One of the biggest stories in baseball is what will happen with Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada.
Trying to peg the market for Moncada is tricky. He’s widely viewed throughout the game as a premium talent, he’s able to play nearly anywhere on the field except shortstop, and he doesn’t need to fit a team’s major league roster immediately because he’s a 19-year-old who’s going to start his career in the minors. High and low revenue teams could all make a case to sign him.
While Major League Baseball has declared Moncada a free agent, Moncada has not obtained the specific license from OFAC that Major League Baseball requires players to have before signing, and there’s no clear timetable for when that will come.
So it’s possible that the Cubs and Rangers—both of whom are prohibited from signing an international player for more than $250,000 until July 2—or a team that’s already heavily committed to top 2015 international prospects could convince Moncada to wait until July 2, 2015 to sign, thus counting him against its 2015-16 bonus pool.
But right now, the teams that seem to be in the best position and most likely to land Moncada check off all or most of these boxes:
• They have already gone over their 2014-15 international bonus pools
• They, to my knowledge, do not have high-dollar agreements in place for 2015 prospects
• They are in the lower end of the 2015-16 pools (and the draft)
• Their owner is willing to invest in amateur talent
The Nationals have the third-lowest bonus pool, and they look like one of the best teams going into 2015. Any team that goes over its 2014-15 bonus pool by more than 15 percent won’t be allowed to sign a pool-eligible player for more than $300,000 for the next two signing periods, but that limit wouldn’t be a huge blow to the Nationals. They also typically don’t sign players for more than that amount anyway, and international director Johnny DiPuglia and his staff have found some late-blooming bargains in Latin America in righthander Reynaldo Lopez and middle infielder Wilmer Difo. The Nationals have been willing to invest in the draft, and Moncada as a special talent could tempt them to make a big investment now on the international side, especially with second base a position of need.
|San Francisco Giants
The World Series champions will have one of the lowest bonus pools in baseball. They have signed players the last couple years in the $500,000 neighborhood, but they have stayed away from the bigger-ticket items after spending heavily on Angel Villalona, Rafael Rodriguez and Gustavo Cabrera with little to show for their investment. The Giants are trying to become more active in the Cuban market, and with a fairly light farm system, Moncada would be a good fit, and a potential Pablo Sandoval replacement at third base should the Panda end up elsewhere.
With the fifth-best record in the majors, the Tigers will again rank among the bottom of the pack in their 2015-16 bonus pool. Under international director Tom Moore, the Tigers’ strategy has been to spread their money around. The ceiling on their investments have generally been around the $420,000 they spent for shortstop Willy Adames and $400,000 for middle infielder Domingo Leyba, a pair of 2012 Dominican signings that have shot through the system quickly, with Adames helping net David Price at the trade deadline and now ranking as Tampa Bay’s No. 1 prospect. With their success finding those types of players and mining Venezuela for under-the-radar gems as well as any club, the $300,000 limit wouldn’t hamper them too much.The Tigers are an organization that also spent freely on the draft before the pools came.They dropped $3.45 million on Nick Castellanos in the supplemental first round in 2010 and went to $4.7 million for Jacob Turner at No. 9 overall in 2009. When Andrew Miller slid to them at No. 6 overall in 2006 due to signability concerns, the Tigers popped him and gave him a major league contract. The next year, Rick Porcello fell due to signability issues, so the Tigers took him at No. 27 overall and paid him a $3.58 million bonus as part of a $7 million major league contract. The numbers on Moncada are going to go higher than that, but the Tigers’ front office and ownership hasn’t been shy about pushing the market when it comes to big amateur investments. Considering the lack of impact talent in the farm system, Moncada would make a lot of sense for the Tigers.
|Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are already over their 2014-15 international bonus pool. That’s mostly on account of signing the No. 1 international prospect for July 2, 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Adrian Rondon, for $2.95 million. So they’re already in the maximum penalty range, regardless of whether they sign Moncada. The Rays have gone over their international bonus pool twice (they were the first ones to do so back in 2012-13), and the Rondon signing shows the Rays are willing to spend to acquire the top talent on their board.Moncada isn’t just going to be a $3 million investment though, so if the dollars get too high, the Rays might not feel comfortable making the top offer to Moncada. But the Rays can’t compete with other teams for star talent on the major league free agent market, and even the next tier is often off limits to them. Moncada represents an opportunity for them to acquire a potential franchise player without having to pay the market rate for an established major league free agent. With a farm system that used to be a powerhouse but has thinned significantly in recent years, Moncada is a player the Rays have to seriously consider.
