The Orioles May Have a Good Reason for Not Pursuing Ohtani

The Baltimore Orioles were unlikely to sign Shohei Ohtani. He seems to have had little interest in teams east of the Mississippi — the Chicago Cubs represented the lone exception in that respect — and there was probably little that Peter Angelos, Dan Duquette, and Co. could have done to change that. Still, they had to try, right? That was the opinion held by 27 of the league’s 30 teams, at least. The Orioles weren’t one of them, though.

What was the Orioles’ logic for not pursuing the two-way star? Perhaps not what you’d think.

Huh. That is certainly interesting. While an organization might have (justifiably) felt as though they had little chance with Ohtani, this doesn’t appear to be Baltimore’s main reason for having abstained from courting him. The team’s objections appear to be founded on a greater underlying issue.

This certainly isn’t the first time the Orioles have taken a stance that ran counter to what the baseball industry felt as a whole. Consider this impassioned account from the Wikipedia page of team owner Peter Angelos:

The team was performing like a legitimate pennant contender when the baseball strike began in August 1994. As one of the newest members of the elite group of baseball owners, Angelos was expected to abide by the owners’ decisions quietly without offering any alternatives or using his experience with labor law to negotiate with the players’ union. Angelos did not like that arrangement and he did not particularly care if the world found out.

Angelos’ stance became known almost immediately. When the other owners signed a document cancelling the rest of the 1994 baseball season, including the World Series, Angelos refused to sign it because it blamed the players for the impasse. When the owners formed a committee to negotiate the strike, they did not include Angelos, despite his vast experience as a labor-management negotiator. When talks between the players and the owners stalled in December 1994, and the owners voted to impose a salary cap, Angelos was one of three dissenters to the arrangement. What brought him into the public eye, however, was his refusal to field replacement players should the strike last into the 1995 major league baseball season.

Angelos announced his decision about replacement players early in 1995 and was immediately hailed in blue-collar Baltimore as a champion of the worker. For his part, the maverick owner saw his choice as nothing more than sound business. As his fellow owners mulled what action to take against Angelos—everything from a $250,000 fine for each game missed to forcing the sale of the Orioles—the strike was finally settled in time for regular season play with major leaguers. Angelos had made a statement with his stance, however, and a nation of baseball fans responded. He was deluged with mail from all over the country and treated with near-reverence by Orioles fans.

While the author of this entry appears intent to test the boundaries of Wikipedia’s neutrality requirements, the point still remains: under Angelos, the Orioles have sometimes taken principled stands. Perhaps that’s what was at play here with respect to Ohtani, as well. One is tempted to write off their objections to the posting system as a convenient excuse for not being able to lure the player. In this case, though, there was little risk or expense in doing so.

Of course, that wasn’t necessarily the case in the past. And the Orioles haven’t signed any international players who were posted before:

International Players Posted to MLB
Player Posting date NPB team MLB team
Alejandro Quezada 2-Feb-99 Hiroshima Toyo Carp Cincinnati Reds
Ichiro Suzuki 9-Nov-00 Orix BlueWave Seattle Mariners
Kazuhisa Ishii 3-Jan-02 Yakult Swallows Los Angeles Dodgers
Ramon Ramirez 6-Feb-03 Hiroshima Toyo Carp New York Yankees
Akinori Otsuka 11-Nov-03 Chunichi Dragons San Diego Padres
Norihiro Nakamura 28-Jan-05 Orix Buffaloes Los Angeles Dodgers
Shinji Mori 12-Dec-05 Seibu Lions Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Daisuke Matsuzaka 2-Nov-06 Seibu Lions Boston Red Sox
Akinori Iwamura 6-Nov-06 Tokyo Yakult Swallows Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Kei Igawa 17-Nov-06 Hanshin Tigers New York Yankees
Tsuyoshi Nishioka 17-Nov-10 Chiba Lotte Marines Minnesota Twins
Nori Aoki 12-Dec-11 Tokyo Yakult Swallows Milwaukee Brewers
Yu Darvish 8-Dec-11 Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters Texas Rangers
Masahiro Tanaka 26-Dec-13 Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles New York Yankees
Kenta Maeda 10-Dec-15 Hiroshima Toyo Carp Los Angeles Dodgers
Shohei Ohtani 7-Dec-17 Nippon Ham Fighters Los Angeles Angels
SOURCE: Wikipedia

Perhaps in his capacity as a labor lawyer — Angelos has tried (or was on a legal team that tried) some fairly heavy-duty cases, representing steel and shipyard workers in certain instances, and the state of Maryland against Phillip Morris in another — he is simply morally opposed to the process. Other than doubting they’d have any chance of signing Ohtani, that’s one of the few plausible reasons for not bidding on his services. After all, nearly every team had — or had the opportunity to have — a level playing field in terms of their international bonus pools.

Those international bonus pools don’t make things any less curious. Take a look at how many players were signed by each team on each of the past two July 2nds — the first day that teams are allowed to sign international free agents.

