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Orioles pursuing Cuban outfielder Victor Victor Mesa

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The Orioles have been famous for not investing internationally in recent years. They’re now said to be pursuing this year’s top international prospect, Victor Victor Mesa. Are times changing?

World Baseball Classic - Pool E - Game 4 - Cuba v Japan
The photo search tells me this is Victor Victor Mesa in action for Cuba during the last World Baseball Classic.
Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images

When the Orioles traded Manny Machado last week, Dan Duquette memorably gave remarks in which he promised increased investment in international scouting. Based on recent history, no one believed him. On Friday, The Athletic Detroit’s Emily Waldon reported that the Orioles are close to striking a deal with Cuban outfielder Victor Victor Mesa. What if the Orioles are actually serious?

Closer to home, MASN’s Roch Kubatko agreed that the O’s “definitely have interest” in Mesa, who just turned 22 last week. However, there’s more to sort out than just tossing some money at the player because when it comes to young players leaving Cuba and coming to America things fall under “it’s complicated,” and not in the sense of vague Facebook relationship status but in the sense of actual complications.

One big reason that no one has signed Mesa yet is that Major League Baseball has not yet declared him a free agent. Mesa, along with his brother, Victor Mesa Jr., left Cuba earlier this year and as a result are not free to sign with any team that has bonus pool money available at any time.

It could be that the rumor has popped up today because Waldon’s source knows that MLB is getting close to approving Victor Victor Mesa and the Orioles will then pounce on signing him. It could be that the Orioles are reaching a technically illegal but nonetheless widespread verbal agreement about the contours of a deal that can be reached once Mesa is declared free to sign by MLB.

The Marlins are also said to be making a “huge push” for Mesa, according to MASN’s Byron Kerr, who reports on the Nationals side. So another team could yet swoop in and make this brief, strange feeling of excitement that the O’s might spend internationally mean nothing.

If you are like me and have never spent much time thinking about Victor Victor Mesa before today because you never believed the Orioles might sign a well-regarded international talent, you will be delighted to know that Mesa was regarded as the #1 prospect in this July 2 class by both Fangraphs and Baseball America.

As an older player than the 16-year-olds who typically sign out of the Dominican Republic or elsewhere in the Caribbean, Mesa has enough of a track record in Cuban professional baseball to be seen as a more certain star who is closer to MLB.

The fact that the Orioles might have a chance to sign him is something of a happy accident from their usual reticence to sign these players. The simple reality is you cannot suddenly walk into the DR with a suitcase full of money in late July and sign anyone who matters. Those guys were snapped up on July 2, the first day of the signing period, due to having reached those illegal verbal agreements months or more ago.

So, every other team except for MLB has essentially spent its money already. And here are the Orioles, with a pool of $5.5 million available that’s sitting around doing nothing. The recent trades of Machado and Zach Britton have even cleared up several million dollars that could be turned around and given to a talented player like Mesa, if he becomes available and is interested in signing with this team.

A couple of exciting sentences from Fangraphs scouting report of Mesa:

He’s a plus runner and defender in center with plus bat speed, some pull power and good hand-eye. His body and style of play have been compared to Carlos Gomez and a more explosive Albert Almora.

Fangraphs projects that Mesa will command a signing bonus of $3.5 million. It is a lot of money to spend on something of an unknown quantity. On the other hand, the Orioles spent $3 million on Chris Tillman this season when everyone who watched Tillman last year knew he would be bad.

If you can afford to waste money on Tillman, you can afford to take a chance on Victor Victor Mesa. Hopefully, once Mesa is cleared to sign by MLB, the Orioles are still waiting around with a big check.