|Los Angeles Angels
This is what other teams are thinking: If the Angels were willing to go into the $8 million territory for Cuban shortstop Roberto Baldoquin and push themselves into the maximum penalty bracket, what must they be willing to pay Moncada, who’s clearly the superior player? The Angels pursuing Moncada makes a lot of sense. They won the most games in the majors in 2014, so their 2014-15 bonus pool is the smallest in baseball, and they’re in the max penalty range once the Baldoquin deal becomes official.Sean Newcomb and Ricardo Sanchez are good prospects, but you have to squint in just the right way to see much value elsewhere in the farm system, which might be the worst in baseball. Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun are young position players to build around, but every starting infielder the Angels have is at least 30. Second baseman Howie Kendrick and third baseman David Freese both become free agents after the 2015 season, and those are the positions where Moncada fits best. Few teams would be a better fit for Moncada than the Angels.
Of all the teams with the strongest presence at Yoan Moncada’s open showcase last week, the Braves were the biggest surprise. In addition to new international scouting director Marc Russo, the Braves also sent two of the organization’s chief evaluators, special assistants Gordon Blakeley and Roy Clark, to scout Moncada. They didn’t travel all the way to Guatemala just to socialize. Atlanta hired Russo away from the Astros within the last month, so it’s unlikely the Braves have committed themselves to any big-ticket 2015 items that would prevent them from signing Moncada during the current signing period.The Braves aren’t necessarily punting 2015, but their eyes are clearly set on acquiring players who will be able to help them win games beyond next season. With Jason Heyward traded to the Cardinals and Justin Upton a free agent after the 2015 season, the only major offensive threats in their lineup beyond next season are Freddie Freeman and Evan Gattis, and Gattis could be traded this offseason. Second baseman Jose Peraza reached Double-A and could help soon, but there isn’t a premium bat on the way to Atlanta. Adding Moncada would change that and fit in perfectly with the organization’s broader plans.
|Boston Red Sox
Boston blew well past its 2014-15 bonus pool on July 2, with pitching the focus as the Red Sox landed righthanders Anderson Espinoza for $1.8 million and Christopher Acosta for $1.5 million. As a high-revenue team, they’re not lacking the funds to land Moncada. Unlike several other teams we’ve already gone over, the Red Sox have a stacked farm system that ranks among the best in the game. That’s not even including the young talent on the big league team like Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts. At second base, the Red Sox are set with Dustin Pedroia (or even Betts, if necessary), but they do have a need at third base. Moncada isn’t major league ready yet, but he could be within the next couple of seasons. If Sandoval isn’t coming to Boston, Moncada would be a nice bet for the future.
|New York Yankees
No team seems to be a better fit for Moncada than the Yankees. They took their international bonus pool and lit it on fire, setting an international spending record to sign just about all the top players on their board, including nine of Baseball America’s Top 30 prospects for July 2. They’re well into the maximum penalty range already.For that type of investment, general manager Brian Cashman and Yankees ownership must have immense faith in international scouting director Donny Rowland and his staff, which is justified. Half of the Yankees Top 10 prospects are Latin American players; righthander Luis Severino at No. 1, exciting shortstop Jorge Mateo at No. 3, catcher Gary Sanchez at No. 5, catcher Luis Torrens at No. 9, Miguel Andujar at No. 10, and plenty of other intriguing international talent coming up through the lower levels. At the major league level, other than shortstop, the two biggest holes in the lineup are at third and second base. The top players at every position on their depth chart are at least 30. The farm system takes more heat than it should because it’s New York, but the Yankees have struggled to produce good young talent in the big leagues, and there isn’t a star position prospect who’s close to helping in the majors. The Yankees have the money to beat anyone’s offer. They’re willing to invest in international talent, whether it’s unprecedented spending on Latin American amateurs or $175 million for Masahiro Tanaka. When you line up all the evidence, if the Yankees truly want Moncada, they’re going to be tough to beat.