On the occasion of yet another chunk of international signing bonus slots being traded by the Orioles, executive vice president Dan Duquette explained the rationale behind the team's frequent deals involving them.
This year’s market opened on July 2, and about a month out, the Orioles have made six trades that included international bonus money.
Duquette's trade of international bonus slots to the New York Yankees for 23-year-old right-hander Yefry Ramírez was the team's ninth trade involving international signing bonus slots going out this year.
While the rules changed for this year thanks to a new collective bargaining agreement, the thought process has remained static in terms of what the Orioles plan to do with whatever international bonus allotment the league allows them to spend.
Because of an ownership edict not to spend the money on young international amateur players, they move it out to try and still get value on it instead.
"We've been utilizing the international slot money to help us acquire some pitching to help our team," Duquette said. "A lot of the other clubs will invest it in pitching to help us in the future or players to help us in the future. We use it to try to strengthen our pitching staff now while we have a window of opportunity with the position players we have here. That's just utilizing a trade resource to impact your team now rather than three, four, five years down the road."
Under the previous collective bargaining agreement, teams had four large signing bonus slots that accounted for their bonus pool to use on international amateur signings, with a steep penalty for overages.
The Orioles frequently dealt those slots, and used all four this year in trades for pitcher Damien Magnifico from the Milwaukee Brewers on April 13, left-hander Paul Fry from the Seattle Mariners on April 14 and left-hander Alex Katz on May 20.
Magnifico was briefly with Triple-A Norfolk before he was used to acquire minor league right-hander Jordan Kipper in a trade. Kipper had a 5.07 ERA in Norfolk before being moved to Double-A Bowie in late July. Fry had six straight outings without an earned run to bring his ERA down to 5.21 on the season before landing on the disabled list. Katz has a good slider and is at High-A Frederick, where he entered the weekend with a 4.36 ERA.
Once the rules changed, and teams were subjected to a hard cap but could trade away any amount they choose, the Orioles ramped it up with six trades in a shade over four weeks.
It began with Matt Wotherspoon from the New York Yankees and Jason Wheeler from the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were acquired on July 2. Wotherspoon entered the weekend with 20 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings with a 2.92 ERA for Triple-A Norfolk, and has caught manager Buck Showalter's attention. Wheeler entered Friday with a 4.67 ERA for the Tides.
Later, the Orioles acquired shortstop Milton Ramos from the New York Mets for bonus slots. Ramos, a former third-round draft pick, batted .277/.302/.349 in his first 21 games with Low-A Delmarva. Another pitcher acquired this month, Aaron Myers, has allowed one run over his first four appearances for the Shorebirds after coming over from the Milwaukee Brewers.
And then, as the deadline approached, they sent international bonus slots to the Philadelphia Phillies along with outfielder Hyun Soo Kim and minor leaguer Garrett Cleavinger for right-hander Jeremy Hellickson. And Monday, Ramírez came for international money.
Duquette was asked Monday if he would have used the money even if they weren't trading it. The Orioles have had a top-down aversion to amateurs on the international market over the past few years.
"It's a hard cap, so you can either use the money to sign amateur free agents or you can trade it to the clubs who will use it at that level," Duquette said. "You can either use it or trade it. We use it, some of it, and then we've been trading some of it."
The international players they have spent highly on haven't been the teenagers from Latin America that so much of the game's international bonus slots go to. On that front, the highest-profile signing of late was third baseman Jomar Reyes, who received $350,000 in 2014, and right-hander Ofelky Peralta, who signed for $325,000 in 2013.
Reyes and Peralta are both at High-A Frederick currently.
Otherwise, the Orioles have spent on Cubans such as outfielder Henry Urrutia, outfielder-turned-pitcher Dariel Álvarez and right-hander Lazaro Levya. Their best international prospect currently is Australian left-hander Alexander Wells, who didn't allow a run in July. Wells, 20, took a 2.29 ERA into Friday for Low-A Delmarva and signed for $300,000.
They've also spent internationally in Asia on the likes of pitchers Wei-Yin Chen and Suk-Min Yoon, and Kim.
It hasn't all been unsuccessful — Wells was the organization's Pitcher of the Month in July. But as the rest of the league puts an emphasis on using the international market to find large groups of possible talent to bring into their farm systems each year, the Orioles are marching along their own path.