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Are the Orioles spending enough in the international free-agent market?

Ken Rosenthal has the Orioles back under fire, this time over their international signings- or lack thereof. Is this a cause for concern for a contending team? It depends on your outlook.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

In case you missed it, the Orioles farm system fell under more national criticism this week. Once again at the center of it all, to no one’s surprise, was Fox Sports reporter/Orioles hater Ken Rosenthal who published an article on Tuesday bluntly titled “Baltimore Orioles need to boost their farm system before it’s too late.”

While it’s definitely not the most flattering piece out there in regards to the O’s, it’s definitely worth the read and goes into detail about the Orioles lack of spending on international amateurs. The most damning quote in the article reads as follows:

The O’s spent just $260,000 total on five international players during the 2016 calendar year, BA said. The Royals, at $1.5 million, were the next lowest spender outside of the Red Sox, who are banned from adding international players during the current signing period.

Rosenthal’s criticism certainly isn’t out of the blue. It comes following a week where the Orioles traded away more than $1 million in international signing money to acquire Paul Fry and Damien Magnifico from the Mariners and Brewers, respectively.

The moves prompted Baseball America to also question the Orioles tactics in international free agency. They published this similar article last Thursday as part of their international review for the Orioles.

One thing is clear: the Orioles don’t spend a lot of money on international free agents. But, is that necessarily a problem? There are arguments to be had on both sides.

Glass half-full

First things first, these criticisms are aimed at an organization that has won more games than anyone in the AL since 2012. It’s hard not to take them with a grain of salt when the Orioles have been so successful as of late under the same management. While Rosenthal argues that the Orioles need to focus on building their farm system, this team is certainly in win-now mode.

If the Orioles’ window to compete is thought to be closing in the next few seasons, why shouldn’t they try to use their international bonus slots to acquire prospects that could affect the team in the near-term? Let’s take a look at some of the more recent international signings of note that the Orioles have made.

2012/2013- Yi-Hsiang Lin, Carlos Rodriguez, Yariel Vargas

2013/2014- Ofelky Peralta, Jomar Reyes

2014/2015- Miguel Gonzalez (not the former O’s starter), Richard Barcendas

2015/2016- Alex Wells

Although Peralta, Reyes, and Wells all find themselves among the Orioles Top-30 prospects according to, none are currently above the Single-A level. Unless your team is spending millions on amateurs and blowing through their bonus pools, that’s the reality when it comes to international amateurs. MLB clubs are buying teenage lottery tickets full of potential and hoping they pan out five or six years down the line.

When it comes to the Orioles’ window to compete, they may not have five or six years to wait. There is definitely some merit in trading international bonus pool slots for prospects that are much closer to the major leagues.

Chris Lee, acquired from the Astros for two international bonus slots in 2015, is currently the Orioles’ seventh-ranked prospect and may find himself on the big league club sooner rather than later with a strong season at Bowie. Damien Magnifico, acquired last week, already has MLB experience.

Compared to the investment of time required for international amateurs, it’s easy to see why the Orioles would choose to acquire more established prospects, with albeit less upside, instead.

No optimistic viewpoint would be complete without also mentioning the bias behind Ken Rosenthal’s articles with it comes to the Orioles. While Baltimore sports fans may frequently make unsubstantiated claims that the media has a conspiracy against the city’s franchises, Ken Rosenthal literally tweeted it.

So yeah, maybe his article can be taken with some reservations.

Glass half-empty

While Rosenthal’s arguments are easy to throw out, it’s tougher to argue with Baseball America who, by all accounts, has never made any public statements regarding it’s hatred for Baltimore, the Orioles, or Maryland in general. They make a solid point too. The Orioles have an already weak farm system that could use an influx of international talent that often comes at bargain prices. Our farm system is in no situation to be purposefully losing out on prospects.

While the Orioles’ recent international signings may not look great on paper, the league is flooded with stars that entered the MLB via the international free agency route. Guys like Jose Altuve, Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, Odubel Herrera, Jean Segura, and our very own Jonathan Schoop all signed for reasonable sums of money as teenagers. However, instead of taking a chance on finding a star, the Orioles seem more content on finding fringe MLB players.

One place in particular where it may come back to haunt the birds is the trade market. The Orioles will likely once again find themselves as buyers at the deadline and in desperate need of expendable chips offer other teams. Dan Duquette’s diamonds in the rough (I’m imagining this is his fictional band’s name), while perhaps effective for the Orioles, do not offer the same trade value to other teams as young, international prospects.

Maybe if we had more prospects like Jomar Reyes or Ofelky Peralta in the system, it wouldn’t hurt when we lose guys like Zach Davies or Ariel Miranda. We will certainly need players like them in the coming years as the contracts of Tillman, Machado, Jones, and Britton come to an end.

Real Talk

I have no problems with the Orioles trading their international bonus pool slots, especially when they were unlikely to use them in the first place. At least they are getting something out of them, and to be realistic, the acquired prospects are crapshoots on both sides anyway. With Chris Lee and Jomar Reyes both listed among the Orioles’ top-10 prospects, they seem to have struck enough of a balance to make their system work for them.

That being said, when the Orioles do inevitably enter a rebuilding mode, I would hope and expect the Orioles international strategy to change. Sacrificing future prospects for your big league club in the near-term only works when you’re competing.

Luckily for us fans, while Ken Rosenthal may want to see the Orioles start a rebuild, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Maybe if the O’s are out of it at the break, but otherwise, look for this team to be buyers at the trade deadline once again. It may further deplete the farm, but you need to take your shots when you have them. Flags fly forever.

Where do you stand? Do you think the Orioles should be more conscious of a pending rebuild when they’re competing now in 2017? Is it about time we simply trust Dan Duquette to do his thing and wait patiently to see the results of his moves before overreacting? Drop into the comments and let us know.