Once they were at the forefront, veritable explorers of international baseball. The Dodgers led the way, and every other team scrambled to catch up.
They had the first baseball camp in the Dominican Republic, they signed the first player from South Korea, Chan Ho Park, they signed the first Japanese major leaguer, Hideo Nomo.
And then under owner Frank McCourt, the Dodgers disappeared from the international scene.
Last year, of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams, Baseball America estimated the Dodgers came in dead last in international signing bonuses. While No.1 Texas spent $12.83 million, the No. 30 Dodgers spent an embarrassingly low $177,000. The White Sox came in second to last and spent $778,500.
It wasn’t a one-time revelation, either. Baseball America said the Dodgers also came in last in 2010 international spending at $314,000.
Which means that in the last two years, the Dodgers spent less than a $500,000 on signing international players. More than a quarter of all major-leaguers, and nearly half of current minor-leaguers, were signed as international free agents.
The Dodgers’ new owners said they were going to change the team’s approach and invigorate the farm system and scouting, both domestically and internationally.
Thursday they may have started in that direction.
In a news release, the Dodgers said they were in the process of signing 20 players from Latin America. The release did not name the players and not all the signings apparently are official yet, but they do come ahead of the new international signing limits placed on teams under the new collective bargaining agreement.
If these are legitimate prospects, this is a key and encouraging move by the new owners.
They have to recognize there is a lot of catching up to do, and with the looming limits, there is only so much short-term making-up to be had.
“Besides the recent signings, with the support from ownership, we are fully prepared to be strong participants in the upcoming signing period in Latin America,” General Manager Ned Colletti said in a statement. “With our renewed resources in that area and the upcoming first-year player draft next month, we look forward to adding many talented young players to the Dodger family.”
In the domestic June 4 draft, the Dodgers have the No.18 and 51 picks.
Internationally, however, is where the Dodgers were once kings, but reduced in recent years to mere paupers. Thursday could signal they’re seriously back in the game. Anyway, you hope.