White Sox Slowly Rebuilding Abroad
CHICAGO—Former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen used to quip that he could find more success in Latin America by signing 10 players with $300,000 instead of investing it all in one prospect.
While the Venezuelan-born Guillen has since departed, taking his managerial traits and candor to Miami, the White Sox find themselves trying to establish a presence in the Caribbean they've lost since signing and developing Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee in the 1990s for a total of $30,000.
"It's no secret," said general manager Ken Williams, who admitted at the Winter Meetings that the White Sox were in a bit of rebuilding stage with the major league club. "We have struggled in the Dominican, and I've tried a number of things."
A veteran scout familiar with the inner workings of the White Sox and the Dominican said that trainers wouldn't even bring players to Sox camps in the last decade because their offers would pale in comparison to signing bonuses offered by other teams. As teams spent more money in the Caribbean, the Sox were more content to invest their money in U.S. amateur talent, though they have rarely spent over the recommended slot for draft picks in the past 10 years.
But the biggest obstacle for the team has been overcoming the scandal uncovered in 2008, when senior director of player personnel David Wilder and two scouts were fired for skimming roughly $400,000 in bonus money for 23 Latin American players from 2004-2008.
Last November, a third White Sox scout, Jorge Oquendo Rivera, pleaded guilty to mail fraud. According to the Chicago Tribune, Oquendo admitted receiving kickbacks from 17 Latin American players and sending Wilder, his boss at the time, between $20,000-$25,000 from an unnamed Brazilian player's $213,500 bonus around December 2005.
Williams has taken several steps in the wake of the scandal to turn things around in Latin America. In April 2010, he hired Jerry Krause to head the team's international scouting, with an emphasis on restructuring Dominican and Venezuelan scouting. Krause previously scouted for Chicago in the early 1980s before winning six NBA titles as general manager of the Chicago Bulls, and he recommended the acquisitions of Guillen, Julio Cruz, Ed Farmer, Tom Seaver and former White Sox first baseman Greg Walker.
Krause brought in respected scout Pablo Cruz, who signed Aramis Ramirez during his tenure with the Pirates, and his first big sign was 6-foot-7 lefthander Jefferson Olacio for $125,000. But Cruz left a few months after joining the team and Krause resigned after less than a year to join the Diamondbacks as a special assistant.
After Krause's departure, Williams devised a plan to train the team's Latin American scouts in the same manner as its domestic amateur scouts, with Williams, scouting director Doug Laumann and farm director Buddy Bell involved in the process.
Joe Butler, one of the Sox's pro scouts, made more trips to Latin America last season. But one of the biggest steps the Sox took toward shoring up the talent drought was hiring Marco Paddy, 47, as a special assistant to the GM to oversee Latin American scouting.
"We're able to add a guy who has proven himself to be very capable of bringing major league talent to the forefront and has already started down that road," Williams said of Paddy, who signed Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, two-time Futures Game pitcher Henderson Alvarez and Venezuelan catcher Carlos Perez. Under Paddy's watch and with a healthy international signing budget, the Blue Jays added some of the top players on the international market last year, including Mexican righthander Roberto Osuna, Venezuelan outfielders Wuilmer Becerra and Jesus Gonzalez, and Dominican shortstop Dawel Lugo.
One week after Paddy's hiring was announced, the White Sox made a daring move by acquiring Nestor Molina, a former third baseman/outfielder turned righthander, from the Blue Jays for closer Sergio Santos—who was under contract control for six more seasons.
The price the Sox paid for Molina was a head-scratcher for many executives, who either wanted to get involved in the bidding for Santos or thought the Sox could have gotten another prospect in addition to Molina, 22, who went 12-3, 2.21 with 148 strikeouts and 18 walks in 130 innings between high Class A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire last season.
But with the Sox looking to get younger, they'll need to develop more homegrown talent, especially with an increased focus on Latin America.
A New Approach
Paddy, who spent 14 seasons in scouting and player development with the Braves before joining Toronto, has no immediate plans to shake up the instruction in Latin America, where former Mets shortstop Rafael Santana serves as Dominican academy coordinator and Julio Valdez serves as field coordinator.
"It's not so much the facilities that are an issue," said Williams, who planned to visit the Dominican Republic in January. "We're very comfortable in a facility. The issue moreso is the players. You got to have good players.
"Again, we've got a guy who has a proven track record to get players. And I think he's going to have the latitude to build a staff as he sees fit down there."
Paddy, known in scouting circles for his aggressiveness, spoke of going after the best players in the market that "money can buy," as well as continuing to cultivate the Cuban market. The Sox, notorious in the past for investing more heavily on their major league roster than their farm system, succeeded with Cuban players Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo, who is expected to take over in right field after Carlos Quentin was traded to the Padres.
Aside from Viciedo, there isn't any bona fide homegrown, Latin American player assured of making the 2012 Opening Day roster, although Venezuelan players Eduardo Escobar and Gregory Infante have shown glimpses of potential.
Brazilian native Andre Rienzo struck out 118 in 116 innings at high Class A Winston-Salem, but he's 23 and already has five years of minor league experience.
Third baseman Juan Silverio, 20, whom Wilder signed for $600,000 in 2007, could be on the verge of a breakthrough after batting .285/.335/.453 with 85 RBIs last summer between low Class A Kannapolis and Winston-Salem.
"We have a good pulse of what's going on, thanks to our staff," Paddy said. "We have a plan in place. With the willingness, the desire and pulse, I see it as a win-win situation."
As Paddy was speaking, he was reading a list of international players who might be available to sign next July. And the Sox, who will have spent $10 million over four years for Viciedo, hope to make a greater impact with the new limits on international signing bonus money earmarked for teams in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
"Then it's down to the acumen of your scouting staff and you selling your organization an opportunity moreso than the highest dollar," Williams said. "So I think that's something that's good for some of us. I can see where the smaller market teams are not as happy because that was a way, an avenue where you could make some inroads."
Paddy emphasized he doesn't intend to clean house, that the Sox just need to make a stronger effort and convince people in Latin America that they're serious about paying for talent, especially after the drought and scandal in the past decade.
"We want to regain the trust in our organization," Paddy said.