A young Cuban player who signed a seven-figure contract last year is an unexpected entry in next month’s Rule 5 draft.
The Yankees signed Cuban lefthander Omar Luis last year for a $4 million bonus, with an official contract date of July 1, 2012, the day before the inaugural $2.9 million international bonus pools went into effect.
However, Luis and several other Cuban players also represented by Praver Shapiro Sports Management who were claiming permanent residency in Haiti ran into visa issues and were unable to get into the United States. When Luis arrived in the U.S. this year after spending eight months in Haiti, an unknown issue popped up in his physical, which led the Yankees to void the contract.
Luis signed a new contract with the Yankees for a reduced bonus—$2.5 million—on April 9, 2013. Since Luis signed his second contract with his original team and the Yankees did not place him on their 40-man roster, he is available in the Rule 5 draft, which is Dec. 12.
It may be a long shot that any team will draft Luis, however, given how far away he is from contributing. Luis, who turned 21 last month, struck out 43 batters in 31 2/3 innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, but walked nearly a batter per inning with 29 walks and a 5.68 ERA.
The stats were unusual for Luis, who was lauded for his pitchability and savvy on the Cuban junior national team, though the rust from spending eight months without picking up a baseball in Haiti was understandable and made him tricky to evaluate. A stocky 6 feet, 210 pounds, Luis did show swing-and-miss stuff with an 89-95 mph fastball, a slider and a changeup that can both flash average, with a head whack at the end of his delivery that affects his command.
The timing of Luis’ two contracts also forced MLB to make a decision regarding whether his contract would be subject to the international bonus pools. While his April 2013 contract falls within the 2012-13 signing window where every team had a $2.9 million bonus pool, because his initial agreement came just before the new system kicked in, MLB determined that Luis’ new contract was exempt from the bonus pools.
Had MLB decided to count Luis’ signing against the 2012-13 bonus pools, that would have put the Yankees well beyond their $2.9 million bonus pool and prevented them from signing anyone for more than $250,000 during the current 2013-14 signing period, which began on July 2. That, obviously, was not the case, as the Yankees signed toolsy Dominican center fielder Leonardo Molina for $1.4 million when he turned 16 on Aug. 1.
Luis’ case is not unprecedented. When the Brewers drafted righthander Cody Scarpetta out of high school with their 11th-round pick in 2007, Scarpetta initially signed for $325,000, but the Brewers voided that contract and re-signed him a few weeks later for $125,000 when he needed to have surgery on a pre-existing injury to his right index finger. Scarpetta became eligible for the Rule 5 draft the following year, and after he spent the 2009 season in low Class A Wisconsin, the Brewers placed him on their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
The Reds went through a similar situation with lefthander Ismael Guillon when they signed him out of Venezuela in Oct. 2008, voided his contract due to a torn elbow ligament that required Tommy John surgery, and then signed him to a new contract for a reduced amount in January 2009. After Guillon spent most of the 2012 season in the Rookie-level Pioneer League and made four starts in the low Class A Midwest League, the Reds placed him on their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
Mariners infielder Martin Esteilon Peguero is another example, as he initially signed with the Mariners out of the Dominican Republic for $2.9 million in Dec. 2010, then a few weeks later signed a new contract with the Mariners for $1.1 million. The reason for Peguero’s reduced bonus has never become public, but he is not on their 40-man roster and is subject to the Rule 5 draft, though he has descended into non-prospect status and won’t be selected.
As for Luis, while it’s unlikely he would be able to stick the entire 2014 season on a major league roster even hidden in a bullpen, he will always be subject to the Rule 5 draft going forward until the Yankees place him on the 40-man roster, which could force the Yankees to expedite his pace through the minors by starting his options sooner than they might want.
Luis only pitched briefly in Cuba’s top league, Serie Nacional, but he was one of the country’s best pitchers in his age group. He was an all-star at the 18U World Championship in Thunder Bay, Ont. in 2010, where he threw 137 pitches and struck out 10 in a complete-game shutout against Canada. He came back later in the tournament to beat Team USA in a 145-pitch complete game victory with five strikeouts and two walks in a 3-2 win. That game came two years after Luis threw eight scoreless innings with six strikeouts and two walks against Team USA at the 16 COPABE Pan American Championships in Mexico, though Cuba lost 3-1 in extra innings.