Ben Badler is a reporter and writer for Baseball America. He covers the minor leagues but also focuses heavily on the international signings front and is among the best at covering that market.
Last week I talked with him at length about the Orioles and their international efforts. Here is that interview.
Ben, what is your take on the Orioles international efforts?
"They seem to be very conservative in the international market, which is understandable given all of the issues involved in trying to sign Latin American talent. There has been a lot of age fraud and steroid use with some players caught and some not caught.
"I think that given the mess that can sometimes be the process in signing some of these international players and the escalating signing bonuses, which are frankly out of hand this year, I can understand their hesitancy to dive into that market.
"At the same time, when you have that little international talent in your farm system it is hard to maximize the value of your home-grown talent you bring to the major league level. They are certainly one of the most conservative teams when it comes to scouting and signing and putting resources into acquiring talent internationally."
Andy MacPhail said he is hesitant to pay a $4 million bonus to a player he has not seen play in games. Do a lot of these guys not play in games?
"I think it is up to the teams to some degree, how often they can see players in games. If you are a team that is willing to spend money in Latin America like the Yankees or Mariners, the trainers and agents are more than willing most of the time to bring the players to your academy.
"The better teams run these kids through game situations and have them face live pitching or hitters as many times as possible. If you have a kid in your academy, you can see a player up to 30 days in your academy. You can get a good feel for that player.
"There are also leagues like the Dominican Prospect League, the Dominican International League and some smaller leagues as well where they play games once or twice a week and sometimes more than that. You can see players in game situations more than you have in the past. If they say they can't see players in games, that is not entirely true.
"There are some players who are handled rather judiciously by their handlers or trainers. Usually that is because the agent knows that player has a glaring hole or deficiency, so those players can be difficult to see in games. That is a red flag to maybe avoid that player. You don't see these guys play in as many games as you would say a college junior that plays in the SEC. So there is a higher level of risk."
Andy MacPhail said just because the Orioles don't offer big bonuses doesn't mean they are not spending money and said he believes the Orioles were around 17th last year in international spending. He also cited the fact the O's have some young international pitchers showing increased velocity at lower levels of the minors as proof of the O's efforts in that market. What is your take on that?
"We actually ran the numbers and it includes some players whose contracts have not been approved yet. We have the Orioles at an estimated $1.18 million for all their international spending last year which would have put them 25th. They did sign (Hector) Veloz last year, that was for $300,000.
"I don't think they are a middle of the pack team, they are toward the bottom in international spending. That is what our estimates show. We have the Nationals, Giants, Angels, the White Sox and the Dodgers below them.
"If he talked about not spending on a $3 or $4 million dollar international guy, I agree with him there. I am not sure there is anyone playing on this market worth $3 million but there are three guys that got that much money or more. There are teams that feel the same; they will not spend that much money on a high-risk free agent.
"But saying they have guys in the GCL throwing hard, every team has guys like that. Eduardo Rodriguez, a lefty out of Venezuela, that was a nice signing. He pitched well in the Dominican Summer League last year and we ranked him one of the top 20 prospects in that league then.
"The Orioles had just three international prospects (Jonathan Schoop, Pedro Florimon and Luis Lebron) in our listing of their top 30 prospects and that tied them for last in all of baseball. I don't think they are in the middle of the pack, they are still towards the bottom."
So if their track record is not good, in your opinion, what could they do to be better internationally short of signing that big fish?
"It's tricky. It is not a situation where you just dive in and make a statement signing. Usually those just make a statement that you are throwing a lot of money away. I agree that they should not be spending $3 or $4 million on an international free agent, but if you are just counting on signing a bunch of guys for $20,000 to $80,000 it is hard to compete with other teams that are spending more.
"Even some mid range clubs with budgets of $2 to $3 million dollars, if you are willing to give your scouts more resources, you can compete for some lower six figure guys.
"The Rockies have one of the best international programs, yet they always rank in the middle of spending. Their scouts do a real good job of finding talent and work all year round. You can find talent if you work hard all year at it. You can find some good players that didn't sign on July 2."
Do you know how the Orioles fare compared to other clubs with their amount of scouts and resources in the Dominican and how does their complex stack up?
"I am not sure how large their scouting staff is down there, so I don't want to speculate about that. I am not sure how many scouts they have there."
In summing up, you have them ranked low, you said you don't fault them for not handing out a huge bonus, but they could make improvements without giving someone $3 million?
"That is fair to say. Some smart teams are avoiding the $4 million signing, but to avoid the market, well, they are avoiding the market, but they need to become more of a middle of the pack team.
"The numbers are right there, we have them near the bottom of the league in the number of international prospects they have signed. Being able to commit more resources to Latin American would eventually benefit their major league club."
Coming tomorrow in this space: We talk about the Orioles minor leagues with manager Buck Showalter.
For more on this:
Click here to see Baseball America's list of international spending by each team in 2010.
Click here as Ben takes a closer, in-depth look at international signings in the majors.