A year ago, the Orioles were somewhat afloat and without a permanent solution in baseball operations or a field staff in place. Last October was consumed by the idea of using the international bonus pool money acquired in the team’s salary-dump trades of Kevin Gausman, Darren O’Day and Brad Brach to the Atlanta Braves on a trio of Cuban stars who came onto the market late.
The pursuits of outfielders Victor Victor Mesa, Victor Mesa Jr. and pitcher Sandy Gastón certainly made sense, considering the Orioles had amassed about $7 million in bonus-pool allotment when most teams had spent all of theirs.
But when the Mesa brothers signed with the Miami Marlins in late October and Gastón with the Tampa Bay Rays in late October, the dream that began in August died a quick death — after a report came out that the Orioles had an agreement with Victor Victor Mesa, sending everyone in the press box scrambling to Google anything about Victor Victor Mesa.
The Orioles were led at the time by a trio of holdovers who are no longer with the organization — interim general manager and farm director Brian Graham, scouting director Gary Rajsich and executive vice president Brady Anderson. They did a ton of homework on the players, made their valuations, and the other teams went over them, though there was some thought they’d be interested in the younger Mesa alone if they didn’t ultimately sign together.
It was viewed by many at the time as a sign that the team’s pledge to devote resources to international signings wasn’t legitimate, a perspective that has since been proved wrong. What’s happened the last year hasn’t done much to make it seem as if the Orioles’ whiff was really that bad.
For starters, the Orioles did invest in the international market in a major way. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias brought in Koby Perez to lead international scouting efforts, and supplemented the $1 million-plus spent on bonuses by the previous regime with $1 million of their own before a new signing period opened July 2 and proved to be the Orioles’ largest class ever.
And considering how the Orioles took three center fielders with their first eight picks in the draft, and had a pretty heavy outfield emphasis atop their first international class of this administration, it’s clear they wanted to address that at the lower levels.
The outfield depth in the high minors and majors, with Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Yusniel Diaz, DJ Stewart, Ryan McKenna and now Ryan Mountcastle all vying for time, is already quite crowded.
Victor Victor Mesa, however, had 10 extra-base hits while batting .235 with a .537 OPS over High-A and Double-A in his age-22 season. Victor Mesa Jr., at age 18, played in the Gulf Coast League and hit a very fine .284 with a .764 OPS. They could have helped improve the overall talent base, but not having that money to trade and help the major league team get by could have made the Orioles a far worse team to watch than they already were in 2019.
Gastón’s development will be a bit of a longer lead. He was up to 97 mph in the Gulf Coast League for the Rays, but walked a batter per inning (27 in 27) while striking out 31 with a 6.00 ERA.
With a few years of work in the Latin American markets, the new front office’s international plan could include some of these seven-figure signings, the type that vault to the top of prospect lists and draw headlines better than big batches of players do.
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If the Mesa sweepstakes happened under these circumstances, though, it certainly wouldn’t be the boom-or-bust reaction that took hold last fall.