Touted Venezuela teens Cardona, Cenas sign with Blue Jays

The Canadian Press

7/13/2010 11:43:52 AM

TORONTO -- The signing of highly touted Venezuelan teenagers Adonis Cardona and Gabriel Cenas on Tuesday is the latest example of the Toronto Blue Jays' new-found muscle in the fight for top-end international talent.

Cardona, a six-foot-four, 180-pound righty whose fastball already tops out at 93 m.p.h., received a US$2.8-million signing bonus, an amount that is a club record for such a player.

Cenas, a six-foot-one, 175-pound third baseman with a promising bat and strong throwing arm, gets $700,000.

The $3.5-million commitment is a stunning amount for an organization that had largely shied away from the high-risk, high-reward Latin American market in recent years. Under former general manager J.P. Ricciardi, they made only a couple of signings in the $500,000-$700,000 range.

But new GM Alex Anthopoulos has recalibrated the team's priorities and provided Latin America operations director Marco Paddy both a the freedom to pursue the best players and the money needed to sign them.

"It's a big statement for Alex Anthopoulos and all of us who are part of his team," Paddy said on a conference call. "We've always been serious but (now) we're more aggressive.

"We're not going to get into a race that we're not willing to win."

The addition of the two 16-year-olds who both will start their professional careers in the Dominican Summer League is the latest international coup for the Blue Jays.

In April, they beat out the New York Yankees for highly sought Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria for $10 million over four years. And that came after they fell short in the bidding for left-hander Aroldis Chapman, another Cuban, who signed with the Cincinnati Reds for $30 million over six years.

Such deals are risky, as the track records for the players of that age are very short and the cost is extremely high. But the Blue Jays believe they need to make educated gambles for star potential rather than playing it safe with players who have less upside.

"If you don't take any of these chances and you don't sign any of these players, you never have a chance to get the high-impact, high-ceiling players," said Anthopoulos.

The Blue Jays are hoping to minimize the risk by reinvigorating all parts of their scouting department. Already the staff has nearly tripled from what it was last year in North America, with further expansion planned in Latin America.

Scouts are already in place in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Colombia, and the intention is to set up shop in Curacao, Mexico, Nicaragua and elsewhere.

"We have a plan in place that's going to provide us with scouts in every country that plays baseball in Latin America, and we don't have any limitations," said Paddy. "We're going to be everywhere and we're going to ... try to sign everyone we think is going to help us win a championship."

To that end Paddy is in Haarlem, Netherlands for the Honkbal Week tournament. Cuba is among the teams taking part and even though its players aren't readily available, the Blue Jays want to have background on each player just in case.

"Our goals, our desires and our aspirations are to be at all places at all times," said Anthopoulos. "I think we certainly felt that way hearing from other clubs in the amateur draft and we hope to feel that way on the Latin American market."

The Blue Jays also hope that Cardona and Cenas are just the tip of the iceberg, but the returns on their new foray will be a long time in coming.

Still, both players have the Blue Jays very excited.

"(Cenas has a) very strong makeup, real close to his family, we feel he's got a very special bat with the ability to play third base and a lot of natural tools," said Paddy. "(Cardona is a) very good athlete with a special arm and special makeup. He's got the type of arm that can hopefully develop into something special in the major leagues."