The Hangover: The Luis Robert Update

Okay, okay, there really isn’t much of an update since we last wrote about Luis Robert.

Robert, the heralded 19-year-old Cuban outfielder, will become eligible to sign with a major-league team on Saturday. Don’t expect the bidding war to last long, however. Since Robert will almost certainly sign with a team before the next July 2 international amateur period starts, the deadline to sign him is bumped up to June 15, when the current signing period ends. There may be a couple of weeks of negotiation, but there’s probably a better chance a deal gets hammered out relatively soon.

It’s an exciting time for Padres fans, with San Diego assumed to be one of the five or six favorites to sign Robert, joined by a handful of other teams that have already exceeded their international amateur bonus pools plus those pesky Chicago White Sox. The Padres have already added a well-documented international haul over the last 10 and a half months, and Robert would qualify as the cherry on the top.

Anyway, Padres Jagoff wrote an excellent three-part series this week on why the Padres must sign Robert. I was leaning in that direction before reading any of Jagoff’s articles, but I’m fully on board now. Consider his last article, in which Jagoff discusses the strategic reasons why the Padres must sign Robert. In short: where else are they going to spend the money?

As we’ve discussed, since the Padres went far beyond their bonus pool in this signing period, they won’t be able to spend more than $300,000 on an international amateur prospect for the next two years, not counting the Mexican Loophole. Plus, MLB’s new rules make these kind of splurges off-limits for every team in any year, with hard caps now limiting international spending to, at most, $5.75 million this year, rising yearly with an MLB-determined inflation rate. So, even when the spending ban is lifted, in time for the 2019-2020 signing period, the Padres will still be limited in their spending on young foreign talent.

Further, the domestic Rule 4 draft has a spending cap that also comes with harsh penalties, so there’s essentially a hard limit there (no team has busted their bonus pool yet). Even if the Padres spend every penny of it in the upcoming draft, the final tab will still “only” be $11,839,000. Maybe next year that bonus pool will jump to $15 million, if the Padres secure the No. 1 pick, but that’s still not going to dent any major-league team’s financial coffers.

There’s always free agency, of course, but as Jagoff discussed, it doesn’t make a ton of sense for the Padres to go all-in there, at least not yet, given the structure of the team and their next expected competitive window. Overall, with financial restrictions limiting the amount of money the Padres can spend on amateurs and with good ol’ free agency not making a ton of sense yet, it remains unclear where else the Padres will spend money over the next few years.

It’s not just a Padres thing, either. With MLB continuing to limit spending as much as possible, and teams and the league in general getting richer and richer, there are legitimate questions as to where teams should spend left-over dollars. Teams like the Dodgers have beefed up their front office and medical staff, while other teams have invested more in minor-league development or wearable technology or super computers. Improving infrastructure is an ongoing thing, though often tax-payer funded. For the most part, though, those expenditures are still small potatoes or already budgeted in. Major-league teams have a problem, with too much money and not enough places to spend it (the sort of problem I’d like to be burdened with).

Point is, the Padres have one final shot to spend a bunch of dough here, to add a kid to the system who fits in almost perfectly, close enough to likely be ready in a few years but unpredictable enough to possibly be a superstar. Even if it takes more money than the Padres think it’s worth—$40 million, in total, instead of $30 million, let’s say—there’s still a good argument that the Padres should take the gamble. In a world where teams are searching under every rock for places to spend more money, Robert is jumping up and down right in the Padres face.

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