OAKLAND—If the A’s were to land the most sought-after prospect in Latin America, they knew they would have to do it with more than money.
So general manager Billy Beane and his staff devised a serious sales plan that involved personal attention and detail to convince Michael Inoa and his family that the 16-year-old belonged in an Oakland uniform, rather than accepting the higher offers made by the Reds and Rangers at the end.
Beane, along with director of Latin American operations Raymond Abreu and director of player personnel Billy Owens, made the long trip from the Dominican Republic’s capital city of Santo Domingo to the beach resort town of Puerto Plata to meet with Inoa and his parents, Simon and Juana, both accomplished athletes in their own right.
“Billy came down with Billy Owens, and we visited the family,” Abreu said. “We were honest. Billy (Beane) himself is easy going and quite frank with the family. Billy Owens, you have to love his persona.”
They came to sell what the A’s do well: develop pitching talent. Beane and his team came to talk about Gil Patterson, Ron Romanick and the other coaches in the organization who have succeeded in developing pitchers through the last decade.
“Other teams pursued the kid heavily and offered more money,” said Owens’ the A’s director of player personnel, during a conference call Wednesday morning. “We were able to sell ourselves; sell the organization; and convince him that we were going to be committed to him.
“The family really did their homework,” said Owens, a big, outgoing man who exudes charm and personality. “It goes back to the triumvirate of (Tim) Hudson, (Mark) Mulder and (Barry) Zito, then seeing the new guys develop—(Dana) Eveland, (Greg) Smith and Santiago Casilla. They saw the success of that vs. the other clubs pursuing Michael. They felt very comfortable that they were in the best hands in baseball as far as developing pitching talent.”
The personal touch of the trip to the Inoa family home in Puerto Plata provided a special touch. Beane said he and his officials went out to two meals with the family and had the chance to talk at length about what the A’s could offer. Beane has made three trips to the Dominican Republic to meet with Inoa, the third being Wednesday for the signing.
“Each time we came down, the family was with him,” Beane said. “Each time we were able to interact with the kid.”
Inoa’s father was a top amateur player as a first baseman in the Dominican. His mother played for the Dominican National Softball team. He has developed at the Born To Play baseball academy, operated by Edgar Mercedes, and Mercedes helped translate for Beane and Owens on the visits to the family home.
The A’s plan to have Inoa work at Oakland’s Dominican complex in La Victoria for the rest of the year, working both on his pitching and learning English. They will then consider whether to bring him to the U.S. in 2009. Beane and Owens plan to compare the development of other young pitchers and put together a plan for development. Farm director Keith Lieppman and Patters, the organization’s pitching coordinator, will visit La Victoria to work with Inoa in the coming weeks.
Owens said that Inoa most impressed him when he came to a workout at La Victoria several months ago and pitched against several A’s advanced prospects. Inoa did not just throw fastballs—he mixed in his breaking ball and change, plus he used the full strike zone.
“If there’s ever a guy who’s going to develop into a frontline starting pitcher in the major leagues, this is the guy,” Owens said.
The signing is part of the reinvigoration of the A’s Dominican program, which had gone dormant in recent years. Through the ’80s and early ’90s, the A’s were highly active in the Latin market. However, when the bonuses got big, the Athletics stepped aside to let the Yankees, Red Sox and other free spenders fork out the big bucks. During the off-season, there was a change of direction.
“It’s no secret we had reduced our major-league payroll,” Beane said. “We wanted to continue to reinvest what would normally be major league payroll into the infrastructure.”
Beane said it would not stop with Inoa. He is scouting worldwide, and there may well be more signings. It is a change in philosophy, and Beane backs it with his analysis.
“The money we invested, say $4.25 million, would be better than signing one major league player at 4.25,” he said. “It does relate very much to the major league payroll. The risks and potential of what this kid could do was worth it to us.”
Beane began the redesign last October, and he admits even he is surprised by how far the A’s have come.
“If you start looking at the number of young pitchers in the organization, I think it’s as impressive as anyone in baseball,” he said. “We concluded that our pitching needed to be something that comes from within; was organic. We’ve taken huge strides. From a farm system overall — even by our own evaluation — from one that was near to bottom to one near the top. It bodes well for our future.”
And it was such an important move that Beane took time out from the daily operation of the A’s to make three trips to the Dominican, meet with Inoa’s parents and assure them that he will personally invest himself—as well as the organization’s money—in the development of their son.