 1986, and it still feels that way. After he landed Gonzalez, Rangers scout Luis Rosa called a television station and said he'd just signed a player who would become the top home run hitter from Latin America. Rosa was pretty close, all things considered, as Gonzalez finished with 434 home runs, which currently ranks ninth all time among Latin American-born players. He also won two MVP Awards, earning AL honors in 1996 and '98. Rangers top 5 >

National League East

Braves: Andruw Jones (Signed in 1993)
Country of origin: Curacao
Paul Snyder’s decision to visit the then-scantily-scouted small island of Curacao resulted in the Braves landing one of the best center fielders baseball has ever seen. Jones received a $46,000 signing bonus in 1993, and became the game’s best prospect within the next two years. Jones made his MLB debut as a 19-year-old in August 1996, and two months later, he homered in both of his first two World Series plate appearances. Jones won 10 consecutive NL Gold Glove Awards, earned five All-Star selections and finished second in the NL MVP Award voting after bashing a franchise-record 51 homers in 2005. Braves top 5 >

Marlins: Miguel Cabrera (Signed in 1999)
Country of origin: Venezuela
A couple of looks at a 16-year-old Cabrera was all former Marlins scout Al Avila needed to urge the Marlins to make a serious push for the Venezuelan sensation. In 1999, the Marlins signed Cabrera for $1.9 million, and the rest is history. By the time Cabrera was called up to the big leagues as a 20-year-old in June 2003, Marlins evaluators already were touting him as a generational talent. The slugger certainly lived up to the billing. He helped the club win the World Series in his rookie season and was a four-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner in five years with the Marlins. Marlins top 5 >

Mets: José Reyes (Signed in 1999)
Country of origin: Dominican Republic
From his days as a teenager, Reyes tantalized international scouts with his five-tool potential. The Mets signed him out of the Dominican Republic shortly after he turned 16, and Reyes reached the big leagues four years later. He made an immediate impact, hitting .307 his rookie season and blossoming into full-blown superstardom two years later. From 2005-07, Reyes led the NL in stolen bases each season, topping out at a career-high 78 in ’07. He made four All-Star teams in a six-year stretch and won a batting title in 2011. Reyes left New York after that season, spending four years with Miami, Toronto and Colorado before returning to the Mets for the final three seasons of his career. Mets top 6 >

Nationals: Vladimir Guerrero (Signed in 1993)
Country of origin: Dominican Republic
Montreal signed Guerrero as an amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic, beginning what would become an illustrious 16-year MLB career. After his first eight seasons with the Expos, Guerrero went on to play six for the Angels, where he captured the 2004 AL MVP Award. He suited up for his last season in 2011 as a member of the Orioles, capping off his career with a .318/.379/.553 slash line, .931 OPS, 2,590 hits and 449 home runs. The nine-time All Star and eight-time Silver Slugger Award-winner was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018. Nationals top 5 >

Phillies: Ferguson Jenkins (Signed in 1962)
Country of origin: Canada
The Phillies signed Jenkins on June 15, 1962, out of Vocational High School in Chatham, Ontario. He showed immediate promise upon making his big league debut in September 1965, posting a 2.19 ERA with 10 strikeouts and two walks in 12 1/3 innings over seven relief appearances. But Philadelphia traded him to the Cubs in April 1966 along with John Herrnstein and center fielder Adolfo Phillips for pitchers Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl. It became one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history. Jenkins went 284-226 with a 3.34 ERA and 3,192 strikeouts in a 19-year career, accumulating 81.7 bWAR after the trade. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991. Phillies top 5 >

NL Central

Brewers: Teddy Higuera (Signed in 1983)
Country of origin: Mexico
The middle name wasn’t the only commonality between Teodoro Valenzuela Higuera and Dodgers sensation Fernando Valenzuela. Both were relatively diminutive left-handers from Mexico, and for a brief period in the mid-1980s, one could argue they were the best pitchers in their respective leagues. Valenzuela was a superstar by the time Higuera arrived in the Majors in '85, but Higuera, when healthy, was every bit as good a pitcher, and he quickly made a splash of his own by finishing second for the AL Rookie of the Year Award in '85 and second for the AL Cy Young Award in ’86. During the latter season, Higuera went 20-11 with a 2.79 ERA, and a Sports Illustrated headline within the July 14 issue trumpeted, “Milwaukee Has Its Own Valenzuela.” More >

Cardinals: Jose Cruz (Signed in 1966)
Country of origin: Puerto Rico
Cruz is best known for his time in an Astros uniform, with the left fielder hitting .292 over 13 years in Houston. But the Cardinals signed him out of Puerto Rico in 1966, and he hit .247 in five years with St. Louis to kickstart his career. The left-handed-hitting Cruz was traded to the Astros for cash in 1974, and that's where he became a two-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner, sparking Houston’s offense for years. His No. 25 was retired by the Astros in '92. When he retired, he was among the franchise's all-time leaders in every significant offensive category, including games, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples, RBIs and extra-base hits. Cardinals top 5 >

