Yoan Moncada was finally granted free agency by some combination of MLB/OFAC earlier this month, and the latest news on the Cuban phenom is that he’ll field offers from teams over the next few weeks with the hopes of entering the winning bidder’s spring training camp as soon as possible.
We’ve discussed Yoan Moncada quite a bit around these parts. What makes him so tantalizing is the combination of projectability and polish. He’s just 19 years old, but unlike domestic high schoolers, he already has significant experience both in international competition and in Cuba’s professional league, Serie de Nacional. He’s currently a switch-hitting shortstop, although there are whispers that he might give up switch-hitting and most scouts don’t see him sticking at short long-term. Either way, Moncada offers the kind of tool-set and upside that rarely enters the free agent market.
He’ll be pricey, and as we’ve discussed in the past, big-market teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers are expected to be major players in the Moncada sweepstakes. As Vocal Minority Nate discussed on Monday, since Moncada is under age-23 and hasn’t spent five years in a professional league, he’s subject to each team’s international bonus pool. That means that whatever figure he signs for — early estimates were in the $30-40 million range, but don’t be surprised if it goes higher — his new team will have to pay, essentially, a 100 percent tax on that number. If he signs for $40 million, he’s going to cost right around $80 million, once you figure in the tax. And since the winning bidder will exceed their international bonus pool by more than 15 percent, that team will have to forfeit the ability to sign any international amateur free agent for more than $300,000 for the next two signing periods.
Despite those obstacles, the Padres appear to be contenders for Moncada. Not just “kicking the tires” contenders, but real, legitimate contenders. After this offseason, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Not only has AJ Preller made big trades and free agent signings, the Padres have had some degree of interest in just about everybody. And the once stingy franchise has finally opened up the checkbook — payroll’s expected to be above $100 million for the first time, and the recent James Shields deal more than quadrupled Joaquin Benoit‘s previous franchise-record free agent contract. Good times.
But is Moncada worth it? Forget the fact that he’s going to cost something like $80 million up front, and that’s before considering any money he makes once he reaches the majors. The bigger question might be: is an all-out play at Moncada the optimal plan given the current state of the international amateur free agent market?
Remember that part about teams being unable to sign any international amateur players for more than $300,000 if they exceed their bonus pool by a certain amount. So far, five teams — the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Rays, and the Diamondbacks — have exceeded their 2014-’15 international bonus pool by more than 15 percent, which means those teams will be unable to go over $300,000 for each of the next two signing periods. In December, Kiley McDaniel wrote about which teams might go over their bonus pools in the 2015-’16 signing period:
Almost Definitely (3): Cubs, Blue Jays, Phillies
Expected/Likely (4): Rangers, Padres, Dodgers, Diamondbacks
Possible/Rumored (5): Braves, Mariners, Nationals, Royals, Twins
So, by the end of the 2015-16 signing period, we could have a situation where at least 10 teams, including a large percentage of big-market clubs, are under the international penalty. That means that for the 2016-’17 signing period, which just so happens to be the last one before the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires, only ~20 teams, at most, would be able to sign premium international amateur free agents.
If the Padres bypass Moncada and then stay within their budget for the upcoming 2015-’16 signing period, they could run wild with a budget-busting spending spree in two years without having to worry about any competition from the likes of the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, or Rangers. Imagine, then, if a generational talent emerges — either from the Dominican Republic, or Venezuela, or Cuba — and the Padres are one of only 15 or 20 teams able to bid on him while the Yankees and Dodgers are stuck on the sidelines. The Padres could use the 2016-’17 signing period to restock their farm system with a bunch of high upside talent, and they could do it without competition from the big-market/traditionally big-spending international organizations. As an added bonus, under this scenario, the Padres might escape the two-year ban on spending more than $300,000 on international amateurs since an international draft — or at least a changed int’l spending policy — might be in place the following year as part of a new CBA.
It’s a complicated equation, of course. Maybe Moncada’s worth it. Maybe the 2016-’17 class doesn’t look that impressive, although that involves the unenviable task of evaluating 14-year-old players. Not to mention, there’s the game theory aspect involved, trying to estimate which teams are going to break the bank and which teams might wait around and try to employ a similar strategy to the one I’ve outlined here. The Padres have one advantage here — AJ Preller’s their general manager. Preller probably has more experience in the international game than any current GM, so if there’s anyone up to the task of simultaneously evaluating a 14-year-old Venezuelan while calculating the cost/benefit of spending now vs. spending later, it’s probably him.
Losing out on Moncada might sting initially, but there’s a chance it’ll end up being a blessing in disguise.
- Ben Lindbergh, Sam Miller, and Kiley McDaniel recently discussed this situation on an episode of Effectively Wild. Give it a listen.
- I also discussed this possibility back in December in an article I wrote at Baseball Prospectus. Give it a read — if you haven’t already had enough of me. (We also had a good discussion on Twitter about this the other night.)