Phils dip into international market and sign Cuban pitcher

Posted: July 28, 2013

DETROIT - Before Friday, the most money the Phillies had ever spent to sign an international player was $1.2 million in 2001 for a Korean righthander named Seung Lee. He never reached the majors, and the scout who recommended the pitcher was fired a few years later.

That is just one reason why the Phillies' reported signing of Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez late Friday night sent shockwaves through the industry. The Phillies will pay Gonzalez a possible $59 million over six years, the richest deal ever awarded to an international player, according to a Yahoo! Sports report.

The contract is guaranteed at $48 million over six years. There is an option for a seventh year at $11 million, Yahoo! reported.

The franchise has never been a player on the international market until now. Scouts believe Gonzalez, 26, is a major-league ready arm. Yahoo! reported the Phillies out-bid the Boston Red Sox for his services. The Phillies would not confirm the acquisition.

It is a risk the Phillies have never before taken. There is, of course, danger in every single long-term contract, no matter the player's nationality. Sal Agostinelli, the team's longtime international scouting director, is a trusted employee within the front office. He has produced major-league players with a notoriously tight budget. His fingerprints are all over this signing.

Gonzalez could pitch in the majors before 2013 ends. A rival team's international scouting director said Gonzalez legitimately threw in the mid-90s during recent outings.

"A lot of guys questioned the quality of the secondary stuff," that scouting director said. "They don't doubt that he is a big-leaguer at all. He can slide into a rotation somewhere. They just don't know what will strike people out, whether the splitter or slider is good enough to be that pitch."

Gonzalez could join a rotation of Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick in 2014. Roy Halladay is a free agent and could return on an incentive-laden deal. John Lannan is arbitration eligible and could be re-signed for a small sum. The team's top pitching prospect, Jesse Biddle, has a 3.51 ERA at double-A Reading.

The signing of Gonzalez demonstrates a change in the team's thinking. Traditional free agency is an increasingly difficult arena for success because teams are locking up their players long before they reach that point. The market is saturated with mediocrity and teams willing to pay fistfuls of cash for aging players.

In late June, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. was asked why the team was not active on the international market, which has yielded talent such as Yu Darvish, Yeonis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig.

"We looked at them and had interesting conversations with their people," Amaro said. "But (other teams) decided it was worth the risk to go and throw big-time money at guys. You hope those things work out."

Gonzalez's money dwarfs the $42 million for Puig, paid by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Gonzalez was not subject to Major League Baseball's new rules for international bonuses because he is older than 23 and played professionally in Cuba. He defected to Mexico in February.


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