Quick Thoughts on Cuban Free Agents

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.

Yoan Moncada:

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.

Yadier Alvarez:

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.

Others:

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.

July 2:

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:

Comment From Guest
How big are the Phillies going on July 2nd?

Kiley McDaniel: 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.

Author: Matt Winkelman

Matt Winkelman
Matt is originally from Mt. Holly, NJ, but after a 4 year side track to Cleveland for college he now resides in Madison, WI. His work has appeared on Phuture Phillies, The Good Phight, and TheDynastyGuru.

7 comments

  1. Rei De Bastoni

    Here’s the problem:

    Phillies aren’t in on Castillo because they’re in on Tomas.
    Phillies aren’t in on Tomas because they’re in on Moncada.
    Phillies aren’t in on Moncada because they’re in on Alvarez.

    • Matt Winkelman

      They weren’t in on Tomas because they didn’t like the player for the price. Same thing with Moncada. Spending any amount of money regardless of your evaluation is how you get bad contracts

      • Rei De Bastoni

        I’m upset because they “missed the boat” (bad pun) on the good deal Cuban players, because they did not do enough evaluation. It’s painful when the fans see the way out of the mess they’ve created, but the team management shows far less interest than necessary in the ways where their money can gain them a competitive advantage.

        I’m not saying they should have signed every single guy, but they should have at least been serious about evaluating Puig, Soler, Castillo, and Tomas. I’ve excluded Moncada because he’s the only one of the bunch who might actually not be worth it. But how many of these guys got invited to private workouts? And in your words, how can they ever like a player for the price if they’re never serious about evaluating them in the first place?

        But another issue is this constant kicking the can down the road. The reasoning they weren’t in on Castillo was because of Tomas. I believe that was well documented. Now it’s July 2nd they’re going to be major players. It’s certainly possible with the supposed new management, but when everything about international signings is “next year, next year, next year,” fans who understand the value of a farm system are naturally skeptical.

        • They evaluated players even named Jorge Soler, they just were not serious enough about trying to sign him. I for one would like to see them go pretty hard in the Japanese market, it is still a little cheaper and I think we’ll see Jung-ho Kang (SS signed by the Pirates this year) make people a little more open to spending dollars over there on non pitching players that seek to play in the MLB.

    • Romus

      Bastoni…….you seem to have an interesting logical deductive reasoning pattern going on there
      I assume after Alvarez it will be the next Cuban on the pecking order.
      IMO, at some point, I think John Middleton may need to pull another ‘Jim Thome’ from Nov 2002…ruffled a few feathers from the older established group but Ed Wade got his marching orders and went ahead and signed Thome.

      • Rei De Bastoni

        I’m just snakebitten, Romus. I think Alvarez is the most probable Int’l FA for them to sign thus far. However I think a draft would help the Phillies, just as the new Rule 4 rules do, since the Phillies always seem go above and beyond following the rules, without wanting to incur even the slightest infraction.

        They seem to have pretty good scouts, and when their hands are untied, do well in their evaluations, i.e. the last couple drafts, and shrewd LA pickups. An International draft would eliminate the spending over cap and free agent bidding process that both appear to be our biggest problems in that area.

        • Romus

          Bastoni…..I get the distinct impression they are waiting for the draft as you say to get them out of the spending for inter talent…..and look at the latest,Ruiz and Franco….cheap signees who they got lucky with. Then guys like Sanatana , Tocci, Pujols, Encarnacion, Grullon, Gamboa and Brito…all fairly large signees according to the Phillies standard….but add them in total from March 2009 thru last year, 2014, and they do not even come close to the Yankees in 2014 or the Cubs of 2013 or the Rangers in three separate prior years.
          It is truly sad for the faithful Philly followers and fans……4th largest TV market….one team vs two teams competing in the larger markets of NY, LA and Chi-town…and they go frugally cheap.