International Players Signed, July 2 of 2016 and 2017
Team 2017 2016 Total Team 2017 2016 Total
SD 34 18 52 PHI 10 7 17
HOU 26 14 40 TEX 10 6 16
WAS 28 5 33 CLE 7 8 15
BOS 31 0 31 COL 10 5 15
LAD 25 5 30 LAA 9 5 14
ATL 14 14 28 MIA 12 2 14
STL 11 15 26 MIN 5 8 13
DET 11 13 24 TB 3 6 9
MIL 15 9 24 CHW 2 6 8
TOR 16 8 24 KC 6 2 8
NYY 12 11 23 SEA 5 3 8
OAK 18 5 23 PIT 3 4 7
SF 11 10 21 CIN 3 2 5
ARI 11 7 18 CHC 4 0 4
NYM 8 10 18 BAL 0 0 0
SOURCE: Baseball America
Thanks to the tireless work of Ben Badler. 2017, 2016
Note: The Red Sox were banned from signing IFA’s in 2016.

Zero and zero. Now, it could just be that the Orioles are cheap. To my knowledge, that has been the prevailing theory. But perhaps the Orioles have just soured on the whole process of signing international players? Looking back before 2016, Badler and the Baseball America team seem to have only publicly cataloged the notable players. In 2015, the Orioles didn’t sign a notable player, where “notable” appears to include any a player who has signed for more than $100,000. In 2014, they signed one, Miguel Gonzalez — though not the Miguel Gonzalez you’re thinking of (he was born in Mexico but was attended high school in the US). In 2013, the top-30 international prospects, according to Badler/BA, were signed by 20 different teams. The Orioles were not one of those teams. Their bonus pool ranked 23rd out of the 30 teams that year.

This doesn’t mean the organization has been totally absent from the international market. A non-exhaustive search reveals that the club signed Hyun-Soo Kim as a free agent in Dec. 2015 and Henry Urrutia in March of 2013. So that’s, at the very least, three players (Gonzalez included) whom the Duquette regime has signed internationally.

One certainly couldn’t blame the Orioles for their stance that the international posting system is an amoral process. The only truly fair process for the players is for every potential professional player to be a true free agent — no draft, no posting system. MLB has taken steps to ensure a process like that never sees the light of the day. And while the Orioles’ stance is particularly interesting, that they are willing to make this stance public is even more so.

But it also strikes me that we may have collectively underestimated the Orioles all along. Generally speaking, it seems as though Peter Angelos is written off as difficult, eccentric, and cheap. His actions are often dismissed out of hand. Perhaps it is true that he is difficult, eccentric, and cheap. But it also may be possible that he’s covered in this dismissive fashion because he doesn’t fit the mold that the other owners want him to fit, and that viewpoint filters down to fans and the media. Perhaps Angelos deserves more benefit of the doubt than he’s been extended in the past. I’m not necessarily convinced of that myself, but I’m certainly willing to keep an open mind about it.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

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Pirates Hurdles
Member
Pirates Hurdles

So, he is sabotaging his own team to make a point to the other owners? How is that admirable?

thestatbook
Member
thestatbook

It’s admirable because you have an owner and front office who buy into a philosophy that the employee is greater than the brand.

The international system is a joke and the Orioles don’t want to participate in it. I commend them for that.

CamdenWarehouse
Member
Member
CamdenWarehouse

If you’re not a fan of the team, I guess you can commend them for it. As a fan who wants to see them win, I can’t.

Kyle H
Member
Kyle H

This passive condoning of companies screwing over everything in their drive towards profit, just because you slightly benefit is parallel to the invisible hand of public investors that drives the Walmarts of the world to justify their actions. I say this as a fellow O’s fan. But the continual drive for stock prices and wins over ethics is disheartening

Yehoshua Friedman
Member
Yehoshua Friedman

If Angelos believes in justice for players, let him pay his low-minor-league players minimum wage pro-rated over 12 months a year. Then I’ll believe he is really ethical about international players.

Baller McCheese
Member
Member
Baller McCheese

Doing the Right thing because it’s Right, even if it doesn’t benefit you, is exactly what admirable is.

HandsomeBoyModel
Member
HandsomeBoyModel

So how much does he pay the beer and hot dog vendors?

thestatbook
Member
thestatbook

Probably a lot closer to the actual value of beer and hot dog vendors than amateur FAs get.

Pirates Hurdles
Member
Pirates Hurdles

Downvote all you like, but this moral high ground argument in professional sports is asinine. If Angelos wants change he can make coherent arguments to other owners, sway influence and make something happen. What he is doing now is putting his team at a competitive disadvantage while doing nothing meaningful.

Joey Butts
Member
Joey Butts

And I suppose that when you saw Braveheart, you thought William Wallace was a chump who did nothing meaningful, because he died without ‘making something happen’.

Art Fay
Member
Art Fay

When i see Braveheart now I think this is just Mel Gibson porn. This isn’t greatness. This is pure vanity. I used to love braveheart as a kid but it’s terrible.

chuckb
Member
Member
chuckb

1. Taking a stand for something you believe in is meaningful even if no one follows.
2. That same logic can be applied to any business owner or corporation who refuses to do what its competitors are doing due to principle. They’re willing to give up a few bucks for the sake of their principles. Those who don’t like it can sell that stock and buy another or they can respect their ideals. O’s fans essentially have a similar choice to make.
3. Why a Pirates fan would get so angry about this is beyond me.