Like Chris Davis watching a fastball down the middle for strike three, the Orioles have struck out again. Despite having an available international amateur bonus pool that was millions of dollars higher than any other team had left, the O’s have failed to sign the last remaining prospect of note, teenage Cuban righty Sandy Gaston. Jorge Ebro of the Spanish language paper El Nuevo Herald was the first to report on the signing.
According to Ebro, Gaston has reached an agreement with the Rays that will pay him a signing bonus of $2.6 million. If you are scratching your heads at how the Orioles, who have an available bonus pool of something like $6.5 million, did not manage to sign this player, yes. That is something that should be a source of frustration for all Orioles fans.
Combined with the Orioles failure to make a splash in signing Victor Victor Mesa and his brother Victor Mesa Jr., it is a tremendous disappointment. The Mesa brothers signed with the Marlins instead.
Perhaps it is true that the Miami franchise always had an edge regarding the brothers because of the significant existing cultural connection to Cuba in Miami. No one can fault the Orioles for the fact that Baltimore is a lot farther away from Cuba than Miami and has many fewer Cubans in and around town.
Where they must be faulted is their failure to offer the money that would at least have a chance of getting a deal done. MASN’s Roch Kubatko hinted on Tuesday morning that the Orioles weren’t “in the same neighborhood” as the $5.25 million signing bonus that Victor Victor Mesa received from Miami.
There is no excuse for having the most money and not offering the most money. There are no players of note left to sign now that the Mesas and Gaston have signed elsewhere. The Orioles have a huge pile of cash they could spend and no one to spend it on. International bonus pool money resets next June before the next signing period begins next July.
Nearly every other prospect who mattered had a deal announced immediately on July 2, when this year’s signing period began. It appears that the Orioles tried to show up with a suitcase full of money in late July, weeks after almost everyone who mattered had already signed. It is the kind of thing that should get people in the front office fired, and perhaps it effectively did, since Dan Duquette is not being retained in the role.
Fangraphs prospect writer Kiley McDaniel on the Rays reaching a deal with Gaston:
This is well above the market for 16 year old RHPs, but Gaston has arguably the best now stuff on the planet of that group. He’s also by far the best player left on the market. This is about what Miami was rumored to give Gaston on July 2 before backing off, ending up with Mesa. https://t.co/iwMHAprevW— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) October 23, 2018
Sherman and others are referring to Gaston as being 17, although his listed birthdate on MLB.com is 12/20/2001, which would mean he’s not 17 quite yet. It does mean that everyone reading this is old.
The reference to Miami “backing off” from Gaston in July appears to be an oblique reference to Gaston having failed a PED test. Whatever did or didn’t happen with a failed test, McDaniel and his colleague Eric Longenhagen also noted the general risk associated with teenage pitchers after scouting him in a showcase he recently did along with the Mesas:
Gaston worked 94-97 with similar secondary stuff, but with better feel, particularly in his first inning. There’s still a reliever look to him due to his delivery and mature physicality, but at age 16, so much will change that you can’t project that with certainty at this point, and Gaston has one of the most talented pure arms in the world at his age. ... The track record of flame-throwing teenagers is not good. We consider Gaston to be a seven-figure talent but think many teams probably have him valued a bit lower than that because of the risk associated with his demographic.
The Orioles in their particular situation are stupid for failing to sign Gaston, though it’s worth keeping in mind that looking at the player as being risky is plenty reasonable. It’s so easy for a pitcher to get hurt. Sometimes they just don’t develop the way you think they will. Whoever comes in to take charge of the Orioles might fix the busted pitching development, but even good teams that develop prospects well have top guys flame out.
On the other hand, the Orioles flushed plenty of money down the toilet in 2018, starting with Chris Tillman, whose 2018 salary was greater than this signing bonus given to Gaston. Eventually, if they’re really going to do this rebuilding thing, they’re going to need to find the nerve to give millions to relative unknown quantities along with giving out tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to dozens of other unknown quantities who might some day develop into something.
It’s not like Gaston would have immediately fixed everything that’s wrong with the organization. Even if he turns into the next Pedro Martinez or whatever, that’s at least four years away. There is a lot of other stuff that the Orioles need to do in the meantime to improve themselves. Hopefully they will be more serious about those other efforts than they were about trying to sign Gaston.
Whatever happened here, the Orioles missed out and that sucks. The next person in charge will have that much tougher of a job getting this franchise going somewhere good again.