For many international free agents – especially players from Cuba – the IFA rules and restrictions apply. You’ve seen them before; if a team signs any number of international free agents above their bonus pool for a given period, they are taxed on the overage and, if they go over by enough, will be ineligible to sign players for more than $300,000 during the next two periods.
During the current (2015-2016) IFA period, for example, both the Cubs and the Dodgers have exceeded their bonus pools and will be limited in the future. Moreover, many other teams – the Yankees and Red Sox among them – exceeded their pools in the previous period, and are limited in both the current and the next period.
However, we rarely discuss the extent of those IFA rules as they relate to individual players. Specifically, when the rules do or do not kick in. For example, IFA restrictions have no impact for Cuban players if the player in question is at least 23 years old and has played five seasons in Serie Nacional (Cuba’s highest professional league). In that case, a player is free to sign with all 30 MLB clubs for whatever contract he is capable of receiving.
At Baseball America, Ben Badler writes about eight such players, one of whom – Guillermo Heredia – is connected to the Chicago Cubs.
Heredia, 25, was declared a free agent by MLB back in July, and then held an open showcase for teams in October. As a plus center fielder with a light bat, though, Heredia has remained on the market, as teams attempt to correctly determine his value. Badler reports that the Cubs and Astros, among other teams, have held a private workout with Heredia.
A former switchhitter, Heredia bats exclusively from the right side, now, while still throwing lefty. By most reports he is a true standout center fielder – his position on the Cuban National team during the 2013 World Baseball Classic – with plus speed, a plus arm, a good first step and plenty of range. According to Badler, Heredia has a quick, short swing, but lacks any real power. An acquiring MLB team will have to believe in his ability to improve, at least slightly, in that respect.
According to the report – which has plenty more in it – Heredia has been participating in private workouts for multiple MLB clubs, though just the Astros and Cubs are named specifically. For what it’s worth, the Cubs are believed to be looking for a right-handed, defense-first center fielder, so maybe Heredia can be the answer. But, to be fair, it’s much more likely that the search for an immediate bench piece will be found elsewhere, and the decision on Heredia will be made independent of 2016. It doesn’t sound like he’ll command a significant amount, but, given his age, defensive prowess and lack of IFA restrictions, he may be able to get more than you expect.
Meanwhile, the Cuban prospect getting the most attention right now is probably Lazarito, who is tied to IFA restrictions, and is expected to choose a team soon.