But that doesn’t mean he’ll be signing anytime soon.
Unlike his brother (who recently signed with the Houston Astros), Lourdes is not expected to sign until after his birthday in October, because his present age, 22, makes him subject to the international bonus pool restrictions (which artificially lower his negotiating leverage, and thus, earning potential). If he waits until October 19th, however, – which won’t be that big of a deal, given the impending conclusion of the Minor League seasons – Lourdes’ market will open up to all 30 teams without restrictions.
If you’re hoping the Cubs make a run at the 22-year-old Cuban star, this is good news, as the Cubs are among the teams that would have been essentially incapable of signing Lourdes before October. But will the Cubs actually have any interest?
Lourdes (and I’ll continue using his first name, for simplicity’s sake), has played all four infield positions as well as left field throughout his time in Serie Nacional, Cuba’s top league. He most recently got a look at shortstop, but is not thought to be long for the middle infield; still, he could be a very good defensive third baseman. The more important factor here for the Cubs, however, is that he is clearly quite versatile. If we’ve learned anything from the past few months/years of Cubs baseball, it’s that this front office (and manager) very clearly values versatility as much or more than many other skills. In addition, his ability to play multiple positions (it sounds like anything other than center field and catcher is on the table), should allow the Cubs to more confidently sign him and worry about what position he’ll play later.
To the extent that was a concern at all, that is. After all, it’s not as though he’ll jump immediately into the starting 2017 lineup. instead, the opportunity is more about a chance to bring in a top young player for only money. That has to be attractive to a team like the Cubs, who are in the penalty box in international free agency for the next two years, and who didn’t have a pick in the first two rounds of the 2016 MLB Draft.
Lourdes has a career .277/.362/.426 line over 1098 career plate appearances in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, but is expected to need “a year or two of minor league seasoning,” before stepping into the Majors. The timeframe is obviously a bit of an estimate, but given his age and time spent away from baseball, Minor League time should definitely be expected.
It might not even be a straight shot after that, either. Although he is supposed to be a very talented young player, Longenhagen has said that reviews on Lourdes have been a bit mixed. He is athletic, with power and the ability to play up the middle, but has a long swing and may be a “bit of a project for 23,” when all is said and done. That said, I’d argue that the Cubs may be in the unique position to be patient with Lourdes in minor league ball, precisely because he won’t be needed immediately at the Major League level.
But if they do go after him, what might it cost? Probably not as cheap as you’d think.
Despite the prevalent belief that Lourdes is not an immediate Major League talent, he is still expected to command a bonus well into the eight-figure range, according to Mark Polishuk (MLBTR). After all, young players with his upside and skill set are essentially never available for just money, so you can bet a number of teams will be interested in his services based on the unique opportunity alone.
And while we know the Cubs have the financial capability to swing for a deal like that, it might not ultimately be the best use of their resources given the 1) impending holes in the starting rotation and 2) escalating costs for the young players they already have in place. But I’ll admit, both issues can likely still be tackled a bit down the line without suffering too badly because of a deal for Lourdes. Cubs revenues are unquestionably up, and a TV deal looms.
Of course, with 30 teams interested in the young infielder/outfielder, the Cubs will have their fair share of competition. In fact, the Houston Astros are already being identified as the early favorites, after having signed Lourdes’ brother in the middle of July. Lourdes and Yulieski have explicitly mentioned a desire to play together in the past.
My guess is that the Astros will continue to be the favorites, but that there will be a long period of silence until things spark up again after Lourdes starts showcasing and working out for teams in advance of October.
At that point, any team could jump ahead with a large enough financial commitment, and, hey, it might even be the Cubs.
[Brett: One other thing I’d add is that this year’s free agent crop is especially weak, and the Cubs are fortunate to not have many free agency-type needs on the roster right now. Thus, to the extent they’ve got money to spend this offseason, perhaps going big to try and acquire a player like Lourdes would make the most sense.]