Baltimore Orioles: Fringe Players Turning to Fringe Markets
The slew of international contracts for ex-MLB players highlights a restructuring market between fringe players and rebuilding teams, like the Baltimore Orioles, looking for low-risk, high-reward options.
In these last few months, eight former Baltimore Orioles signed contracts for teams not affiliated with the MLB. They chose to continue their careers either in the NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball Organization) in Japan or the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) in South Korea.
For guys struggling in the MLB, these leagues are intriguing spots to land, including former Oriole Tyler Wilson who is finding success pitching in the KBO for the LG Twins.
Of the players going to the KBO, one is Mike Wright, a former reliever/spot-starter for the Orioles who is joining the NC Dinos. Another relief pitcher/starter, Aaron Brooks will play for the Kia Tigers in 2020. And of course we cannot forget Dan Straily, who signed with the Lotte Giants a few days ago.
Of the ones heading to the NPB, Adam Jones is the most notable, signing a 2-year $8 million contract with the Orix Buffaloes. Also, Gabriel Ynoa will play for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and Luis Gonzalez will play for the Chunichi Dragons, which you can read more about those here. A short-lived major league career for Tayler Scott has led him to sign with the Hiroshima Carp. You may also remember Gerardo Parra (the Orioles gave away Zach Davies for Parra and it ended up as one of Dan Duquette’s worst decisions) when he played 55 games for the Orioles in late-2015 — he inked a deal with the Yomiuri Giants worth $2.5 million.
What do all of these players have in common? They are fringe players trying to survive in a market that says they don’t belong. Whether they are aging poorly, have not lived up to the potential, or want too much money, it’s tough to find a stable contract.
The Orioles are playing it smart by low-balling the contract terms in hopes of signing someone with low risk and a potentially high upside. Of course they aren’t the only team doing this. Around the league, other organizations that are rebuilding or exist in a small market need to scour for cheap players. Teams are making smarter, more calculated decisions, partly thanks to the implementation of new technology and increased data analysis that provides an abundance of information.
Left on the fringes are players looking for a second chance or veterans running on an empty tank. Apart from a few, these players have respectable experience in the bigs and don’t want to hang up their cleats, the only problem is MLB teams aren’t in high demand for these types of guys.
To combat this, players pack their bags for overseas baseball in “fringe markets” because why not? Most international contracts offer a higher salary than the MLB minimum, currently at $555,000 in 2019, per Statista. Playing abroad also provides a chance to succeed in a new competitive environment and if you play well enough, you could return to the MLB.
In fact, going international instead of the MLB route, as Daniel K. Schindler points out in his article, may be more beneficial for top prospects. To elect free agency, a player needs at least six years of service time in the majors and by that time, most players are either at their prime or way past it. This long delay allows teams to control players in some of their most productive years at a fraction of the cost.
When Carter Stewart, then a nineteen-year-old pitcher, was drafted number eight overall and could not reach an agreement with the Braves, he signed with a team in Japan. His bonus with the Braves would have been a few million, but if you do the math, his six-year $7 million contract with the Japanese team is worth much more.
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Not only is the money present outside the MLB, there is a demand for these players. As seen with the 2018-2019 offseason, a stalemate left many unsigned till early spring and into the season including the Alex Cobb deal for the Orioles and Adam Jones with the D-backs.
This isn’t an issue for the international leagues as most players leaving MLB sign quickly with another team, although it is important to note typically there are restrictions for the amount of foreign players present on a roster.
As players continue to make the transition overseas, MLB teams have to adjust, particularly the Orioles who are thriving on fringe players as of late. A pipeline rich in young talent is the best approach to ensure that the next player steps up to contribute at the major league level. Players turning to international markets should not be a major concern, however it is worth addressing the issues that arise between a player and a team regarding contract negotiations.