Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

cuba featureSome months back, we had a little bit here at BN on the next big-time Cuban prospect, Lazaro Armenteros – otherwise, and fairly badassly, known as Lazarito. Given the extreme influx of young Cuban players to the United States, I wouldn’t blame you for allowing the 16-year-old Lazarito to fall off of your radar.

There’s also the matter of the difficulty in properly evaluating, as outsiders, the hype-to-true-talent ratio with some of these prospects.

For one recent example, many thought Eddy Julio Martinez was the next big-time, elite Cuban prospect, but it wasn’t until he signed with the Cubs for a $3 million bonus that we finally got a good sense of how the market was actually valuing Martinez (as a very good, but probably not elite – even when you account for the odd timing in his signing that probably allowed the Cubs to get a bargain).

By contrast, at this time last year, Cuban youngster Yoan Moncada was getting all the hype, and his eventual signing by the Red Sox definitely met that level of hype, as he inked for more than $30 million (which cost the Red Sox more than $60 million when accounting for the IFA overage penalty). The 20-year-old Moncada played a half season at A-ball this year, by the way, posting very solid, but unspectacular numbers while playing second base.

I get the sense that Lazarito falls more into the Moncada-type-category than the Martinez category, which makes following his story all the more exciting. The next part of the story: Lazarito is in the Dominican Republic and will work out publicly on January 8.

Bob Nightengale has a profile on the young outfielder, whom some scouts compare to Bo Jackson and Willie Mays (which, well, is probably a bit much for a 16-year-old). You are reminded of the lives some of these young, international players lead before coming to the States, and, frankly, you want to see them earn as much as they can when they have a chance to strike.

To that end, Lazarito figures to be paid extremely well, despite the fact that he hasn’t played organized ball since 2014. The only question is which teams will be eligible to sign him. Presently, Lazarito has not been declared eligible to sign, which could come soon via an exemption, or he could be precluded from signing by MLB until the next IFA period, which begins July 2.

Because of that Moncada signing, the Red Sox are prohibited from signing any IFAs for more than $300,000 during this and the next signing period. Ditto the Yankees, Angels, Rays, and Diamondbacks. So those teams are out. In the current period, the Cubs and Dodgers have blown out their spending pool, and, although eligible to sign a guy like Lazarito if he becomes available in this period, they would be precluded from signing him in the next period if he’s held out until then.

If that sounds familiar, it’s one more Moncada parallel – last year at this time and into the first few months of 2015, Cubs fans were hoping Moncada would be willing to wait until July 2 to sign, because the Cubs were then under a penalty from the last time they outspent their pool back in 2013-14. This time around, however, Cubs fans will be hoping Lazarito becomes eligible to sign sooner rather than later, and decides to sign before the current period ends on June 15 (there’s a quiet, no-signing period between June 15 and July 2).

Of course, Lazarito being eligible to sign in this period could just mean that he’s fated to sign for a bajillion dollars with the Dodgers, who’ve already spent an unbelievable amount on IFAs in this period – more than $88 million(!!!) between bonuses and tax. For context, as recently as 2013, spending $10 million in IFA was considered a huge amount. If the Dodgers really want Lazarito, they have to be considered the extreme favorite to land him.

Even if he is available to the Cubs based on timing, whether they go aggressively after Lazarito remains to be seen. But we do know that, because they’re already over their bonus pool for the current period, the Cubs are likely to keep trying to accumulate talent before the June 15 cutoff. Throw in the fact that the Cubs will lose their top two draft picks in the 2016 draft for signing Jason Heyward and John Lackey, and there’s all the more incentive for them to go big on the explosion of available Cuban prospects (which, again, includes much more than just Lazarito).

To that end, then, it helps the Cubs if Lazarito becomes available in this period regardless of whether they plan to go after him or not. It’s possible that, if Lazarito costs the Dodgers Moncada-level dollars, maybe they won’t be quite as aggressive on the other Cuban players out there, allowing the Cubs to get a few more than they might otherwise have landed.

So, either way, you’re rooting for Lazarito to be ruled eligible as soon as possible. That could mean the market for Cuban prospects slows a little bit until that decision is made.

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