Padres Editorial: Where are the International Free Agents?

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A.J. Preller was lauded as an expert on the international baseball front. When the Padres were looking for their new GM in 2014, his expertise on foreign players was one of the major selling points Preller brought to the table. The Padres were going to become major players on the international front, scooping up the best players from Asia, the Caribbean, South America, and anywhere else where they hit a horsehide-covered ball with a carved ash bat.

Now, setting up an effective worldwide baseball scouting operation is a long game. Finding promising 16-to-18 year olds who will develop into major league starters is a little like playing the lottery. But you’ve got to buy a ticket to win, and Preller’s Padres have started actively pursuing international talent this year. This is a welcome change from the past, when the Padres were among the least actives teams in the international markets. As recently as 2014, the Padres ranked 26th out of 30 teams in international spending.

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But while we understand that searching for the next Carlos Correa is going to take some time, weren’t we also hoping to find some major-league ready talent to help the mid-decade Padres get back to the playoffs?

So far, we haven’t seen that aspect of Preller’s game. Last year, while Preller pursued a number of talented Cubans coming into the American market, none were successfully signed by the Padres. Big names Rusney Castillo and Yoan Moncada went to the Red Sox. The Diamondbacks picked up two potential stars in Yasmany Tomas and Yoan Lopez. Hector Olivera was signed by the Dodgers before being traded to Atlanta. All were sought after by the Padres. All ended up somewhere else.

Preller’s most recent pursuits shifted the Padres’ focus from Cuba to Japan, as Preller and a group of front-office staff and players visited the country last month on a scouting and goodwill expedition. While there, the team met with 32-year old free agent Nobuhiro Matsuda. The second baseman is coming off his best year in Nippon Professional Baseball, hitting .287 with 35 homers. But the latest news seems to indicate Matsuda will stay in Japan, as his team, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, have offered him a 4-year deal. The Padres were looking at a two-year deal for Matsuda, according to Dennis Lin of the Union-Tribune.

The number of international players who have now turned down the Padres continues to grow.

Even without Matsuda, Japan will play a part in the Padres’ plans for 2016. Marcos Mateo, who appeared in 26 games for San Diego this year, is likely heading to Hanshin to play for the Tigers in the NPB league. And Saturday morning, Corey Brock of the U-T tweeted that another member of the 40-man roster, Jay Jackson, has been released from the Padres in order to head west to play for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. The 28-year old Jackson pitched effectively for AAA El Paso this past year, putting up a 2.54 ERA while recording 70 strikeouts in 63.2 innings.

So, this week at least, the Padres appear to be losing more players to the international markets than they are gaining.

Next: Padres' Unheralded Acquisitions Who Could Make an Impact

It’s only December, and we know that Preller’s activity can come in quick, roster-rattling bursts. The 2016 roster is far from set, and we may yet see some of this year’s roster spots filled by players from other countries. And we’re only in the second year of Preller’s regime, which is still too early to see the effects of the scouting of young international prospects. Much patience will be required to see how those pan out.

But at this point, we’re still waiting to see the big payoff, or any payoff, from Preller’s international expertise at the major league level.

Fortunately, as Padres fans, we have learned to be patient.

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