Desperately lagging in the world baseball market, the Orioles are attempting to step up their international efforts, and this weekend might serve as a primary example of that change in philosophy.
An Orioles contingent — to include manager Buck Showalter, new executive director of international recruiting Fred Ferreira, international operations director David Stockstill and new bullpen coach and Dominican Republic native Bill Castro — will attend a private workout Saturday morning in the Dominican by 26-year-old outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, a Cuban defector.
Stockstill is expected to attend Cespedes' workout Friday at a public session. In addition, it's possible the group will work out 19-year-old outfielder Jorge Soler, a less-polished slugger who also defected from Cuba, on Saturday before Showalter returns to the states.
Roughly 10 other teams reportedly have shown interest in Cespedes, a right-handed-hitting center fielder with power and speed who started for Cuba's 2009 World Baseball Classic and national teams. Cespedes cannot yet be declared a free agent, but that is expected to happen this offseason.
If it does, Cespedes could land a contract that at least rivals the six-year, $30.25 million deal the Cincinnati Reds gave Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman. There is some conjecture that Cespedes' contract might exceed $50 million if a bidding war ensues. Teams such as the Detroit Tigers, Washington Nationals and New York Yankees apparently have interest.
"I don't know what the market is for his service, but we are going to be more active in the international market," Dan Duquette, the Orioles' executive vice president for baseball operations, said during a news briefing at his suite at the Hilton Anatole on Wednesday.
Duquette wouldn't specifically talk about the club's interest in Cespedes but has said since taking over the job last month that building the international program would be a priority. Since then, he has hired Ferreira, one of baseball's most heralded and successful international scouts, while keeping Stockstill in place.
"We're just trying to be active on as many markets as we can be active in," Duquette said. "We said we were going to add resources to the international market, and the addition of Fred Ferreira is that."
As part of a renewed international focus, Duquette has actively and aggressively pursued South Korean right-hander Chong Tae-Hyon, and there reportedly is a two-year deal worth more than $3 million on the table for the submariner.
But landing Cespedes would be a much more significant grab on several levels. It likely would be by far the largest amateur signing in Orioles history and would show an immediate change in direction from former club president Andy MacPhail's philosophy.
MacPhail preferred to spend on the domestic amateur draft instead of doling out huge bonuses to international amateurs. In 2009, the Orioles were one of the finalists for Dominican shortstop Miguel Angel Sano, who eventually received $3.15 million from the Minnesota Twins. The Orioles reportedly did not want to go beyond $3 million for his services.
Agreeing to a contract with Cespedes or Soler also would be interesting considering the Orioles once had a policy not to sign Cuban defectors because it could hamper the goodwill that was achieved in 1999 when the club played a home-and-away series with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's national team.
Fidel Castro has since stepped down as leader of Cuba's Communist Party, and the Orioles seemingly abandoned their directive in 2006 when they signed former Cuban defector and major league veteran reliever Danys Baez to a three-year deal.
Signing Cespedes likely will come down to whether the Orioles think he is worth what could be an exorbitant price, especially considering his strongest positions are center and right field, which are manned by two of the Orioles' best players, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis.
If Cespedes is major league ready, as some suggest, the Orioles would likely look at him as a left fielder, at least initially.