The biggest Cuban prospect – to be distinguished from immediate-impact player – to leave the island since Jorge Soler and Yasiel Puig is now a free agent.
Switch-hitting shortstop Yoan Moncada, 19, has established residency in Guatemala, has already been declared a free agent, and will showcase for teams on November 12, according to Jesse Sanchez. We’ve discussed Moncada before, but the short version is that he is an elite prospect, and probably instantly becomes the best available young player on the market. Sanchez cites scouts who have called Moncada “the next Jorge Soler.” And he plays shortstop. So you get the gist. Moncada is biiiiig time.
For that reason, you can be assured that he’s the kind of player in whom the Chicago Cubs would very clearly have interest. I suppose that’s true of most teams, but, if this front office has shown anything in recent years, it’s that they are absolutely willing to go all out on top, young, international prospects. Indeed, Sanchez mentions the Cubs as a potential suitor.
Great, right? Well, there are two huge buts to the Moncada story right now:
(1) He’s not yet available to be signed, because, although he’s a “free agent” as far as MLB is concerned, he hasn’t yet been unblocked by the U.S. Government. That can take a little time; and
(2) The really big but: Moncada is subject to international signing restrictions. Because of Moncada’s age and lack of five professional years of experience in Cuba, he’s subject to the International Free Agency rules – you know, the ones that give each team a spending pool – and that’s a potential death blow to the Cubs’ pursuit. Why? Well, because the Cubs blew out their IFA budget in the 2013/14 period, they are prohibited from signing any player for more than $250,000 in the current period. Moncada is going to command a record international bonus, I would imagine, so $250,000 won’t cut it.
It’s not all over for the Cubs, though. If somehow Moncada is not cleared to sign until after June 15, 2015 (the last day of the current signing period), he won’t be eligible to sign until July 2 at the earliest … and the Cubs will no longer be subject to any signing restrictions. Alternatively, if Moncada is cleared before then, he could weigh his options and decide that waiting until the next signing period is best for his market.
Right now, the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays have all blown their budgets, and would probably be the primary suitors for Moncada (they would simply have to pay a tax on whatever deal they strike with Moncada). Only the Cubs and Rangers would be prohibited from signing him (both teams blew their budget last time around), but the rest of MLB’s teams might not want to blow their 2014/15 budget this late in the game, because it would subject them to penalties in 2015/16 and 2016/17, which they wouldn’t have prepared for. In other words, I can envision a scenario where Moncada’s present market is limited to the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, and maybe just a handful of other teams that are in a position to spend serious money and forego high-end international free agency the next two years.
If Moncada doesn’t sign until after July 2, the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays would be out. But every other team, in theory, would be in. It’s possible that, if Moncada remains unsigned come, say, March or so, there could be lots of back-channelling such that he’s effectively negotiating with all teams (example: if the Yankees offer the best deal, he signs right then; if the Cubs offer the best deal, he waits to sign on July 2). I’m not sure if that’s in the spirit of the rules, but if I’m Moncada’s representative, that sure seems like the best way to get the biggest deal.
Long story short: let’s follow Moncada and see if he’s cleared to sign very soon. If so, I doubt he waits until next July to sign. If clearance takes a little while, though? Well, we’ll see how aggressive teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays want to be.