LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers know how to find future international stars. They don’t always know how to keep them, but they find them.
The Dodgers’ top five international signees -- with “international” including the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico -- consist of two players that made their name in Dodger Blue, and three that got away. In all, a pair of Hall of Famers, two potentially headed to Cooperstown themselves and a Los Angeles favorite make up the free agents the Dodgers were able to once sway.
In tribute to the Dodgers’ legacy of worldwide talent search – a passion of the O’Malley Family ownership -- the five on this list hail from four different locales.
Here are the Dodgers’ top five international prospects of all time.
1. Roberto Clemente
How did this happen? Dodgers scout Al Campanis signed Clemente out of Puerto Rico in 1954 to a $10,000 bonus, calling him “the best free-agent athlete I’ve ever seen.” The bonus meant Clemente had to go directly to the Major Leagues or be eligible for the winter Rule 5 Draft. With the Boys of Summer roster loaded, management stashed Clemente at Triple-A, playing him only part time to reduce his visibility with the intention of sneaking him through the Rule 5. Let’s call that a miscalculation. The Pirates' front office consisted of former Dodgers officials Branch Rickey, Howie Haak and Clyde Sukeforth and for $4,000 they took Clemente, who was voted into the Hall of Fame shortly after dying in a plane crash while en route to aid earthquake victims in Nicaragua at age 38.
2. Pedro Martinez
How did this happen (Part II)? General manager Fred Claire needed a second baseman after Jody Reed overplayed his hand and left as a free agent. Montreal offered Delino DeShields for Martinez, a recent signee out of the Dominican Republic. In his biography, Claire said he gave manager Tommy Lasorda and Caribbean masterscout Ralph Avila (who signed the three Martinez brothers) veto rights, but both signed off on the swap. Let’s call that another miscalculation. The Dodgers had concerns that Martinez, then a slight right-hander, was better suited for relief than his lanky brother, 20-game winner Ramon.
3. Adrián Beltré
Oops, they did it again. This time, at least the Dodgers kept Beltré for six-plus seasons, the last of which he slugged 48 home runs and was runner-up in the voting for National League MVP. But new general manager Paul DePodesta let the Dominican leave as a free agent to sign with Seattle for five years and $64 million, then signed J.D. Drew for $55 million over five years. Beltré went on to make four All-Star appearances for other clubs, win five Gold Gloves at third base, three additional Silver Sluggers and five more top-10 finishes for MVP. It all adds up to another (likely) Hall of Famer that got away.
4. Fernando Valenzuela
At the urging of scout Mike Brito, the Dodgers purchased the 18-year-old Valenzuela for $120,000 out of the Mexican League. The club promoted him as a reliever during the 1980 pennant chase before he inherited the '81 Opening Day start because of Jerry Reuss’ calf injury. He fired a shutout, and Fernandomania took over the Southland. Valenzuela became the Mexican superstar late owner Walter O’Malley had dreamed of since moving the club from Brooklyn. He was a six-time All-Star with an NL Cy Young Award, Rookie of the Year nod, Gold Glove and pair of Silver Sluggers. Now a team broadcaster, he remains one of the most popular athletes of any sport in Los Angeles history.
5. Kenley Jansen
Nothing wrong with getting lucky. Jansen was a light-hitting catcher from Curacao whose career hit a crossroads when Minor League director DeJon Watson urged a move to the mound. Reluctantly, after being told he either pitches or finds another line of work, Jansen went all-in. With the tutelage of Charlie Hough, he was suddenly on a fast track to a record-breaking run as a closer now going on a decade with more than 300 saves. Jansen relies on a cutter, as did his role model, Mariano Rivera.