The Sad History of the Padres’ International Signings

CHICAGO - 1990: Roberto Alomar of the San Diego Padres plays against the Chicago Cubs during an MLB game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. Alomar played for the Padres from 1988-1990. (Photo by Ron Vesely)

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Credit: AP Photo (Padres Academy D.R.)

The San Diego Padres’ historical 2016-17 international signing period was historic for the San Diego Padres.

What a job they did.

The Padres, taxes and all, invested over $80 million dollars in international talent across the country. It was an unprecedented splurge; something the Padres’ organization had never seen before in its existence.

The two biggest signings by the Padres during this international period (financial-wise), Adrian Morejon and Jorge Ona, have blossomed.

Now that the the signings have concluded, it is going to be all about player development. It is absolutely critical (obviously) for organizations to develop and manage young talent. Especially when you invest $80 million dollars into it. Of course, as we all know, historically, the Padres have failed in that regard. They are looking to change that.

Adys Portillo

The Padres have also failed terribly in their quest to find (and sign) international talent in the past thirty years. Past front office regimes have had basically no luck in their quest to find talent. A shift in the tide seemed to occur nine years ago, in 2008, when the Padres opened up an academy in the Dominican Republic. Two months later, the Padres made headlines by committing roughly $5 million to five international players, headlined by a $2 million bonus given out to RHP Adys Portillo, who was the second-ranked international pitcher at the time. Kevin Towers said the decision to commit $5 million internationally “quadrupled” the Padres commitment to international talent.

The $5 million ended up being a poor investment when it was all said and done. One of their signings, Alvaro Aristy, lied about his age. Portillo’s last season in the organization was in 2015. The other three players underwhelmed and are out of baseball. Former director of international scouting, Randy Smith, who said at the time that the team had “secured the best group of international players available,” ended up looking a little foolish. It was not so much the lack of development from the players, but more of a disappointment in terms of a lack of research that the Padres undertook for a few of those guys.

Credit: AP Photo

The Padres did noticeably hit on international talent once- back in the 1980s, when they were able to sign Benito Santiago in 1982 & Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar Jr., and Roberto Alomar prior to the 1985 season. Then-Padres Latin America scout Luis Rosa, who was part of a pretty nasty scandal later on in his life, was able to sign all four players out of Puerto Rico. Joey Cora, also from Puerto Rico, was selected with the 23rd pick by the Padres in the 1985 amateur draft.

Cool note: In 1985, the Padres actually had three Alomar’s in their minor league camp: Sandy Sr. (who was in his first year as a coach), Sandy Jr., and Roberto.

The first player of the five to reach the big leagues was catcher, Benito Santiago, in 1986, and he had a very nice tenure in San Diego. He won the National League Rookie of the Year award, three Gold Gloves, and four Silver Slugger awards with the Padres. He left the Padres via free agency in 1992 after accumulating 15.5 WAR in seven seasons with the club. He was named to the Padres Hall of Fame in 2015.

Infielder Joey Cora, who played in 77 games in his rookie year (1987), was the second of the group to reach the big leagues. As a highly touted prospect, Cora was expected to produce quickly… but he didn’t exactly do that. As a matter of fact, Cora is most known as a Padre for this incident. Part of his lack of success on the field was because the Padres rushed his development. As a 22-year-old rookie, he slugged a mere .282 with nine extra base hits in 241 at bats. He also recorded seven errors at second base and was sent down to the minors in July.

Cora failed to regain his second base job the following season, losing out to Roberto Alomar. In 1989 and 1990, Cora appeared in only 63 games for the Padres. He was traded prior to the 1991 season to the Chicago White Sox. The optimism that many had about Cora in the Padres organization was gone- just like that. Upon leaving, Cora found success (go figure), hitting .280/.351/.377 for the remainder of his career. He was also named to the A.L. All Star Team as a Mariner in 1997.


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