Each year, July 2 is the beginning of the period of time that major league organizations can sign international amateur free agents. It is an exciting time for many organizations that spend months, if not years, scouting players around the world in order to mine every last depth of the available talent pool. That is, unless you are the Orioles organization.
To date, the Orioles have signed nobody on the international amateur market. Last year they signed five total, with the highest signing bonus given at $150,000. They spent a total of $260,000. The thrifty Rays spent $3,000,000 and they were under restrictions to spend money due to going over their spending pool limits in 2016. The Orioles international presence is a farce.
Instead, the Orioles have traded away their international bonus money, in the form of slots, for a handful of no-name players over the last couple of years. This year it was Matt Wotherspoon from the Yankees and Jason Wheeler from the Dodgers. Both are Triple-A relievers with little to no upside and little to no future.
The best player the Orioles have acquired in recent years with their international bonus pool money is not an amateur free agent, but rather Chris Lee who they traded a slot for back in 2015. Lee currently sports a 5.84 ERA in the Norfolk rotation.
Around the AL East it is a very different story. To date, the Rays have signed the next fewest players with only two since July 2nd, however one is the top international prospect according to Baseball America. That player, Wander Franco, signed with Tampa Bay for $3.825 million.
Next up is the Yankees who have signed five total players, including three of the top 50 prospects. The Red Sox have signed seven total players, also including three of the top 50. Let’s not forget the Jays who have signed sixteen total international amateur free agents, including five of the top fifty prospects, according to Baseball America’s signing tracker.
You may be saying that the international market is risky. That signing 16-year-olds to big money deals is fraught with risk, and you would be right. However, consider that on the MLB.com top 100 prospect list seven of the top ten prospects were international free agents and four of those prospects were signed on July 2. The market is risky, but it has very high upside.
You may also want to consider the fact that the Orioles lone All-Star Game representative in 2017 is Jonathan Schoop. He was signed by the Orioles in 2008 on the international free agent market.
Yet, the Orioles as an organization have decided that this market, which is full of marquee talent, is simply not worth the time, effort, or money to spend on. This has undoubtedly cost them as an organization.
They refuse to even spend within their most basic limits on the market. They would not even have to play in the top of the market, but rather sign a couple of $150,000 lottery tickets. That’s a pittance in baseball money. This is not money that at the end of the day you would see on the field otherwise. Their total bonus pool this go around is $5.75 million, also known as about half a season of Ubaldo Jimenez starts.
The question that always comes back is why? Ignoring the market is clearly a problem and the most a reporter will say is that the organization feels that it is not a good investment. Since this has gone on over multiple general managers it is clearly a directive from ownership.
Peter Angelos often gets tagged with being cheap even though he rolls out payrolls that are above average in a market that is way below average in terms of size. So maybe this is him being truly cheap, or maybe he cannot see the value in giving away millions to 16-year-olds, or maybe he wants to avoid a process that is probably best described as corrupt. No one can truly know because Angelos rarely talks and the reporting on the subject is slim to none.
Regardless of the reason or reasons why the Orioles do not spend on the international amateur market, it has cost them. These are some of the best available players in the world and the Orioles have taken themselves out of the running for reasons that are foolish.
The teams around the Orioles are stockpiling talent and getting the best chance to reap some rewards. Meanwhile, the Orioles are floundering and ignoring a major part of getting better. It’s not a good formula for a baseball team moving forward.