Dodgers Suffer Decline In International Scene

When the Dodgers finally decide who the new general manager will be, that person will have a considerable "to do" list, of course. Somewhere on that is "Hire an international scouting director" for almost unnoticed among the recent departures from the organization, Rene Francisco, who held that job for the greater part of three years, is gone.

Francisco promptly accepted a similar position with the Atlanta Braves for whom he formerly worked. Whoever takes over from him for the Dodgers will be inheriting a spot that has been rather neglected recently, mostly because then G.M. Paul DePodesta didn't hold it in any real regard, one of the major reasons why Francisco resigned.

There was a time when international signings were the key to player development for L.A., something Peter O'Malley gave a high priority to when he was president of the club and something of a necessity because of mediocre drafts. However, with the drafts producing prospects under the leadership of Logan White, the decline in the international search for talent hasn't been as noticed. But it's been going on, nonetheless.

The chief cause of this is the budgetary restrictions placed on the department. The scouts are able to find the talent but the money to sign the more sought-after hasn't been there. And since agents have been very active overseas, the cost for these young players has reached inflationary standards.

The Dodgers really haven't been in competition for those in some time. An example of this occurred when a Cuban defector was being showcased in Costa Rica where his agent had taken him to avoid the draft and thus drive the price up. The Dodgers were among the teams observing his workout. When an L.A. scout who was there was asked later if he liked the player he replied, "Oh, yeah. But when they got around to the bidding, the Yankees wheeled out their heavy artillery and we came in with our squirt gun. "

The lack of prominent Dodger signings has been particularly evident in the Pacific Rim, an area Los Angeles pioneered. They were the first into Korea with Chan Ho Park and there have been many from that country who've followed him into the big leagues. Meanwhile the Dodgers only signing from Korea since Park was a pitcher named Sug "Rocky" Chung, who came over with a sore arm and departed after a year or so.

True, they have a Korean in the lineup now; however, Hee Seop Choi was first signed by the Cubs and came in a trade from the Marlins.

The Dodgers do have a fulltime Pacific Rim scout, Tim Kelly, former Yankee infielder who now lives in Australia but he hasn't signed anybody in two years. L.A. was first into Taiwan with Chin-feng Chen and followed with the first high schooler taken by an American team, Hong-Chi Kuo but they haven't signed anybody from there since Chin-lung Hu, in 2003.

Camilo Pascual continues to actively sign players from Venezuela and Mike Brito has begun doing that once more in Mexico after a lull created by a rift between him and Francisco. Here, too, though when he brought two promising pitchers to Dodgertown this past spring, coaches liked their style but the higher command vetoed the asking price.

Another sign of the decline in activity by the Dodgers is the scale-back in Dominican operations. After sponsoring two teams down there for years, the Dodgers cut back to one this year. Now, they announced plans to lease part of their Campo Las Palmas operation to another club.

Francisco himself was most active in the Dominican, the area where he felt the most comfortable. During his tenure, though, there were no big deal signings as took place when Willie Aybar came in for over $1 million in 2000 and Joel Guzman cost $2.5 million in 2001, still a record price for a Dominican.

The highest -priced players from that country signed under Francisco were two physically imposing outfielders, Hector Arias and Amaury Guzman, along with two shortstops, Juan Rivera and Yossandy Garcia, who were impressive in the field.

Arias never did hit and was released this spring while Guzman hasn't done much either in two seasons in the Dominican Summer League. On the other hand, Rivera has done well enough at his position though whether he'll ever hit enough is a question. Garcia skipped a baptism of fire in his own country and began his career this past summer in the Gulf Coast League where he showed physical talent but was at the same time woefully overmatched, winding up with a .175 average.

There have been some strong-armed pitchers signed from the Caribbean the past two years with Ramon Troncoso and Miguel Ramirez looking the best of those who've come to this country and several more showing promise in the Dominican League.

However, it will take active encouragement from the new G. M. plus the right man to replace Francisco if the Dodgers are ever to return to the days of the Martinez brothers, Paul Mondesi, Fernando Valenzuela and the many others who've come from the international scene to make it big in the big leagues while wearing a Dodger uniform.