As the Orioles continue to get tossed around by their American League East rivals, it's easy to cite disparities in player salaries as the main culprit. After all, the Red Sox and Yankees spend at least $80 million more than the Orioles annually. However, during a recent series against the Yankees, Buck Showalter looked past the large salary gaps and found another startling difference between the division's haves and have-nots.
"I know [payrolls are] what everyone looks at when you're talking about this division," Showalter told Bill Madden of The New York Daily News. "But the real disparity, the disparity that's hurting baseball, is the disparity that no one sees -- the amount of money being spent on scouting and player development."
While Showalter didn't mention it specifically, one of the oft-cited critiques of the Orioles organization is its inability to develop Latin American players. Former Baltimore Sun reporter Ken Rosenthal, now with FOX Sports, touched on this subject in spring training, calling the Orioles "practically a zero internationally."
The organization received another painful reminder of its woefully small international presence when former general manager Pat Gillick was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame a few weeks ago. Gillick was renowned for making inroads into Latin America, and was even heralded for the work he did with the Orioles.
In spring training leading up to the 1997 season, The Sun's Buster Olney wrote that Latin American players accounted for almost one-third of the Orioles' 40-man roster. Due to the high number of Spanish-speaking players on Davey Johnson's squad, Olney jokingly suggested that the organization look into teaching Spanish to its English-speaking players. Dan Connolly wrote in 2009 that the Orioles were trying to make strides internationally.
Currently, only seven players on the Orioles' 40-man roster hail from Latin America: Luis Lebron, Alfredo Símon, Pedro Viola, Pedro Florimon Jr., Cesar Izturis, Felix Pie and Vladimir Guerrero. And of those seven, only two (Lebron and Florimon Jr.) were originally signed by the Orioles.
Today, Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail is reportedly wary of signing Latin American prospects. "Amateur scouting has changed." MacPhail told Rosenthal. "It's not, 'Go out and find them in the hinterlands where they're playing baseball' anymore. It's a lot of workouts at complexes with [talent brokers]."
It should be noted that while the Orioles have strayed from international signings, they have made inroads in Latin America in recent years. Infielder Jonathan Schoop, a native of Curacao, was selected to July's Future's Game, and last year, the Orioles gave 16-year-old third baseman Hector Veloz a $300,000 signing bonus, a franchise record for a Dominican player.
However, both of these prospects have a way to go before validating their investments.
It doesn't take a genius to see that the Orioles brass can't spend money like their counterparts in Boston and New York. Neither can executives in Tampa, however with a payroll regularly among the lowest in the league (just north of $41 million in 2011, half that of the Orioles), the Rays have managed to finish ahead of the Orioles in the AL East each of the past three seasons. Even the Blue Jays, not exactly a model of stability recently, have made a significant international push under GM Alex Anthopoulos.
MacPhail's reluctance to establish a presence in Latin America places more pressure on the draft. But with more than a few former first-rounders still middling in the minors, MacPhail might want to consider expanding his horizons.
Robbie Levin, a student at Northwestern University, is an intern at The Baltimore Sun. Our fine interns will contribute guest posts to Baltimore Sports Blitz this summer. Contact Levin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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