With more possible money for the Orioles to spend in the sweepstakes for the Cuban trio of Victor Victor Mesa, Victor Mesa Jr., and Sandy Gastón than any other team, that they've come away with none should be considered a marker in where they're coming from as they look to rebuild the organization from the ground up.
After the brothers Mesa agreed to a deal with the Miami Marlins on Saturday and signed Monday for a combined $6.25 million ($5.25 million for Victor Victor Mesa and $1 million for Victor Mesa Jr., according to MLB.com), multiple outlets including MLB.com have reported that right-hander Gastón has a $2.6 million agreement with the Tampa Bay Rays.
That means the Orioles' estimated bonus pool of over $6 million, built up in a pair of trades with the Atlanta Braves for Brad Brach, Kevin Gausman, and Darren O'Day, wasn't enough to entice the three remaining jewels in an international market the Orioles entered well after much of this year's July 2 crop of talent had already made agreements to sign when eligible. It’s money the organization can spend on lesser players still on the market, but may now go back toward other aspects of the organization such as staffing — a priority as they look to rebuild a baseball infrastructure.
Missing out on the players is not the indictment of the organization some might believe. They could have outspent teams, and chose not to. It really says nothing about where the Orioles are going. This is still about all the organizational faults that led them to this point.
At worst, their offers weren't sufficient despite the ability to at least match, if not outspend, a Marlins club that spent the month of October acquiring bonus pool money to get on the Orioles' level. Even with the lifestyle differences between Florida and Baltimore, money could have been an equalizer.
But lost in all this is the reality of the organization's standing both around the game and internationally. Domestically, their search to replace executive vice president Dan Duquette with a new baseball operations chief from outside the organization rolls on apace, and they appear no nearer a winner in that race than they were when Duquette was dismissed on Oct. 3. Baseball's news embargo during the World Series means the search could stretch into November.
With Brian Graham serving as interim general manager and vice president Brady Anderson still in the mix, it wasn't as if the Orioles weren't represented at the table in these negotiations.
Perhaps more damning, they just didn't have a lot to sell. They've largely ignored the international market over the last decade because of an ownership strategy, and when they did make signings from Latin America, it was for experienced Cuban players.
Under the old regime, Cuban outfielders Dariel Álvarez and Henry Urrutia didn't get chances to establish themselves in the majors despite plenty of minor league success and strong track records in their homelands. The last pitcher signed from Latin America by the Orioles who made his major league debut with the club was Cuban left-hander Ariel Miranda, who made one relief appearance with the Orioles in July 2016 before being traded that month and thriving in 2017 with the Seattle Mariners. But Miranda was 26 when he signed. The last true amateur pitcher to make the Orioles after they signed him as an international free agent from Latin America was Radhames Liz in 2007 — over a decade ago.
By contrast, the Rays have now signed six of the top 50 international prospects as ranked by Baseball America. The Marlins had to have known that, money being equal, the Mesas would prefer to play there, so they went out and amassed a bonus pool to match the Orioles and signed them.
The locale and the Cuban community were probably a fine tiebreaker. But the Marlins also had a vision to sell the players and their representatives on a team that had a plan in place for the future. The Orioles' only plan at this point is that they're going to have a plan. Competing with fellow Cuban Yusniel Díaz to play center field at Camden Yards probably wasn't appealing, either.
Getting back into the international markets will likely be a mandate. The new regime will get a massive signing bonus pool in the 2019 draft to work with. They can probably still get into the international class for next July 2, though these things are in the works now and it may still be another year before their presence can be felt there.
But Orioles fans shouldn’t believe that signing a couple of international free agents with strong marketing teams was going to be more than a minor step in a major overhaul. All this does is leave the Orioles right where they started.