As you likely recall, the Chicago Cubs are overspending their international free agency pool for the 2015-16 IFA period, which opened back on July 2, and concludes next year on June 15. To date, we’ve heard relatively little about whom the Cubs might be targeting outside of the original group they signed on July 2, and Korean outfielder Kwang-min Kwon. In theory, if the Cubs were going to blow their budget and incur the associated penalties (a 100% overage tax, and a two-year restriction on signing any individual player for more than $300,000), they would aggressively pursue as much talent as they could get, assuming it made remote financial sense.
To that end, the Cubs have been linked, along with many other teams, to top Cuban prospect Eddy Julio Martinez, who has yet to make a decision on where he’ll sign. Unlike most Dominican and Venezuelan prospects, who come to handshake agreements long before July 2, Cuban players become available more sporadically, and thus frequently have a negotiating period after they actually reach free agency (you’ve seen this many times over the past decade with Cuban players). There are several other available or soon-to-be available Cuban prospects whom the Cubs could look to sign in the coming months.
There was a large contingent of very intriguing prospects whom the Cubs would not be eligible to sign, however. In short, MLB had a rule that international prospects under the age of 20 must register by May 15 to be eligible to sign in the following IFA period (which, again, starts on July 2), but this was a problem for Cuban prospects, given the lengthy defection process. It led to a number of younger Cuban prospects who’ve recently defected not being eligible to sign until next July 2, at which time the Cubs will be under penalty, and unable to sign the biggest names.
But that’s all changed now.
You’re going to want to read Ben Badler’s latest report at Baseball America, digging deeply into these issues and revealing a change by MLB that will likely allow all available Cuban prospects to sign during the current IFA period because it wasn’t their fault that they weren’t able to register by May 15. Badler goes into the big names that could now be available to the Cubs (and other teams, like the Dodgers, that have blown their pool this year), and it’s a really significant crop of talent. And that’s to say nothing of the slightly older Cuban prospects who were already expected to become available soon.
Long story short: although it may seem like the Cubs haven’t taken advantage of their position as a team that overspent its IFA pool*, it’s entirely possible that many more high-quality signings are coming before June 15. That was already the case, of course, but now the pool of high-end talent from which the Cubs can draw talent just got a lot bigger.
They will have competition, of course, but it’s always good to have more options.
*(And I’d argue that the organization deserves a little leeway however this shakes out, and even if they don’t sign additional prospects. Just because they haven’t signed the biggest names out there, that doesn’t mean they haven’t actually signed a boatload of high-end talent. It seems that they have, and I also expect that they know quite a bit more about how they’re approaching this period and which players they’re targeting then I do. We have to be honest about how little information we really have when it comes to the international market.)