BOCA RATON, Fla. - The list of ways to acquire talent has dwindled in recent years as teams lock up their star position players to long-term deals earlier in their careers.
Free agency, as new Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has said, is not the best place to invest when looking to acquire surplus value. Drafting effectively on a consistent basis is crucial to sustained success.
But so is funneling talent into your farm system through the international market.
"I think it's critical to any operation," Klentak said on Wednesday, the final full day of the GM meetings.
"The way that baseball has evolved over time and the way that the collective bargaining agreement has been set up, it really minimizes the areas where we can add talent. One of the areas we can do that is via the international market."
By virtue of losing 99 games and finishing with baseball's worst record last season, the rebuilding Phillies will be afforded the largest signing bonus pool to work with in the next international signing period that begins July 2.
"I don't like to operate in absolutes, but it is paramount that we take advantage of situations like that to bring talent into our system," Klentak said. "Understanding that when you're talking about kids at that age, from the Dominican Republic, from Venezuela, it's going to take a long time for a lot of those players to get there. But we still have to do that.
"We have to create waves of players that will feed this team three, four, five, six, 10 years down the line because we don't know where we'll be three, four five, six, 10 years down the line. We need to make sure we've got steady waves of players coming, and that's true of the draft. It's really true of the few areas that are still available to us to bring in players."
Traditionally, the Phillies' international strategy has been, in essence, quantity over quality, casting a wide net and hoping to hit on several players rather than spending a large sum of money on one big-ticket 16-year-old. The Phillies originally signed Carlos Ruiz out of Panama for a mere $8,000. Years later, they signed Maikel Franco out of the Dominican Republic for $100,000, a modest sum for a potential all-star third baseman.
But the Phillies have also more recently shown a willingness to spend on the bigger names in the international market, for better or worse. The three-year, $12 million contract they gave Cuban righthander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who was 26 when he signed in August 2013, was a complete misfire. The book has yet to be written on power-hitting first baseman/outfielder Jhailyn Ortiz, the 16-year-old Dominican the Phillies enlisted with a $4.2 million signing bonus this past July.
Klentak said as a general rule he believes in the idea of volume when investing in the international market. But that's not to say he wouldn't go after a big-ticket player.
"Nobody in this industry is so smart that they know exactly who's going to be good, who's not going to be good and when they're going to develop and who's going to get hurt. That's just the reality of baseball," he said.
"So I do believe in the approach of adding as many talented players as you possibly can. But having said that, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of spending a large percentage of the pool on one player because sometimes the player is just that good."
Klentak said he already has spent "a lot of time" with Sal Agostinelli, the Phillies' international scouting director and the man behind the signings of Ruiz, Franco and Freddy Galvis, to name a few. ("Sal's easy to find," Klentak joked. "He's loud.") Assistant GM Benny Looper also will continue to be involved in the organization's international scouting operations.
"I think our international group is in very good shape," Klentak said. "I feel very comfortable moving forward with that group."