Foreign concept for O's

April 06, 2008|By DAN CONNOLLY

Observations, opinions and musings from this week in major league baseball.

Major League Baseball released its annual report on foreign-born big leaguers, and the Orioles have an above-average number born outside the U.S. on their 25-man roster and disabled list.

But don't be fooled, oh critics of the Orioles' woeful international program. Plunge into the numbers and it's evident the Orioles are among the worst in mining foreign talent.

Of the 855 major league players on Opening Day rosters and the DL, 239 are foreign born (28 percent, down from 29 percent in 2007). That means each of the 30 teams has an average of eight foreign players active or disabled.

The Orioles have 10 - including eight active. So give the club some credit there.

But the organization developed just two of those: starting pitchers Daniel Cabrera and Adam Loewen. And Loewen, who is Canadian, needs an asterisk because he was chosen in the amateur draft and not signed internationally.

The news gets more embarrassing, Orioles fans.

Of the 239 foreign-born players, only three originally came from the Orioles' system. And two - Loewen and Seattle Mariners pitcher Erik Bedard - were draft-eligible Canadians.

That means Cabrera is the only one of the 88 Dominican-born major leaguers to be signed and developed by the Orioles. None of the 52 Venezuelans was - in fact, the Orioles have never discovered a Venezuelan who has gotten above Double-A.

Some of the foreigners the Orioles have developed over the years - Ed Rogers, Armando Benitez, Sidney Ponson - did not make a 2008 Opening Day major league roster.

Is there any wonder why Orioles president Andy MacPhail has made revamping the international program a priority? It should have been done years ago, but at least it's headed in the right direction. Now, the Orioles need to open the checkbook and transition from scouting international players to actually signing and developing them.

Another observation: Perhaps the most interesting thing in MLB's report is that Japan ranks fifth in supplying players to the big leagues, behind the United States, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.

It wasn't long ago when the Japanese were considered second-class ballplayers who couldn't succeed on the big stage. No longer. Now 16 Japanese players are in the majors, employed by 13 of the 30 teams.

The Orioles, incidentally, are one of seven American League clubs without a Japanese player.

Money stuff

Official salaries are also out for 2008, and the Orioles' payroll sits at $67.2 million. That figure doesn't include the $5.7 million owed to outfielder Jay Gibbons, who was cut a week ago. Nor does it include the $1 million or so being paid to former manager Sam Perlozzo and ex-pitching coach Leo Mazzone.

Still, it's the Orioles' lowest payroll since 2002 and a major drop-off from last season's $93.6 million to start the season.

They went from the top 10 in 2007 to the bottom 10 in 2008. Only the Oakland Athletics and Florida Marlins had a more significant drop-off.

Ailing Pedro

The New York Mets were a chic pick to win the National League based on their bloated, $138 million payroll and the offseason acquisition of starter Johan Santana. But the Mets are counting on plenty of older players with injury histories.

The big question was how long brittle Pedro Martinez would last before going on the DL. Congratulations if you predicted 3 1/3 innings. Martinez strained a hamstring in his first start and is out for at least a month.

Add in injuries to Moises Alou (hernia) and Orlando Hernandez (foot surgery), and that's $26.5 million on the DL by the season's first week. Is that a good harbinger?

Great line

Think you were frustrated by the protracted negotiations between the Orioles and Mariners this winter that eventually resulted in the Bedard trade? Well, Seattle manager John McLaren was just as helpless. In describing the lengthy process, McLaren got political, citing the 2000 presidential election.

"We worked on his deal a long time," he said. "I thought the Florida recount was long. But the deal took longer than the Florida recount."

Nice start, kid

Johnny Cueto, the Cincinnati Reds' ballyhooed 22-year-old rookie right-hander, debuted Thursday against the Arizona Diamondbacks and did OK. He allowed one hit, a solo homer by Justin Upton, in seven innings. Cueto was perfect through the first five innings, the first time that has been done in a debut in 11 years. And he struck out 10, becoming the first Red since 1900 to accomplish that in a debut.

Yeah, the kid might have a future in this game.

Economic balance?

The New York Yankees' estimated payroll is $209 million for 2008. Some perspective: The Yankees will spend $2 million more than the four teams with the lowest payrolls in the AL - the Tampa Bay Rays, the A's, the Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Royals - combined.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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