When the Padres lost a bidding war for Yoan Moncada a couple of years ago, it was, perhaps, a blessing in disguise. As good as Moncada is—and he’s potentially very, very good—missing out on him kept the Padres inside their international amateur spending budget in 2014-2015, helping to set up San Diego’s all-out assault on the current international signing market. In a sense, they traded Moncada for Adrian Morejon, Jorge Ona, Luis Almanzar, Gabriel Arias, Jeisson Rosario, Osvaldo Hernandez . . . and on and on.
Now, two years after the Red Sox inked Moncada to a $31.5 million deal, there’s a new Cuban phenom in town named Luis Robert. Like Moncada, Robert is very much a Physical Specimen, with speed, power, athleticism, and all the other attributes you’d expect from this sort of supremely talented prospect. A 19-year-old outfielder who will officially be cleared to sign with a major-league team in May, Robert is expected to sign before the next international signing period opens on July 4, when all teams will be limited by a (really dumb) hard spending cap.
If the Padres were drawing all this up when they decided not to match the Red Sox offer on Moncada back in March 2015, this is about how’d it go. With big-market teams like the Cubs, Red Sox, and Yankees currently on the sidelines for past spending sprees of their own, the Padres—yes, the Padres—got to throw money around like George Steinbrenner after a five-game losing streak. Instead of competing with the Dodgers and Red Sox for top international youngsters, the Padres were competing with teams like the A’s and Braves during the current signing period. And instead of coming up short, they got their guys. Give them credit, too, because they spent, busting past their international spending pool last July 4 while continuing to add talent over the winter.
Once July hits, though, the spending will be over. The Padres will be restricted from signing any international amateurs for more than $300,000 for the next two years. A.J. Preller and Co. will undoubtedly still search and find talented players from Latin America and beyond, but they’ll be unable to even consider signing the most highly regarded ones.
So, just a couple of months before July, after the dust has settled on the international market, Robert gets cleared. This is the Padres last chance to sign a young star. This is their last chance to make up for missing out on Moncada. This is their chance to put the cherry on top of two years of brilliantly executed foreign maneuvering.
Alright, let’s not get too dramatic.
The Padres will have competition. As Badler notes in the article linked above, any of the teams that have already surpassed their spending pool are the likely favorites to sign him, a list that includes the Padres but also the A’s, Reds, Cardinals, Braves, Astros, and Nationals. The White Sox—now the home of Moncada—also worked out Robert recently and are are drawing some buzz as a possible destination. According to Badler, the White Sox have been quiet in (the sorta-kinda rule-breaking process of) lining up deals for the 2017-2018 signing period, a potential sign that they’re preparing to pounce on Robert.
In short, Robert isn’t just going to be handed to the Padres. They’ll have to shell out many more millions to get him, likely at least $10 million if not a good bit more, plus a 100 percent tax on whatever the final number ends up being.
There are plenty of ready-made excuses if the Padres don’t sign Robert: “We ultimately didn’t think it was the right fit.” “The money just got out of control there.” “They said I’d get fired if I spent another dollar internationally.” It’s also possible that he really isn’t the right fit, that for whatever reason the Padres think the money would be better spent elsewhere.
But if everything lines up on Robert—if A.J. likes him, and the scouts and front office like him, and the numbers like him—then signing him would be a hell of way to put an exclamation point on an international class chock-full of talent. The Padres have controlled the international market for the better part of the past year, and there’s no reason to stop now.