Given how much talent is available on the International Free Agent market (and how asymmetric information and individual relationships can play a disproportionate role in landing that talent), it’s never a surprise to see smart teams like the Cubs heavily involved abroad.
Unfortunately, after getting VERY heavily involved during the 2015-2016 signing period, the Cubs were in the penalty box for overspending the last two years and were permitted to sign players to bonuses worth only $300,000 or less. (They will be out of the penalty box on July 2.)
And, yet, despite that $300,000 limitation, the Cubs managed to sign 41 IFAs to deals this period, including two guys who signed contracts worth $1.2 million. You sneaky Cubs, you. How’d you do that?
Ben Badler shares all of the info on the Cubs 2017-2018 IFAs at Baseball America, but the headline was the organization’s continued efforts in Mexico, where the rules are slightly different than they are elsewhere. Although the Cubs’ $300,000 cap technically exists for young Mexican prospects, there’s one big difference: those prospects are typically already signed to a Mexican League team, and receive only 25% of the bonus an MLB organization pays to sign them, with the rest going to the team. And only the amount that goes to the prospect counts for MLB purposes. Thus, a $300,000 bonus limit becomes a $1.2 million bonus limit in Mexico.
Thus, the Cubs were basically able to land a bunch of more expensive players (and get almost a fully-loaded IFA class) with a bit of a loophole and some beneficial accounting. (The Cubs previously nabbed Jose Albertos and Isaac Paredes, among others, out of Mexico.)
If you’re interested in learning more about these players, I encourage you to check out Badler’s post, because he has individual write-ups on all of the following guys:
- Florencio Serrano, RHP, 18-years old, $1.2M
- Luis Verdugo, SS, 17-years-old, $1.2M
- Reivaj Garcia, SS, 16-years-old, $500K
- Saul Vazquez, LHP, 17-years-old, $450K
- Manuel Espinoza, RHP, 17-years-old, $400K
- Fabian Pertuz, SS, 17-years-old, $300K
- Alexander Ovalles, CF, 17-years-old, $300K
- Alexander Guerra, C, 21-years-old, $300K
- Brailin Pena, CF, 16-years-old, $225K
- Nestor Heredia, SS, 17-years-old, $200K
- Widimer Joaquin, 3B, 17-years-old, $200K
- Jorge Remon, RHP, 17-years-old, $180K
- Orlando Zapata, SS, 17-years-old, $160K
- Misael Garcia, LHP, 16-years-old, $150K
- Jonthan Rodriguez, OF, 17-years-old, $150K
- Willy Cabrera, RHP, 17-years-old, $125K
- Carlos Morfa, OF, 17-years-old, $125K
Overall, it’s not much of a surprise to see the Cubs target mostly pitchers (6) and players at premium position (5 shortstops, 2 center fielders), because when they’re so young, you really just need to target the best tools and hope your system develops them best. Those types of prospects at that age tend overwhelmingly to be pitchers, catchers, shortstops, and center fielders.
Most importantly, it’s hard not to be impressed that the Cubs managed to land this much talent and use so much of their allotted bonus pool, despite their $300K limitation.
None of these guys will see the Majors anytime soon, but they could be factors in the organization’s overall health very soon. As Luke has discussed at length over the past week, this system is starved for impact talent. When you’re drafting late every year and not making trades to acquire prospects, one of the few relatively wide open avenues is international free agency, especially now that every team is subject to a hard bonus pool cap.