I’m never going to see the Chicago Cubs’ abundance of infield options is a bad thing, but it wouldn’t be a bad time to be in the market to try and land an international infielder/second baseman with upside.
First, there’s Jose Fernandez, the 26-year-old Cuban second baseman who is one of the best players in the highest league in Cuba. He is currently in parts unknown, and expected to be defecting. Then there’s Korean infielder Jung-Ho Kang, a 27-year-old coming off an enormous year in the KBO who is expected to be posted this offseason.
And now there are two more Cuban second baseman headed to make a go of it in MLB.
Hector Olivera, 29, would be considered an even better player than Fernandez if not for his age and an uncertain health status. Olivera has left Cuba after a successful season in Cuba in 2013-14, but that came after he missed time with what may have been a serious left arm issue. You can read Ben Badler’s take on Olivera here at BA, but the gist is that he’s viewed as a solid hitter, but his ability to play consistently in the field is in question.
As with Fernandez, I’m not sure there’s a fit with the Cubs, but, if Olivera reaches free agency before the offseason is up, his presence on the market could tangentially impact the Cubs.
Then you’ve got Andy Ibanez, who has also left Cuba. The difference with Ibanez, however, is that he’s more of a prospect, at just 21 years old. Because of his age and experience combination, unlike Fernandez and Olivera, Ibanez will be subject to international signing restrictions. That means if he reaches free agency before the next international signing period (the current period closes on June 15) and elects to sign right away, a team like the Cubs won’t have a shot at him (because the Cubs are currently prohibited from spending more than $250,000 on any one player, and Ibanez will definitely command more than that).
You can read about Ibanez here at BA, but he sure sounds like a guy you’d love to see the Cubs get into the system, regardless of his defensive position. If his residency and unblocking process is slow, it’s not inconceivable he might not reach free agency until March or April. At that point, if he wants the largest possible pool of teams to market his services, he might want to wait until the next signing period opens on July 2.*
*(The Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays have already blown their budget this year, so they’d be your top candidates to sign a guy like Ibanez this year. Other teams could blow their budget to sign him, but, given the way international signing works, with teams coming to wink-and-nod terms with players before July, a number of teams probably wouldn’t be able to sign Ibanez and blow their budget without therefore reneging on deals they’ve already got in place for the next signing period.)
All that said, Fernandez and Olivera remains guys to watch, and Kang is worth noting, too, although he’s probably more of a utility type in MLB. But the guy who could really wind up on the Cubs’ radar eventually is probably Ibanez.
(And, while we’re on the subject, don’t forget about the guy who could be the absolute best international prospect of them all: 19-year-old Cuban shortstop Yoan Moncada, who, like Ibanez, will be subject to signing restrictions. So, once again, if you want the Cubs to have a shot at him, root for a slow residency process.)