Cubs: Carlos Zambrano (Signed in 1997)
Country of origin: Venezuela
The Cubs signed Zambrano out of Venezuela on July 12, 1997, and the fiery right-hander amassed 37.7 bWAR for the club from 2001-11, which is the ninth most in club history for a pitcher. Only Fergie Jenkins has struck out more batters than Zambrano (1,542) in Cubs history. Known affectionately as “Big Z,” Zambrano went 125-81 with a 3.60 ERA in 319 games (282 starts), made three All-Star teams, threw a no-hitter and finished in the top five in the NL Cy Young Award race three times during his time with the Cubs. He also picked up three Silver Sluggers for his powerful bat. With 24 homers in his career, Zambrano is tied for seventh all time among pitchers. Cubs top 5 >

Pirates: Aramis Ramirez (Signed in 1994)
Country of origin: Dominican Republic
Ramirez's best years came in Chicago, where he was a stabilizing force for the Cubs at third base, but he began his professional career with the Pirates. Pittsburgh signed Ramirez out of the Dominican Republic in 1994, and he was in the Majors by '98 at the age of 19. He had one standout year for the Pirates, batting .300 with 34 homers and 112 RBIs in 2001, before being shipped to the Cubs in a lopsided trade, with the Bucs sending Ramirez and Kenny Lofton to the Cubs for Matt Bruback, Jose Hernandez and Bobby Hill in '03. Ramirez went on to earn two All-Star selections in Chicago and finished his 18-year career with a .283/.341/.492 slash line, 386 homers and 32.4 bWAR. Pirates top 5 >

Reds: Tony Perez (Signed in 1960)
Country of origin: Cuba
A pioneering player out of Cuba who was working at a sugar cane factory before he signed his contract with Cincinnati, Perez went on to have a superlative 23-year career in MLB, spending 1964-76 and '84-86 with the Reds as a corner infielder. There were also stints with the Expos, Red Sox and Phillies. Perez was often considered the glue of the Big Red Machine, and he played in four World Series for the team. His two-run homer in Game 7 was one of three he hit during the 1975 World Series win against the Red Sox. Perez produced 379 homers with 1,652 RBIs while totaling 45.6 bWAR during his career, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000. Reds top 5 >

NL West

D-backs: Miguel Montero (Signed in 2001)
Country of origin: Venezuela
Montero was not just the best catcher in D-backs history, but also one of the best players overall by virtue of his 23.3 fWAR, which places him behind only Paul Goldschmidt and Luis Gonzalez among Arizona position players. Montero was signed by the D-backs out of Venezuela in 2001 for a $13,000 bonus and made a pair of All-Star teams in nine seasons before being dealt to the Cubs after the '14 campaign. In 2016, Montero belted a go-ahead, pinch-hit grand slam in Game 1 of the 2016 NLCS and gave the Cubs a crucial insurance run with an RBI single in the 10th inning during Game 7 of the World Series, as Chicago snapped its 108-year title drought. D-backs top 5 >

Dodgers: Roberto Clemente (Signed in 1954)
Country of origin: Puerto Rico
Dodgers scout Al Campanis signed Clemente out of Puerto Rico in 1954 to a $10,000 bonus, calling him “the best free-agent athlete I’ve ever seen.” The bonus meant Clemente either had to go directly to the Majors or be eligible for the winter Rule 5 Draft. With the Boys of Summer roster loaded, management stashed Clemente at Triple-A, playing him part time to reduce his visibility while intending to sneak him through the Rule 5 Draft. Let’s call that a miscalculation, as a trio of former Dodgers front-office members selected Clemente in Pittsburgh. The rest is Hall of Fame history. Dodgers top 5 >

Giants: Juan Marichal (Signed in 1958)
Country of origin: Dominican Republic
Signed by the Giants for $500 out of the Dominican Republic in 1958, Marichal developed into one of the greatest right-handed pitchers in baseball history. Known for his distinctive, high leg kick, Marichal went 243-142 with a 2.89 ERA over his 16 seasons in the Majors, 14 of which came with the Giants. He won at least 20 games six times and led the NL in ERA (2.10) in 1969. A 10-time All-Star, Marichal won 238 games with the Giants, the most by any pitcher since the franchise moved West in 1958. He remains San Francisco’s all-time leader in complete games (244), shutouts (52), innings (3,444) and strikeouts (2,281). Marichal was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983. Giants top 5 >

Padres: Roberto Alomar (Signed in 1985)
Country of origin: Puerto Rico
Alomar signed with the Padres out of Puerto Rico in 1985, two years after the club inked his brother, Sandy Alomar Jr. The younger Alomar wasted no time making his ascent to the big leagues, debuting three years later as the youngest infielder in franchise history at age 20. Alomar spent three excellent seasons in San Diego, including the first of 12 consecutive All-Star campaigns in 1990. But Alomar's best seasons would come after he was dealt to the Blue Jays in the four-player blockbuster that brought Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff to the Padres. Padres top 5 >

Rockies: Ubaldo Jiménez (Signed in 2001)
Country of origin: Dominican Republic
Jiménez, who returned to the Rockies this spring, tops a thin list. It’s not that the Rockies shun international players. But Carlos González, Andres Galarraga, Vinny Castilla, Pedro Astacio and Jorge De La Rosa were originally signed by other teams. Jiménez leads all pitchers in Rockies history in bWAR (18.3), and he is the only Rockies international signee to represent the team in the All-Star Game. Rockies top 5 >