International Reviews: Baltimore Orioles
Total 2017 signings: 9.
Top 2017-18 signing: OF Ricardo Castro, Venezuela, $150,000.
Orioles' ownership’s annual neglect of the international market remains one of the most egregious examples of poor decision-making by a club in any area of baseball operations. Ownership’s disregard for international signings continues to damage the franchise, leaving the Orioles farm system nearly devoid of homegrown international prospects.
That’s unlikely to change soon. During the entire 2017 calendar year, the Orioles signed just nine international players. They signed Ricardo Castro, a 17-year-old Venezuelan center fielder with above-average speed and arm strength, for $150,000, with the rest of their signings getting less than $100,000. That’s like going through the top eight rounds of the draft and passing on all of your picks.
During that 2017 calendar year, the Orioles’ spent just $535,000 total. Remarkably, that’s an increase from the paltry $260,000 they spent in 2016, meaning the Orioles went two full years without spending $1 million combined on international prospects. It's not a one-year or a two-year aberration. It's a deliberate approach that the Orioles have taken for years, one that spans multiple management teams, because the decision comes from above the general manager. Ownership simply does not give the team’s scouts adequate resources to be able to do their jobs.
While other teams in their division add players like Gary Sanchez, Rafael Devers, Luis Severino, Miguel Andujar, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Wander Franco, no team in baseball has a worse international strategy than the Orioles. Players like Sanchez, Devers and Guerrero were all premium prospects in their class who cost north of $1 million, and the Orioles eliminate themselves from ever signing that caliber of player.
Teams can still find big leaguers at lower price points. Not only to the Orioles handcuff themselves on the top-tier international free agents, they also severely limit their chances of signing a future Top 100 prospect at a bargain price.
The Braves signed the game’s No. 1 prospect, Ronald Acuna, for $100,000 when he was a 16-year-old in Venezuela. The Orioles gave bonuses of $100,000 or more to just two players combined in all of 2016 and 2017. The Phillies signed the No. 22 prospect, righthander Sixto Sanchez, for $35,000, and other teams consistently find good pitchers for lower prices in Latin America. Yet while the Orioles signed just nine players in all of 2017, the Phillies added 54 international players to their farm system during that same time period. Clubs understand that there is a significant amount of luck involved when a player they sign for $35,000 turns into a big leaguer. Yet teams like the Phillies also give themselves greater opportunities to be lucky and hit on those players because they sign a high enough volume of players to tilt the probabilities in their favor.
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Instead of spending their money on prospects who could be future cornerstones of their major league club, the Orioles trade away their pool money. Some teams have received legitimate prospects in return, though mostly the returns around the league for players traded for bonus pool space have been minimal.
For all of the pool space the Orioles have traded away over the years, they have received little benefit. In August, the Orioles traded $500,000 of international bonus pool space to the Rangers to acquire second baseman Brallan Perez, who was hitting .234/.309/.266 in 46 games with high Class A Down East. The Orioles valued Perez so little that, four months after they traded for him, they lost him to the Athletics in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft and got nothing for him in return.
Teams can still be competitive at the major league level in spite of deficiencies internationally. But until ownership smartens up, the Orioles will continue to squander resources and opportunities as they fall further behind their competition.