Oriole fans are looking for a win this offseason. There was hope they might be in running for Cuban brothers Victor Victor Mesa and Victor Mesa Jr., who signed with the Miami Marlins on Monday.
A day later, 16-year-old Cuban right-hander Sandy Gaston, who was part of a showcase at Marlins Stadium on Oct. 5 with the Mesas, reached an agreement with the Tampa Bay Rays for a reported $2.61 million.
Now, the Orioles are left with $6.5 million in international bonus signing money, which can only be used on foreign players under 25 and not subject to the June First-Year Player Draft. They must use the money by June 15 because it doesn’t carry over.
For years, the Orioles eschewed the Mesas and Gastons, and re-entered the market when they decided to trade Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 18.
By that time, most of the top players, except for the Mesas and Gaston, were already signed. The Orioles did sign four players for bonuses between $125,000 and $225,000. That’s a typical bonus for players drafted in rounds 7-11.
Victor Victor Mesa signed for a reported $5 million. That’s a high first-round pick bonus. Gaston’s $2.61 million is what a late first-rounder can get.
The Orioles accumulated $2.75 million from the Atlanta Braves just ahead of the July non-waiver trade deadline when they sent Brad Brach for $250,000 and Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day for $2.5 million in international signing bonus money.
Trading O’Day was important. His salary for the last two months of 2018 and for 2019 was $12 million. That’s a lot of money for a setup man who pitched just 20 games before season-ending hamstring surgery this season, and huge money for a player who could help a contender but is of little use to a rebuilding team.
But it looks as if Gausman was only moved by former executive vice president Dan Duquette so that O’Day’s salary could be offloaded.
Gausman was attractive to the Braves because he has a live arm and wouldn’t be a free agent until the end of the 2020 season.
While the returns for Machado, Zach Britton and Jonathan Schoop contain some potentially useful players, the four who the Orioles received from the Braves got off to rocky starts with their new organization.
Pitcher Evan Phillips had an awful 18.56 ERA in five games. Pitcher Bruce Zimmermann (5.06 in five starts) and catcher Matt Cumberland (.190 average in 15 games) both struggled for Double-A Bowie. Infielder Jean Carlos Encarnacion (.218 in 26 games for Low-A Delmarva) also was a disappointment.
Gausman sparkled with Atlanta, going 5-3 with a 2.87 in 10 starts.
In retrospect, Duquette’s strategy of loading up looks naïve, at best. The Orioles hadn’t been in the international market for some time, and with a late start, he figured the Orioles could simply overwhelm the Marlins with their war chest despite their lack of infrastructure.
Instead, Duquette frittered away $750,000 of his stash on Jack Zoellner, who the Orioles acquired from the Phillies. Combine that $750,000 with the additional money accumulated by the aggressive Marlins, and the Orioles financial edge evaporated.
Miami had the location advantage, and with the Mesas gone, the pressure was on the Orioles to sign Gaston.
Now that they haven’t, they can try to sign some lower-level prospects and hope that at least one of the players they received from the Braves turns out to be a credible major leaguer.
It’s fair to wonder if the time was right to trade Gausman. If they hadn’t moved him in July, they could have had a somewhat respectable rotation that could have better withstood September injuries to Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb.
Without Cashner, Cobb and Gausman, former manager Buck Showalter was left with a patchwork final-month rotation. Several times that month Showalter resorted to overmatched relievers that he hoped could simply get him through nine innings because winning those games seemed so unlikely.
The Orioles could have tried to trade Gausman over the winter for a better haul since he still has two more seasons before free agency.
A return to the international market is long overdue, but the late start this year combined with the years of inactivity made the Orioles’ task difficult, even with their financial position. That won’t be the case in the future.
If Gausman continues to impress with the Braves, and the players he brought don’t, Oriole fans will add this trade to the long list of forgettable deals of recent years.
Showalter back for a day
Showalter and his wife, Angela, have long supported KidsPeace, an organization that encourages foster care. They’ll return to Baltimore for Saturday’s “Trick or Trot” Run/Walk at Oriole Park, an event they’ve sponsored.