One topic that Orioles fans often ask me about is the club’s poor record in signing international players. We all know the team has a poor history, for instance, of producing home-grown Dominican talent and that the Orioles have not been among the teams offering big signing bonuses for international talent in recent years.
It is believed that the Orioles spent somewhere around $1.2 million on international bonuses in 2010. The most they gave one player was the $300,000 to infielder Hector Veloz, who now plays for their Dominican Summer League team.
Last week, I had the chance to ask O’s team president Andy MacPhail several questions about the club’s approach in the international market.
Today, in two parts, I present that full interview with my questions and MacPhail’s answers. Here is part one; part two will follow later this afternoon.
Where is the team in regard to its international efforts?
“Apparently I am more comfortable where we are than some. And I think they look at as if, you are not trying if you don’t spend $4 million on an amateur player, be it from the Dominican, Venezuela or whatever.
“I would remind you we found (Alfredo) Simon in Mexico and Koji (Uehara) from Japan and they count for something. I said it out there in front of our season ticket holders. I am not ready to commit $4 million to a player that is just in tryout camps. I don’t think it’s a good place to spend your $4 million. Spend your $4 million elsewhere.
“You could say maybe I’m conservative or time may have passed me by. I’m a product of the old days, whatever, but I just don’t think that’s a good bet.
“I don’t know exactly how this happened, but we are doing something right in the Dominican and Venezuela, because we are getting a spate of (increased) velocity coming out of the Gulf Coast League and the DSL (Dominican Summer League) that is matriculating its way up the system from our arms that we are starting there.
“I expect that is something we will continue to do. I expect signings along those lines this year. We are looking more at arms that grow, get bigger and stronger and their velocity improves.
“A guy like (Seattle’s Michael) Pineda, that is throwing 87 (mph) and then, in about a year or two they are throwing 97 because they are growing and westernized diets or whatever. I think you can expect more of that from us this year.
“It’s me. I am just not big on throwing $4 or $5 million at a guy that has just been at tryout camps that you haven’t had a chance to see in a competitive environment.”
Aren’t there places you do see these guys play, like the Dominican Prospect League?
“Yeah, but some of those guys are not playing in those leagues, the guys you see get those big bonuses. And that should tell you something right there. Some do, some don’t.”
So you are more open to signing a player you saw in a game?
“We are spending the money at the amateur level. Right now, we are just spending it in the Rule 4 (June) draft. We think we have the advantage there of at least seeing them in some competitive situations.
“It’s not like you have to be out of the business as it relates to international. We have players that are matriculating through the system that we have signed recently that are doing well. (Jonathan) Schoop from Curacao and some kids that, all the sudden for whatever reason, are touching the mid-to-upper 90s that we signed recently out of the Dominican.
“The absence of those big signings doesn’t mean an absence of interest or work on our part.”
You have said the O’s are spending more than the other American League East teams from 2007-2010 in the domestic June draft, but in international, where would your spending rank in the division?
“In the division, I don’t know, but I can tell you last year, with international, we were roughly about 17th or so out of 30. The reason we are there (and not higher) is because we are not dropping $4 million on one guy.”
Is that just your choice? Do you have the funds to spend more there and you just choose not to right now?
“Yeah, we could do it if we wanted. You are dealing with a finite list of resources, all teams are. You have to choose where you apply those funds. It is my conscious desire to spend it elsewhere as opposed to $4 million on a guy on July 2 that you haven’t seen in competitive circumstances.”
Didn’t Texas just sign a player for $5 million that maybe they had not seen in a game, just in batting practice?
“They come out July 2, a spate of signings right now. It’s just not in our vocabulary to do that. I don’t doubt that the kid is impressive as hell in batting practice. It might translate, it may not. To me, again, this is a product of being close to 60 years old and growing up in the game the way I did. I just don’t see this as a good idea.”
Isn’t it also true that somewhere around 30 percent of major league rosters are international players? Isn’t that a significant chunk of talent?
“Yeah and we are not excluding ourselves from it. We are excluding ourselves from a very small percentage of that 33 percent. I haven’t done the study, but you ought to do the study of how many of those $4 or $5 million dollar players, how are they doing?”
What about someone saying that while the Orioles have made a strong commitment in the amateur draft, but if they are down in the other international spending, does it cancel it out?
“The other spending compared to our opponents in the division, as it relates to Boston and New York, is in the major league payroll. We are just not going to, neither is Tampa and Toronto, I’m not sure about Toronto for sure down the road, but we are just not going to have a $200 million payroll.”
Would you say your commitment internationally is stronger than you are given credit for?
“The only reasonble way a fan can try to judge the commitment of a particular organization to international scouting is in that dramatic signing bonus. We are not in that business. Doesn’t mean we are out of the business. We just don’t think that is an intelligent application of resources.
“Obviously, those are players viewed, at least by the organizations signing them, as being high-level premium talent. But until I see that it’s a good place to put your money, that the batting average is worthwhile, no.”
Check back here later today for part two of this interview. Feel free to leave any comments or opinions on this story here. I will be taking a day or two off and mostly trying to stay away from a computer, but you can still leave any comments. At some point soon, I promise, I will answer, or try to answer, any questions you leave here.