Most international prospects sign on, or soon after, July 2 — the beginning of the yearly international spending period. Those teams with money still to spend this time of year are left with a more limited pool of talent from which to draw, though a trio of interesting prospects emerged last month. The Miami Marlins made a splash by locking up top Cuban prospect Victor Victor Mesa and his younger brother Victor Mesa Jr. Earlier today, the Tampa Bay Rays reportedly committed $2.6MM to sign Cuban right-hander Sandy Gaston.
Teams have until June 15th to spend their remaining international bonus pool money. But with that trio joining a host of other well-regarded youngsters with MLB organizations, the cupboard is increasingly bare.
The situation that remains is quite an interesting one for the Baltimore Orioles, who have far and away the most spending capacity remaining under the current international rules. The O’s can spend around $6.5MM on prospects, having only inked a pair of international youngsters to this point. There are still plenty of players available, to be sure, but the reputed top prospects are off the board. And it’s fair to wonder why none of them ended up in Baltimore.
Granted, we don’t quite know Baltimore’s strategy for wooing these top prospects — or even if they had one, given the organization’s recent shift to begin spending internationally after years of foregoing the market. We know they sent representatives to the showcase for the three Cuban stars earlier this month, but MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli observes that without a general manager or international scouting director currently in place, the Orioles lagged behind teams like the Rays and Marlins in developing relationships on the international front. Presumably, other organizations were also able to highlight other player-friendly features of their systems that the O’s simply do not currently have. No doubt, the Florida clubs also had something of a geographic advantage as well given the notable Cuban-American communities in that portion of the country.
It’s a tad ironic to say to Baltimore, a team long mired behind their big-spending rivals in Boston and New York, that money won’t buy the top players in the market. But the fact remains that, in this case, the O’s had the ability to outspend just about anyone on the market, only to find that said financial firepower just wasn’t enough.
The Baltimore Sun’s Jon Meoli points out that, in and of itself, losing out to a team with deep Cuban roots who spent the last month accumulating enough pool money to compete with Baltimore’s league-leading sum doesn’t even rank on the scale of the organization’s recent disappointments. Still, the Orioles’ longstanding failures and disinterest in developing Latin American players suggests a deleterious operating procedure that’s becoming an unfortunate trademark of the organization.
Conversely, it’s not as if the more than $6MM the Orioles have in international pool money is free money. As The Athletic’s Dan Connolly rightly notes, it’s not outside funding; it’s merely a spending cap as opposed to actual money. What they really lost was an opportunity to exploit a market advantage. It’s no accident that MLB teams routinely empty their spending allocation. Indeed, it used to be common for clubs to blow past their limits for a given season, incurring massive overage penalties and future signing restrictions. (That approach is no longer permitted under the hard-cap system of the current rules regime.)
What’s most confounding about this saga is that Baltimore’s pool of money wasn’t available to them by happenstance: they traded for much of it. The Orioles first shipped reliever Brad Brach to Atlanta for pool money ($250k), then dealt Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to Atlanta in a separate deal — this time for an uninspiring prospect bundle that was theoretically headlined by the whopping sum of pool money ($2.5MM) they also received. Shedding O’Day’s hefty $10MM commitment was unquestionably also a key goal, but that is a rather thin justification for parting with a controllable, youthful pitcher of Gausman’s talent level.
Ghiroli, Meoli and Connolly all touched on a similar sentiment: the optics here are bad for Baltimore, at a minimum. Casting final judgment on the Orioles’ use of their international pool money, at this stage, is premature. The international signing period is not yet done, and the O’s may, theoretically, still have a plan. But in a year when they lost 115 games, bid adieu to their franchise player, and oversaw massive organizational upheaval, the Orioles sure needed a win, and the international market seemed like the place to get it. Now, that avenue carries far less certainty.
Taiwanese slugger Wang Po-Jung will reportedly be posted for MLB teams, though despite his otherworldly production in the Chinese Professional Baseball League, there’s not much reason to think he’s the sort of player that would headline an international class. Perhaps there will be a bonus-restricted amateur unexpectedly posted from Nippon Professional Baseball or the Korea Baseball Organization who gives the Orioles a mulligan to take advantage of their financial firepower, but right now it seems hard to envision them capitalizing on their considerable bonus pool.