In the end, it’s not surprising that heavily hyped Cuban outfielder Victor Victor Mesa and his brother, Victor Mesa Jr., will join the Miami Marlins. They were scheduled to be introduced by the Marlins on Monday morning.
Even though the Orioles began pursuit of Mesa with a monetary advantage, it was unrealistic to think that they were going to sign the brothers.
When the Orioles traded Brad Brach, Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to Atlanta ahead of the non-waiver trading deadline, they added $2.75 million in international signing bonus money.
They had significantly more money than the Marlins, but even if the Orioles hadn’t traded $750,000 of it to Philadelphia for Jack Zoellner, a 23-year-old third baseman who has been stuck in the Gulf Coast League for the past two seasons, Miami probably still would have found a way to sign Victor Victor Mesa.
After Mesa held an open workout at Marlins Stadium, Miami moved aggressively to add to their offer, trading two minor leaguers to Cincinnati and reliever Kyle Barraclough to Washington for enough money to barely edge the Orioles’ $6,563,500.
Plus, the Orioles had several disadvantages. Miami is home to not only a large Cuban population, but many major leaguers from the island nation live there.
Because the Orioles have not been an aggressive player in the Latin American market for some years and entered the market late this year, there was no scouting infrastructure and experience with how it works.
Former executive vice president Dan Duquette, who led the effort to sign Mesa, was let go by the Orioles just before the Oct. 5 showcase.
The disadvantages should be overcome by next July 2, when the new signing period for international prospects under 25 begins.
By the time Duquette announced the Orioles’ re-entry into the international market when Manny Machado was traded to the Dodgers on July 18, most of the best prospects had already been signed.
The Orioles have signed four prospects: shortstop Moises Ramirez ($225,000) and outfielders Isaac Bellony ($220,000); Damien Valdez ($200,000) and J’Rudjeanon Isenia ($125,000); and could sign Sandy Gaston, a 16-year-old right-handed pitcher, who was also on display with the Mesas.
Gaston is MLB.com’s 18th-ranked prospect.
Victor Victor Mesa’s signing bonus is a reported $5 million, and his brother will receive $1 million, figures the Orioles could have met or even exceeded.
That leaves the Orioles with lots of money to spend before the June 15 deadline. They could spend it on Gaston and lower-level prospects from Latin America, wait and see if there are Asian prospects under 25 they’d like to bid on this fall or trade some of the money for players.
What the Orioles can’t do is keep the money and use it next year. By then, they’ll have a new baseball management hierarchy in place — possibly one with substantial experience in Latin America.
The Orioles did get a Cuban prospect, Yusniel Diaz, in the Machado deal. Diaz was signed by the Dodgers for $15.5 million in December 2015. That was before new restrictions were negotiated in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that limits teams to pre-set amounts of pool money for international players.
The 22-year-old Diaz had a rough beginning at Double-A Bowie, hitting just .239 with five home runs and 15 RBIs. He did have a .329 on-base percentage.
Before he was traded, Diaz homered twice in July’s Futures Game at Nationals Park and hit .314 with a .428 OBP for Tulsa, the Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate.
Diaz is one of several Orioles outfield prospects who’ll be inherited by the team that will replace Duquette and manager Buck Showalter.
Even though Oriole fans were hoping the team could sign Victor Victor Mesa and his brother, highly touted Cuban prospects have a mixed history of success in the major leagues. It will be fascinating to watch Mesa’s progress.
The more important story to watch is the team’s pursuit of someone to head baseball operations, which has been a secretive process. With the World Series beginning Tuesday, it’s best if the team has someone in place when free agency begins, just after the Series ends.