July 3, 2012 at 1:00 PM
When the new international signing period began on Monday, July 2, the Red Sox stepped fully into a new era following changes in their own front office and changes with Major League Baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. The club’s internal changes began with the promotion of Ben Cherington to general manager on October 25, 2011. After taking the reins, Cherington’s lone major shake-up within the front office occurred when the organization dismissed Director of International Scouting Craig Shipley, who had held the position for nine years and replaced him with then-Director of Latin Operations Eddie Romero, Jr.
Speaking at Spring Training in March, Romero said that the organization had been making only minor changes in how it does business.“We are continuing to evaluate our own scouts to make sure they are getting out,” said Romero. “But from an evaluation standpoint, not much has changed except there may be some minor changes with protocols and relationships. We have had some success with some of the ways things were run prior, but hopefully these minor changes will make us a little better at what we do.
“With the help of Todd Claus and our new addition of Rolando Pino, who came to us from the Pirates organization, we have been very active going out and seeing players now and will continue to be very active and aggressive come the July 2nd market.”
To help beef up the international scouting department, the Red Sox hired new scouts in Mexico and other countries in Central America, along with one each in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. As mentioned, the Sox hired Rolando Pino as the organization’s new international cross checker.
“He’s been with us for six months and he has been great in the role so far,” Romero said of Pino. “It’s a very important position, as it allows us to spread out and cover more territories.”
Romero added that the Red Sox plan to put more effort into scouting countries such as Nicaragua, Colombia, Panama, and Mexico along with the islands of Aruba and Curacao. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, seen by some scouts as the club’s top prospect, hails from the island of Aruba, proving the worth of scouting such areas although they are not considered hotbeds of young baseball talent.
With the change from the Australian-born Shipley to Puerto Rican Romero, it may have been natural to speculate that the Sox might move away from scouting the Far East and Australian markets as often as they have in the past. However, Romero denied that that would be the case.
“We are going to be aggressive in all markets,” said Romero. “We went out and agreed [to terms] with a left-handed pitcher out of Australia[, Daniel McGrath] early on, and that is indicative of how aggressive we want to be. Jon Deeble, our coordinator in the Pacific Rim, has done an outstanding job of finding and signing these players in that region of the world. We don’t feel there is any reason for us to scale back at all. We have the resources to be aggressive in all those markets in the Pacific Rim area and we will continue to do so.”
Recently, the Red Sox signed shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin of Taiwan for $2.05 million. The Lin signing likely represents the last big-money international amateur signing for the Red Sox, thanks to the new $2.9-million international amateur bonus cap, which goes into effect with the start of the new international signing period on July 2. Teams will be able to go over the cap if they are willing to incur a tax on the percentage spent above the limit, as well as potential bonus money lost for next year’s signing period.
“The overall numbers have been a little inflated because of special cases like the Cuban market and players like Daisuke Matsuzaka,” said Romero.“This new cap will put more emphasis on your area scouts and getting those guys prepared and making sure you have the areas covered, but I am not worried about its potential effect. In the past we have not given those huge bonuses to the July 2nd players, but as an organization we will be active and go after the guys we think are the top players in the market.”
Romero maintains that the Red Sox will remain aggressive throughout the world, including on players who may raise red flags due to background issues. The organization’s signing of right-hander Simon Mercedes, which was first reported back in March but is still unofficial pending background investigations, was said by some to mark a change in philosophy under Romero, as Mercedes, 20, had tried to sign with the Giants in early 2011 as a 16-year-old named Jeffrey Tapia and was suspended from signing for one year after a background investigation. Romero insists this marks not a change in philosophy, but an occasion in which the club felt that the factors involved lined up such that they could sign the player.
“We have always maintained an aggressive approach with guys that had red flags concerning their background, especially their age and identity,” said Romero.“In a lot of those cases in the past, there were other issues involved that prevented us from signing those players, or our evaluation adjusted, or the money got out of control to where we felt the player was not worth signing.
“It’s ultimately about getting the player and signing him and getting him in a Red Sox uniform. What people have to understand is that these players come from such poverty that they are willing to do anything in order to get out of that poverty. Most of the time, it is the agents that are changing the paperwork on these players and they are just going along with it. Simon [Mercedes] was a prime example of this. He has had some trouble with the investigations in the past, but we remained on him. I give a ton of credit to our scout, Manny Nanita, who stayed on top of the situation, stayed in touch with his representatives and once he became eligible to sign, we got a good look at him and ended up negotiating to get it done.”
Although the owners and players agreed to the international bonus cap in the CBA, the owners had pushed unsuccessfully for a full-fledged international draft. Given the possibility that such a draft be instituted in the future, the Red Sox preparing for such an eventuality, another example of the club’s commitment to remaining ahead of the curve in all areas of the game, domestic or international, scouting or otherwise.
“We have already started to take some measures in preparation for that, because we really feel Major League Baseball does want it, and it’s better to be prepared for it when it happens,” said Romero.“A lot of the details about the potential draft have not been released yet, so we are a little bit in the dark on it as well, but we know when the time comes we will be prepared.”
Jonathan Singer is a Digital Correspondent at SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonathan_singer.
Senior Editor Matt Huegel and Executive Editor Chris Hatfield contributed to this story.