One Big Problem For Teams With Yoan Moncada

I talk to international scouts all the time. One thing is certain: If they ever feel a player is overrated or overhyped in any way, they’re not shy about letting their feelings be known.

When it comes to Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada, it’s hard to find anyone who has much negative to say about him. There’s good reason for that. Moncada is a 19-year-old switch-hitter (though much better from the left side) with explosive tools. He can fly, he has tremendous bat speed and power, he’s been the most dominant hitter in the Cuban junior national leagues and has excelled on the junior national team during international competition.

As a prospect who will start in the minors and can play virtually anywhere in the field other than shortstop, there should be interest from just about every team, big market or small, regardless of the makeup of the current big league team. The Angels are finalizing a deal in the area of $8 million for 20-year-old Cuban shortstop Roberto Baldoquin, who isn’t considered to be near the same level as Moncada. It’s obvious that a team is going to have to shatter its international bonus pool to land Moncada.

Moncada isn’t a free agent yet, and he has not obtained a specific license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the United States Department of the Treasury. There’s never a clear timetable for when to expect bureaucratic paperwork to get pushed through, but assuming Moncada gets cleared to sign in the near future and wants to get going before the 2015 season begins, he’s going to be able to sign a contract during the current 2014-15 signing period. Once he breaks that team’s 2014-15 bonus pool, that means the team will pay a 100 percent tax on its pool overage and won’t be allowed to sign any pool-eligible players for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods, beginning with the 2015-16 signing period that begins on July 2, 2015.

For some teams, that could cause major problems. In recent years, the Latin American amateur market has moved at an accelerated pace, with teams locking in players to oral agreements to sign well in advance of July 2. Clubs have always agreed to sign players in advance of July 2, but now there are 2015 players who have had deals in place since this summer, a year before they’re eligible to officially sign the contract. To try to slow down the market, Major League Baseball in August enacted a controversial rule that banned international players from team academies until they are either 16 years old or six months from signing.

Yet there are still several teams that have already struck deals with players for at least $1 million, and many other players have agreements more than $300,000. If a team signs Moncada during the current signing period, those deals are going to be wiped off the table. That would create an ugly situation for a team that had to renege on its agreement with a high-end player, or multiple players. Trust and honoring your word are paramount in the small world of Latin American scouting, where relationships are critical, especially with MLB’s new rules, and a team would rather not infuriate some of the most influential trainers in the region. Backing out of an agreement wouldn’t be a first, but it certainly is frowned upon, and those agreements are putting some teams in a bind.

Even if Moncada becomes eligible to sign, say, in January, that doesn’t mean he’s forced to sign during the current signing period. A team could convince Moncada to wait until July 2, 2015 to officially sign his contract, thus counting his bonus toward the 2015-16 pool. That’s not uncommon. Teams often strike deals with Latin American players who are eligible to sign immediately, but ask them to wait until July 2 to make it official so that their bonus counts against the following signing period’s pool. Dominican righthander Jeferson Mejia, who signed with the Cubs for $850,000 on July 2, 2013, is a prominent example.

So now we have a situation where there are teams hoping Moncada’s OFAC approval and free agency are delayed as long as possible. That includes the Cubs and Rangers, of course, since they went over their 2012-13 bonus pools and are not allowed to sign any pool-eligible players for more than $250,000 until July 2. It’s well-known that those two organizations have been aggressively scouring the market for the top 2015 talent for a long time. Multiple sources believe the Cubs are planning to shatter their bonus pool again when the 2015-16 signing period opens on July 2. Several clubs have already struck oral agreements with top 2015 players that, unofficially, puts them in a similar situation.

It’s not just Rangers, Cubs and teams that already have deals lined up that Moncada’s uncertain timetable affects. Several clubs right now are in a holding pattern. With some of the top 2015 talent already going off the board, should a team that’s planning to make a serious run at Moncada avoid agreeing to any deals with top 2015 prospects? Or is it not worth it to sit on the sidelines, miss out on the top July 2 prospects on their boards and risk winding up empty-handed if Moncada signs elsewhere?

That’s why it puts the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and now the Angels in an advantageous position in the Moncada sweepstakes. Not only are those teams already over their 2013-14 bonus pools and don’t have to face a decision of whether the opportunity cost of not signing anyone for more than $300,000 the next two years is worth it, but they also have not locked in any players for more than that amount for the upcoming signing period.

In an already complicated situation, it’s just another layer of complexity.