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Barber: Lack of international talent hurting Giants

The San Francisco Giants' Pablo Sandoval awaits his turn at bat against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)

PHIL BARBER,

It was a pretty good week for San Francisco baseball fans. If your two favorite teams are the Giants and whoever is playing the Dodgers, then the Houston Astros’ World Series victory was a sliver of pie after a season that amounted to a giant bowl of cold gruel.

Giants fans were predictably cheeky in their reaction. After Houston shortstop Carlos Correa publicly proposed to his girlfriend in the aftermath of Game 7 on Wednesday, they pointed out that the future Mrs. Correa got a ring before Clayton Kershaw. Some even suggested that when the Giants open the 2018 season next March 29, they will walk into Dodger Stadium with a little extra swagger.

Let’s hope they don’t. Because when the glee of an LA failure recedes, the truth will be apparent: The Giants’ roster is miles behind the Dodgers’. And the Astros’.

Watching that brilliant championship series, it was clear that the gap between the Giants and the World Series participants was as striking as the 40 games that separated Los Angeles and San Francisco in the National League West standings this year.

Some of the factors behind the Giants’ no-parachute skydive were unforeseeable: Mark Melancon’s ineffectiveness as closer, Johnny Cueto’s blisters, Madison Bumgarner doing his own stunts. Others have been right in front of our noses all along.

A lot of people framed this year’s World Series as the team purchased with a credit card (the Dodgers) vs. the team grown with seeds, fertilizer, a watering can and gumption (the Astros). The truth is that both of these organizations have done a much better job of developing young talent than the Giants.

Just look at the draft selections made by the three teams starting in 2010.

Since that year, which launched the Giants’ championship run, Houston added, among others, center fielder and World Series MVP George Springer (drafted in 2011), shortstop Carlos Correa (2012), starting pitcher Lance McCullers (2012) and third baseman Alex Bregman (2015). The Dodgers’ draft haul has included outfielder Joc Pederson (2010), shortstop Corey Seager (2012), reliever Ross Stripling (2012) and first baseman Cody Bellinger (2013).

The Giants’ 2017 roster was full of guys drafted since 2010. In fact, by sheer number they outweighed either the Dodgers or Astros. Heading the list were Jarrett Parker (2010); Joe Panik, Josh Osich, Kelby Tomlinson, Derek Law and Kyle Crick (all 2011); Ty Blach, Steven Okert and Chris Stratton (2012); Ryder Jones and Christian Arroyo (2013); and Austin Slater (2014).

Lots of names. Just not many guys you’d care to build a baseball team around. Carlos Correa and Corey Seager are MVP candidates. No offense to Joe Panik, a very nice player, but he’ll never be at that level.

Of course, you don’t have to draft a player to develop him. The Dodgers got Austin Barnes in a 2014 trade, when he was a minor leaguer, and turned him into a World Series catcher. The Astros did something similar with outfielder Marwin Gonzalez, reliever Chris Devenski and pitcher Joe Musgrove.

The only guy the Giants could make that claim about is Hunter Strickland, whom they claimed when the Pirates waived him in 2013.

None of this is breaking news. Talk of the Giants’ declining farm system has grown from a whisper to an angry shout since the team won its third World Series in five years in 2014, and has put general manager Bobby Evans on blast. The organization that brought you Tim Lincecum, Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner — home-grown talents, all of them — has increasingly relied on signing (and trading for) established major leaguers.

But what really stood out to me when I studied those World Series rosters side by side with the Giants’ wasn’t the discrepancy in draft picks. It was the international players.

The Giants are trying to be America’s Team. The Dodgers and Astros are global.

Houston got bullpen contributions from Michael Feliz (signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, after his original contract with the A’s was voided) during the regular season, before he hurt his shoulder, and they signed first baseman Yuli Gurriel out of Cuba in 2016. And no one has scoured the earth like the Dodgers; starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu (South Korea, 2012) was crowded off of the World Series roster, but right fielder Yasiel Puig (Cuba, 2012) and pitcher Kenta Maeda (Japan, 2016) were there. I’m not even including the Astros’ Jose Altuve or the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen, a couple of superstars, because I’m trying to limit this to recent acquisitions, i.e. since 2010.

The last international free agent who panned out for the Giants was Pablo Sandoval. His ghost played third base or first base for San Francisco in 47 games this year, but he was originally signed out of Venezuela in 2003. A lot has happened in the world since then. The Giants haven’t been involved in much of it.

How can this be? The Bay Area is a thriving, cosmopolitan place to live. Its streets ring with a Babel of languages. It should be a magnet for players from Latin America and the Far East. And while almost no one spends as freely as the Dodgers, it’s not like the Giants have been cheapskates under executive vice president Brian Sabean and Evans.

They just seem to prefer products that are manufactured domestically. According to Baseball America, the Giants landed none of the top 50 international prospects in 2017.

Oh, they have tried to expand their borders a bit.

In 2015, the Giants thought they had Cuban-born outfielder Eddy Julio Martinez inked to a contract, only to find that the Cubs had swooped in to steal him away at the last minute. In 2016, they signed Lucius Fox, a highly regarded shortstop from the Bahamas, to a $6 million bonus — a figure so large it pushed the Giants into “the penalty” and prohibited them from offering big bonuses over the following two years. They later traded Fox to Tampa Bay as part of the deal that brought pitcher Matt Moore to San Francisco. Don’t be cruel, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Maybe the Felipe Alou Baseball Academy will help. Located in the Dominican Republic, it serves as headquarters of the Giants’ Latin American operations, and the base of their international player development.

“It’s long overdue,” Sabean told MLB.com just before the academy’s grand opening in August of 2016. “I hate to say it; I think we’re the last ones in. This has been a work in progress for a long time.”

And it still is. I’m not pretending there is an easy fix to this worldwide drought, but it’s hard to picture the Giants making a serious long-term run at the Dodgers if they don’t inject some good foreign-born players into their minor leagues.

As a start, Evans can practice these handy phrases: “por favor acepta mi dinero” and “watashi no okane o ukeirete kudasai.”

That’s “please accept my money” in Spanish and Japanese.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.