28 August 2017

How the Orioles Spent Some of Their International Bonus Allotment

Joe Reisel's Archives

For the past few seasons, major league teams have been limited in the amount of money they can spend on signing young international free agents - at least without being subject to subsequent penalties. Actually, teams can sign as many players as they want for less than 10,000 USD; the limits apply to signing bonuses greater than 10,000. Depending on various circumstances, teams can give bonuses up to their total specified limit. A team that cannot, or does not want to, spend their limit can trade pieces of their limit to other teams, which increases the spending limit for the acquiring team.

It is well known that the Orioles have little interest in spending up to their limit on international signings. This shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone; when General Manager Dan Duquette was the general manager of the Red Sox, he declared that the bonuses given to young Latin American players were too high and that it made better financial sense to scout and sign players from non-traditional countries in Latin America, Europe, and (especially) Asia. He has followed that philosophy with the Orioles.

Because the Orioles will not use their ability to sign international free agents, and because other teams would like to spend more than their initial limit, the Orioles have aggressively traded bonus pool money for other players. The Orioles included international bonus pool amounts in the Jake Arrieta trade (as if Arrieta and Pedro Strop themselves weren't enough for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger.) More bonus pool amounts brought them Chris Lee, who is considered one of the Orioles' better prospects.

The Orioles were able to trade 2017-2018 international signing bonus amounts beginning July 2. On that day, they acquired Matt Wotherspoon, a right-handed pitcher, from the Yankees and Jason Wheeler, a left-handed pitcher, from the Dodgers, each for international bonus amounts. It is, I think, important to realize that actual money isn't being exchanged - it's just permission to spend money. As a result of these trades, the Yankees and Dodgers can spend more money than they were originally allowed and the Oriole can spend less. Wotherspoon and Wheeler were assigned to Norfolk.

Through August 26, Matt Wotherspoon has gone 3-1, 2.28 with Norfolk.. Photo Courtesy Scott Sears/Norfolk Tides
Matt Wotherspoon is representative of a fairly common AAA player - a right-handed relief pitcher without great stuff but is able to get batters out by commanding his pitches and avoiding hard contact. As a full-time relief pitcher, Wotherspoon has had an ERA greater than 3.00 only once - in a ten-inning end-of-year stint in AA Trenton in 2015. There's no reason to think that (1) if he got a chance, he couldn't be an effective low-leverage major league relief pitcher or (2) that he's ever going to get that chance.

Because he's a relief pitcher who joined the Tides on July 2, I haven't seen much of him - 17 batters - but have seen enough to at least not contradict my initial impression. There has been one ball that has been hard-hit off him. He's walked three and struck out five. There have been four ground balls and five fly balls/popups. He's 25. Most likely, he is going to be what he is.

Jason Wheeler pitched three innings for the Minnesota Twins in 2016 Photo Courtesy of Steven Goldburg/Norfolk Tides.
Jason Wheeler is representative of another fairly common AAA player - a left-handed pitcher, usually a starter in the lower levels, who starts by serving as a long relief pitcher. When the inevitable rain-induced doubleheaders or promotion-driven bullpen days occur, this pitcher will get a chance to make a start and, if he pitches well, will be introduced into the starting rotation. Previous examples of this pitcher on the Norfolk Tides are Chris George (2010-2011), Chris Jones (2014-2015), and Andy Oliver.(2016).

Because these pitchers don't have above-average stuff and aren't particularly more effective against left-handed batters, their chances of having a successful major-league career are slim. Although George and Oliver had played in the major leagues before they had evolved into the described role, none of the three ever parlayed their success as lefty swingmen into a major-league appearance. Jason Wheeler is 27 and he's unlikely to earn more than the three major-league innings he got with the 2016 Twins. His role in the Orioles' organization is to help AAA Norfolk get through the year when the big-league team has pitchers on the AAA-Majors shuffle.

It's important to remember that the Orioles gave up nothing tangible to acquire these pitchers (and other players.) They simply gave other teams their right to spend money signing international free agents. Many of the players to whom that money will go will never develop, and get released without ever reaching A-ball, much less AAA. Wotherspoon and Wheeler are AAA players, right now. It's defensible to not spend 4-5 million USD annually signing teenage Latin American talent, and to trade the right to spend the money you wouldn't spend anyway to acquire players already in professional ball.

I will state that I do not agree with the Orioles' current approach to completely ignore the Latin American talent market. I believe they need to invest more in Latin America. But the Orioles' could spend up to 5.75 million USD on international prospects. If I could acquire AAA players for letting other teams spend up to even 1 million USD of my allotment - remember, I'm not giving up actual cash - I probably would.


Pip said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pip said...

Sorry Joe, I posted the wrong comment to this post. I hope you never read it because it was completely irrelevant.