With another name emerging on the market and the impending signing of Yoan Moncada, I thought it was time for a few thoughts on the available players and everything around the international signing rules.
The Rules Themselves:
They are really dumb. I am not going to argue against players getting money because owners are rich and the rules exist to save them money so they have more profit. However, with taxes the signing bonuses for the current crop of Cuban teenagers has essentially closed the gap that was the value in the signings. The players themselves are getting very fair bonuses, and maybe a bit on the small side, but with MLB pocketing the 100% tax the prices have become very risky. However, the dumbest rule is the one regarding the signing penalties on future years. The penalty was designed as a deterrence, but right now it gives a major advantage to teams who have already gone over their bonus pools. On the market Moncada and possibly Yadier Alvarez are the only two players that have the talent level to really justify going over the pool. This means all teams are in on Moncada regardless of previous strategy, but only those already over plus the winner of Moncada are in on the other talent. This puts the Phillies in a tough spot. We will get to Moncada later, but on someone like Alvarez they normally would have a ton of interest, but now they have to weigh the risks in his signing bonus against any July 2 deals they have lined up. It is a very troublesome situation.
The Phillies are almost certainly out. Per the latest news/rumors, it looks like a 2 horse race between the Yankees and Dodgers with the bonus going over $40M (so over $80M total bonus). There are some teams lurking (and this is likely where the Phillies are), but in all honesty they just don’t have the financial muscle to really get in the way of what the Dodgers and Yankees want. I think Moncada is an incredible talent, I think he would help the team rebuild quickly, I think the Phillies like him a lot. As I mentioned above, the value in top Cuban prospects is gone, especially if the bonus rumors are true. If Moncada is everything he is cracked up to be, he could end up earning 3 times what Puig makes over his team controlled years. That is still less than what $/WAR says you would be paying a free agent. If you are signing Moncada at this point, you need to either believe he is an absolute no-doubt superstar or that you really just don’t care about money, otherwise it is time to jump ship.
Alvarez started as a rumor after a first great showcase, and then this week he repeated the results in front of representatives of all 30 teams. He is an 18 year old with a 93-96 mph fastball, a potential plus slider, and feel for a changeup making him a big time arm. However, there is an insane amount of risk here. He will throw more in showcases and workouts, but it is doubtful he will go more than 1-2 innings, so scouts will have no bearing on how his stuff holds up over time. Additionally the high velocity is new, and while it is not uncommon at his age, there are plenty of stories of velocity coming and then going as pitchers adjust to a starting schedule. Early indications and reports were that the Phillies are interested (which makes sense), but there is a lot of doubt on whether they would actually make the move. Right now the early indications are that Alvarez will get $10M+, which is not a small amount of money, and that number could grow rapidly. For the Phillies it is likely a sliding scale, Alvarez at the right price is probably worth giving up on their J2 commitments, but if the bidding gets too high the rules make it more reasonable to back off and just spend the money this summer across multiple players.
Hector Olivera put up an impressive show in this week’s showcase. The second baseman comes with a worrisome health record and is already 29 (and will be 30 soon). The buzz is that he is looking for an Opening Day job and an average salary along the lines of Yasmany Tomas and Rusney Castillo (about $10M a year). Kiley McDaniel thinks the contract is more likely to be of a 2-3 year length. Put all this together, throw in that Chase Utley is the Phillies second baseman, and this looks like a non-starter for the Phillies. The other name thrown around is second baseman Andy Ibanez who is expected to sign very soon. Ibanez projects more as an average regular, and the general thought is that he is not worth going over the signing pool for.
Now we come to the most unknown market, the 2015 July 2 market. The Phillies have made noise multiple times this offseason about their increased efforts in Latin America, and this would be the time to show it. They have made a lot of strides in low money signings and have stepped up their number of large money signings in recent years. This offseason they hired the Braves Director of Latin America Operations, Johnny Almaraz to be their Director of Amatuer Scouting, and odds are he comes with some connections and names already in hand. The Phillies already have Sal Agostinelli in Latin America where he has proven himself adept at finding solid talent with very limited resources. There has also been some buzz that the Phillies are preparing to go over their bonus pool this year, with McDaniel mentioning it in his chat today:
How big are the Phillies going on July 2nd?
: Potentially very big
All of this is a positive sign that things are going in a more exciting direction. In many ways I trust their scouting staff more over a large volume than just throwing money at the hot new name (Moncada excluded) because that is what the fan base wants. The prices on Cuban FAs has not exactly been ideal this offseason, though with more defections each year it will be interesting if they wade in once they are over their bonus pool. It may not be flashy, but the Phillies have put more into talent acquisition in the past year than they have done in recent memory. It doesn’t look like a fluke either. It is definitely way too late to save the franchise in the next few years, but a step in the right direction is a step in the right direction. Not matching the Yankees and Dodgers on a spending spree is not something to look down on.