Mike Elias on International Scouting: “You Have to Go All In”

In the new issue of PressBox, Stan “The Fan” Charles sat down with Mike Elias for an interview on a range of topics, from Elias’ background, to his feelings on analytics, his thoughts on manager Brandon Hyde, and more.

One answer from Elias that caught my attention was in response to a question about international scouting.

SC: The Orioles have never dedicated many resources to international scouting. You clearly have a very different view of that. Can you talk a little bit about that and what international scouting director Koby Perez can mean to that effort? 

ME: You have to go all in. It’s a market that basically produces one-third of the major league talent now, so to ignore it is not an option. You’re just putting yourself at a huge disadvantage if you do that. It’s a market that has gotten more efficient, safer, less rife with corruption … because [of] a lot of the effort that Major League Baseball has done over the last few years, a lot more involvement from American scouts and a lot more video and drug testing and things like that and better development. It’s a different market than it was 20 years ago. We’re jumping in. It was very important for me to find a proven, respected international scouting director, and I was very lucky that I was able to do so with Koby. He’s done a great job with the Indians and Phillies.

Music to the ears of Oriole fans, right? We’ve watched over the last decade-plus as our team has gotten lapped by not just divisional competitors, but by pretty much everyone in baseball when it comes to finding, signing, and developing players from overseas, especially from the very fertile baseball ground of Latin America.

It’s obvious that this is something Elias understands innately, and it seems, to this fan at least, that Birdland can rest assured that the new GM isn’t just blowing smoke. He wouldn’t have left his job in Houston – not for THIS job – if he wasn’t confident that the had the full backing of ownership in bringing their international operation into the 21st century. In fact, Charles basically got Elias to say as much earlier in the interview:

SC: Did the topic of you having a free hand, relatively speaking, did that come up? Was that important to you to know that when it came to baseball decisions, you had some autonomy, understanding that ownership plays a role in this?

ME: It’s more about the correct role of both parties. I don’t think there’s any general manager that can bankrupt the team if he feels like running out and signing $300 million worth of players. But you also don’t want things foisted on the general manager from the owner’s box. So we had discussions along those lines. It was normal stuff. Obviously, I wouldn’t have taken the leap from where I was to come here if I didn’t feel comfortable with what we discussed.

“But wait a minute,” I can hear some of you saying. “Didn’t the Orioles just trade AWAY more international slot money? Seems very Duquettey!”

In a different interview, last with with Jon Meoli of The Baltimore Sun, Elias explained those moves.

There was so much bonus pool money accumulated this summer, is it just at the point now where that has value and you guys need to get value for it however you can?

First of all, the slots that we have been trading are for what is called the 2018-2019 signing period. It begins on July 2, 2018, and it ends on June 15, 2019. The way that the market works is it’s similar to college recruiting to some degree, where a lot of the legwork and preparation for signing players for this period happens years in advance of July 2, 2018. Once that date passes in and of itself, I would wager that 90 percent of the meaningful international talent will sign on or near that date.

Once that date is passed, the amount and quality of the players that are available changes dramatically, and it’s to such a point that a team that would try to spend the entirety of its pool well past that date, especially starting when I got into my position in November, it’s extremely unlikely that that would be money well spent. So, in terms of having a full-blown signing period for 2018, that ship has really sailed a long time ago. We’re making the best use we can of the funds we have available, some of it by trading for other pieces, but also Koby and his staff are filling out our Dominican Summer League rosters with higher quantity but lower-dollar international signs. But there’s no way to do that and get up to a full pool of five-plus million [dollars] or whatever it is.

Additionally, even for 2019, the availability for players has long diminished. Now, I very much expect that we will have a more robust 2019 class in terms of having some high-dollar signees on or after July 2, 2019, but even still, I do not feel we will have full access to that class in the way that an administration might if it’s working two or three years in advance like other teams are. So I think once we start getting into 2020, 2021, we’re gong to see a very, kind of standard-looking international class, and I think our 2019 class is going to be great, but this will take some time to ramp up, in terms of normal deployment of a bonus pool. But I feel really good about the direction we’re heading in there, and it’s really just a matter of time in that sense.

In the meantime, we’re left to do whatever we can with the 2018 money, and part of that is going to be utilizing these slugs — and this isn’t actual cash, it’s the right to spend money that’s being traded — and by and large, the teams that are trading for this money right now are utilizing it to sign some pitchers and filling out their DSL rosters, because they’ve already capped out.”

Sorry to make the block quote so large, but I know many of you don’t subscribe to The Sun (and may be out of your free reads for this month). I’d urge you to go read that entire interview with Meoli if you can (and also to subscribe to the Sun – support local journalism!)

It’s absolutely understandable that you, fellow Orioles fan, are a bit confused about how the international signing periods, slot money, etc. work. This is all new to us!

It seems safe to say, finally, that things are in good hands.

This entry was posted in Bird Feed, Blog View, Featured by Derek Arnold. Bookmark the permalink.

About Derek Arnold

Derek Arnold
RSR/ESR Senior Editor. Derek is originally from and a current resident of Pasadena, MD. He’s a graduate of UMBC and has been a lifelong Baltimore sports fan. In 2007 he founded B’More Birds’ Nest, where he wrote about the Ravens and Orioles before joining RSR in 2012. Derek tells anyone...more

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