Early in the offseason, Oriole fans obsessed over the team’s chances to sign Cuban outfielders Victor Victor Mesa, his brother, Victor Jr., and pitcher Sandy Gaston.
The Mesas signed with the Miami Marlins, and Gaston with the Tampa Bay Rays, even though the Orioles had about $6 million in international signing bonus money.
Things have changed dramatically since then. Mike Elias has taken over as the Orioles’ general manager and last month hired Koby Perez (shown above) to head international scouting.
One thing hasn’t changed. The Orioles still have tons of money, far more than the other 29 teams to sign international players before the June 15 deadline.
As Perez pointed out in his introductory conference call, nearly all of the best Latin American players sign soon after they’re allowed to on July 2. Still, it was possible that there would be an exception or two.
One of those appears to be Yolbert Sanchez, a 21-year-old Cuban shortstop who could sign with major league clubs as of Wednesday.
Elias and Perez have gone to the Dominican Republic to scout Sanchez, who plays a position of need for the Orioles.
While the Orioles could theoretically overpay and sign Sanchez, they’re being careful with their bidding and will offer him what they think he’s worth, not what they can afford.
Victor Victor Mesa signed with the Marlins for a reported $5.25 million, and his brother pocketed $1 million. Gaston’s bonus was reported at $2.61 million.
Victor Victor Mesa’s bonus was equivalent to that of the seventh overall pick in the amateur draft while his brother was valued as a low second-round choice. Gaston’s money is about what the 25th pick of the first round would get.
Scouts haven’t valued Sanchez as high as either Victor Victor or Gaston.
Even though the Orioles would love to have a major league-ready shortstop, they drafted Cadyn Grenier with the 37th overall pick last June. He played at Low-A Delmarva last season and will probably begin at High-A Frederick this season.
Grenier had a rocky debut for the Shorebirds, and isn’t likely to play in the majors this season.
A report from FanGraphs indicated that a club has promised Sanchez a $2 million bonus if he’ll wait until July to sign with them. That sort of romancing is common among clubs and international players.
It’s what the Orioles had lacked until Elias and Perez, who has years of experience in Latin America, came along.
It takes years for a club to establish itself as a player in the international market, and for the Oriole’s brass to be personally scouting Sanchez shows not only their interest in him, but their interest in being a serious international player.
Grenier signed for $1.8 million, and it will be interesting to see if the Orioles offer more than that for Sanchez.
Sanchez hit .260 with seven RBIs in 32 games for the Cuban National team last season and made five errors in 27 games at shortstop.
Elias reiterated at FanFest that he wouldn’t spend international money just to spend it. Although the advantage the Orioles hold disappears in four months, the team can still spend the money to bolster other parts of their operation.
The Orioles aren’t given that money by Major League Baseball. They’re given the right to spend that money, but come July 2, they won’t have much of an advantage unless they trade for additional funds as Elias’ predecessor, Dan Duquette, did in the Kevin Gausman deal.
Elias is serious about the Orioles becoming an international player. Although it might be nice for them to show they can sign an upper-echelon prospect such as Sanchez, their mere presence demonstrates that they’re not going away.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB
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