After years of limited spending abroad, the Angels made a splash on the international market in 2015, investing roughly $14 million on Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin. The 20-year-old was hailed as the team’s shortstop of the future.
Baldoquin will turn 26 next month. He has not yet had the chance to flash his defensive abilities in the major leagues. He has not even played above double-A.
If his career advances, the Angels won’t benefit. Baldoquin was released not long after spring training was canceled in March, said a person familiar with the situation who was not authorized to publicly comment.
Baldoquin was signed in January 2015 by then-Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto for $8 million. The sum so far exceeded the team’s $2.38-million international bonus pool that the Angels were subject to a 100% overage tax that increased the cost of signing Baldoquin to roughly $14 million.
Dipoto was so sure of Baldoquin’s abilities that he didn’t seem bothered by the fact that the move barred the Angels from signing an international player for more than $300,000 for the two periods that followed. It ultimately knocked them out of contention for the services of high-profile prospects such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays, Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals and Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres. They signed for an average bonus of $2 million.
Dipoto resigned from his post in July 2015. The Angels had no short-term solution at shortstop. Within weeks of joining the Angels, new general manager Billy Eppler traded for Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who was under contract through 2020.
While Simmons continued to prove himself as one of baseball’s elite defenders, Baldoquin languished in the minor leagues. He didn’t reach double-A until June 2018. He remained there last season and struggled, batting .232 with two home runs, 70 strikeouts and 18 walks in 80 games. He also spent a month on the injured list, marking the fifth season in a row he missed time because of a physical ailment.
The Angels had long held the belief that Baldoquin’s glove was ready for the major leagues. They even encouraged him to play third base and second base to increase his versatility and help chart a quicker path to Anaheim.
Ultimately, they could no longer overlook the slow development of Baldoquin’s bat. In 1,402 minor league plate appearances in five seasons, he batted .241 with a .295 on-base percentage and .317 slugging percentage.
The Angels have options beyond Baldoquin at shortstop. Simmons is not under contract for 2021 but he could receive an extension. If he doesn’t, the Angels could turn to David Fletcher and Luis Rengifo next year. They also have a handful of middle infield prospects — Jeremiah Jackson, Arol Vera, Kyren Paris, Kevin Maitan and Livan Soto — who eventually could help.
Whether Baldoquin receives an opportunity to play in another organization soon will depend on how Major League Baseball deals with the coronavirus pandemic. So far, the league has suspended minor league contracts as a result of the national emergency declared by President Trump but agreed to pay minor league players a stipend through the end of May.
Should he not re-sign this year, Baldoquin’s chances could worsen. MLB is trying to end affiliation with 42 minor league teams for the 2021 season. The move would effectively cut 1,000 player jobs.
Unlike the Dodgers, the Angels haven’t invested heavily in players from Cuba. The deal with Baldoquin was the Angels’ first major foray into the Cuban market since December 2004 when they signed first baseman Kendrys Morales, who went on to play 13 major league seasons before retiring in February.
The Angels have two Cubans on their current rosters — 22-year-old outfielders Jose Verrier and Orlando Martinez. Both signed for less than $300,000 in 2017. Verrier played 65 games in 2019 with rookie-level Orem, batting .227 with 11 homers while striking out 98 times in 220 at-bats. Martinez was ranked by Baseball America as the Angels’ 19th-best prospect after batting .263 with 21 doubles, four triples and 12 homers in 88 games for high-A Inland Empire last season.