Although the 2015 MLB Draft is now in the rearview mirror, the midseason accumulation of prospect talent is far from over. No, I don’t mean the process of signing those draftees (underway), and I don’t mean the process of selling off vets for prospects (not happening this year, right?).
I am talking about the open of the next international free agent (IFA) period on July 2. The Cubs have been shut out of the top end of the IFA market (generally, international prospects without multiple years of professional experience in other countries) thanks to a spending binge back in the Summer of 2013 that netted them Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez, and Jen-Ho Tseng, among others. Teams are allotted a pool of IFA funds for use in each annual period (July 2 – June 15), and, like in the draft, if you spend more than that allotment, you are subject to penalties. The harshest penalty in 2013 was a one-year ban on spending more than $250,000 on any one player.
With the close of the 2014-15 IFA period arriving today, the Cubs’ penalty will be over. Then, on July 2, they’ll be free to spend their $3.23 million IFA bonus pool however they see fit.
Except the Cubs probably aren’t going to spend just $3.23 million starting on July 2. Indeed, we’ve seen multiple reports indicating that the Cubs will spend far more than their allotment, and connecting them to specific players.
Now you can add another report to the pile, this time from Baseball America, which says the Cubs are in the “all in” group of teams, together with the Dodgers and Royals, expected to far outspend their pool (or even the maximum amount to which they can increase their pool by acquiring IFA slots in trade (teams can increase their pool by a maximum of 50%)).
BA’s report connects the Cubs to four prospects who will each receive seven figure bonuses, and then there’s a huge swath of Cuban prospects for whom the Cubs may wind up competing.
By blowing out their IFA pool, the Cubs will once again incur the stiffest penalties, which have changed since last time around: a 100% tax on the overage plus a two-year ban on signing any individual player for more than $300,000. Subject to any changes that come in the post-2016 CBA, that would be a serious penalty for the Cubs to suffer – while you can still get a very nice prospect for $300,000, increasingly the best talents cost much, much more. If you’re going to put yourself in that position, you better make it worthwhile.
That’s why I’d expect the Cubs to be connected to many of the still-uncommitted Cuban prospects when all is said and done (plus the fact that teams that blew things out last year – most notably the Red Sox and Yankees – won’t be able to sign any of the biggest names this year).
Unlike deals with many Dominican and Venezuelan prospects, which are essentially already in place and will be revealed on July 2, the Cuban market may take some more time to shake out. So get ready.