Yoan Big Decision: Why Missing Out on Moncada Might Be a Good Thing

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 team 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. 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.

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  • Scarr

    The biggest reason the Padres are chasing after a guy like Moncada is his ability to play short and third. Being only 19, Moncada could easily fill the offensive black hole that is the left side of the infield for years to come. The biggest obstacle the Padres have to making the playoffs is their infield, and signing Moncada would solve their biggest problem

    • blahdu

      Why not get Olivera instead though? He could play at 2nd or 3rd like Moncada (YM isn’t sticking at SS w.o ending up below average @ ML level I don’t think) and because he’s had 5 years in Serie Nacional (right? If I’m wrong I’ve been misinformed for a while) he’s not subject to int’l pool $ so would just cost a contract believed to be in the range of Moncada’s bonus (minus tax) or slightly higher. YMs ceiling is obviously much higher, comes w 6 yrs of control, 3@ ML min or close to it, and is also a switch hitter (at least for now) and we need LH bats BUT Olivera’s bat is going to be above average for a middle infielder and then we could move gyorko over to 3B and have middlebrooks or solarte platoon w alonso at 1st. I trust Preller to make the right decision on this, however. If he believes YM is truly a once in a generation, can’t miss talent a la trout or stanton then by all means, pay the tax and sit out the next two years.

      • Scarr

        Moving Gyorko to 3B at this point probably won’t happen, it seemed like that was the original plan but the org seems set on keeping him at 2B. Middlebrooks/Solarte at 1st also makes little sense, I mean both are utility infielders at this point. Going into the season with Middlebrooks and Amarista as starters on the left side of the infield is beyond risky, neither of them hit. Moncada, and Olivera to a lesser extent, are almost guaranteed to fix that issue. Honestly if Moncaca cannot be signed, and all the options are exhausted with him, sign Olivera. But 2015 can’t start with the SS-3B combo we’ve got now.

      • I agree with what you said here, and you are correct about Olivera not being subject to the int’l bonus pools — just a straight up major league contract. And to Scarr’s point about patching up the left side of the infield, like you mention, Olivera at third might fill that more immediately than Moncada. Moncada’s probably a good year (or more) away, depending on his transition to pro ball, and he’s less of a finished product than Olivera. If the Padres are pushing to win in 2015 and 2016, which they clearly are, Olivera might end up making more sense.

      • Nathan Veale

        Moncada probably won’t be playing SS later in his career, but what about early in his career? I think if he could have an impact at the position for 1-3 years before moving to the corner infield, that would give him a big advantage over Olivera, who likely ends up at 2B.

      • I think there’s some doubt about whether he can handle short at all in the majors, even early on. But I’m sure some scouts/front office execs might disagree, and be willing to give him a shot there. Seems likely he’s more destined for third/second, or maybe even center field.

  • ballybunion

    I’m torn between the logic of this post and an unwillingness to second guess A.J. Preller’s take on the international market over the next two signing periods. If he’s going after Moncada, and who knows, maybe Olivera too, the pickings might be slim in his expert view over the next two periods, and after that the rules may well be changed. Preller’s plan is to accumulate talent, and Moncada’s must be very impressive to him. There are differneces among the scouts, but Preller is the evaluator who judges the scouting reports.

    What astounds me is the 100% fine is due in one lump sum within something like a month after signing. I can see owners juggling revenue to increase payroll, but that fine will have to come straight out of ownership’s wallet. It would be even harder to believe that the Padres have that much already set aside, or maybe not. When Phil Mickelson backed out of buying in to the ownership group at a reported $50 million, Ron Fowler said it didn’t matter, the group was already “oversubscribed”. This ownership group may have the wherewithal to do things we fans only dreamed of seeing.

    • I would be willing to defer to Preller in this area, as well : )

      But I do think there’s a lot that can happen between now and the start of the 2016-’17 signing period, like young players developing and/or Cubans defecting, that could change one’s perception of that class.