Cuban outfielder Luis Robert will be officially eligible to sign in two days.
That doesn’t mean Robert, 19, will sign on Saturday, but with the current 2016-17 international signing period ending on June 15, Robert should have a team soon.
Since Robert is subject to the bonus pools, he can’t sign a major league contract, so whatever team signs him will give him a signing bonus on a minor league contract. The total cost to the team will be double the bonus, since the signing team will have to pay a 100 percent overage tax to the commissioner’s office in July for exceeding its bonus pool .
The teams in play for Robert are the ones we’ve been reporting since the beginning of the year—the clubs already over their bonus pools and the White Sox. The Braves and Nationals are over their bonus pools, but neither club looks like it is trying to sign Robert.
The Reds and Astros are both over their pools and have had private workouts for Robert in the Dominican Republic, with the Reds sending general manager Dick Williams as part of a large contingent. No team has spent more in the international market this year than the Padres. The A’s went over their pool this signing period too and sent GM David Forst to the Dominican Republic for their private workout with Robert.
Based on the available evidence from conversations with sources in the game, the Cardinals and White Sox look like the most likely landing spots for Robert.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are over their bonus pool. GM John Mozeliak went to the Dominican Republic for their private workout with Robert where Robert homered against live pitching. The Cardinals were aggressive in adding Cuban players since July 2, signing righthander Johan Oviedo ($1.9 million) and center fielders Jonatan Machado ($2.35 million) and Randy Arozarena ($1.25 million), as well as $2.5 million for outfielder Jose Adolis Garcia, who was exempt from the pools.
They also don’t have a pick in next month’s draft until No. 94 overall. They surrendered their first-round pick to sign Dexter Fowler in free agency, then forfeited the No. 56 and 75 picks to the Astros as a penalty for their repeated illegal breach of Astros databases. So not only are the Cardinals waiting until the third round to make their top pick, they also have the smallest draft bonus pool at $2,176,000. That’s nearly half the 29th-highest bonus pool and far less than the $11-$15 million each that teams picking in the top five (including the Reds, Padres and A’s) have in their pools.
The Cardinals have money to spend, a strong motivation to spend due to their circumstances and have demonstrated high-level interest within the organization to try to sign Robert.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox have been the outlier from the start, since they’re not over their bonus pool yet. They would be sacrificing more to sign Robert. The clubs that are over their pools are already subject to two years of not being able to sign an international amateur player for more than $300,000 beginning on July 2. So if the Cardinals sign Robert, they won’t face any additional signing restrictions. The only cost for them is money. If the White Sox sign Robert, the financial cost is the same but the signing would put them into the penalty box, whereas right now they’re unrestricted for the next two years.
Most teams that don’t have any restrictions for the next signing period already have players lined up to sign on July 2, but the White Sox are an exception. They haven’t been linked to any of the top players in the 2017 class expected to sign for more than $300,000.
Their interest in Robert is no secret. Vice president Ken Williams and GM Rick Hahn both went to the Dominican Republic to watch Robert at the club’s private workout. It probably didn’t hurt that Robert hit two home runs that day against live pitching. Robert fits the mold of players the White Sox have targeted both in the draft and the international market as an athletic, physical, tooled-up prospect with swing-and-miss risk.
The White Sox are clearly in a rebuild, adding Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, among others, in offseason trades. Signing Robert would fit with the organization’s plan, and as a player who’s ready for an assignment to a low or high Class A team based on his present ability, he would help the major league team much faster to expedite that rebuild than any 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic or Venezuela they might sign the next two years.
The club that signs Robert will be the team with the owner who is willing to write the biggest check. There’s a chance one of the other teams already over their pool could sign Robert, but right now, the evidence points to the Cardinals and White Sox as the favorites.