Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada officially became a free agent this week, meaning he’s eligible to sign with any Major League Baseball team. The Red Sox should push their chips into the middle of the table for the 19-year-old phenom, as both the player and the situation make the investment worthwhile.
First, let’s start with the player. Moncada, who turns 20 in May, likely will need some time to develop in the minors after signing with an MLB club, unlike Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo, a 27-year-old Cuban defector whose minor league stint at the tail end of 2014 was designed to dust off any cobwebs. The Sox will be making a move geared toward the future, rather than the present, if they sign Moncada.
But, oh what a future it could be. Moncada, a switch-hitter, falls safely under the “five-tool player” umbrella, according to many of those who have seen him play. Baseball America’s Ben Badler described Moncada as better than both Castillo (signed a seven-year, $72.5 million contract with Boston) and Yasmany Tomas (signed a six-year, $68.5 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks). Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan described him as perhaps the most desired player to leave Cuba ever, with Moncada’s hype surpassing that generated by Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes and Aroldis Chapman. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez heard Moncada be compared to All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano.
Obviously, we can’t jump the gun and automatically assume Moncada will become a superstar in the United States. But scouts are well-aware that he can hit (both for power and average), run, throw and field with the best of them, even with his all-around game being a work in progress given his youth. Badler suggested Moncada immediately will rank among the best 7-12 prospects in baseball after latching on with a team in the coming weeks.
“He’s really, really good,” MLB.com’s Jim Callis recently said. “He’s not on the Top 100 Prospects list because he’s not signed yet. But were he to sign, I think he’d be in the top 10 somewhere — he’s that good.”
There’s some question as to where Moncada will reside defensively. He mostly played shortstop in Cuba, but second base and third base might be more suitable for the 6-foot, 200-pound infielder. Center field also could become an option given his speed and his throwing arm. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Moncada is an athlete — perhaps an elite one — and teams will pursue him with the presumption he’ll fit somewhere.
The Red Sox, for example, shouldn’t even consider that Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia and Pablo Sandoval are firmly entrenched at shortstop, second base and third base, respectively, especially since anything can happen between now and when Moncada is major league-ready.
A big factor, as it is with any free agent, is cost. And signing Moncada, who at the end of the day is an unknown quantity, will require a sizable financial commitment. Moncada, unlike the other international players mentioned, cannot be signed to a major league contract because he is not yet 23 years old and did not play in a Cuban professional league for at least five seasons. Instead, he’ll be subject to MLB’s international signing guidelines, which has implications for the Red Sox.
The Red Sox’s international bonus pool for 2014 was roughly $3 million based on their 2013 success. Boston already has committed $1.5 million for Dominican pitcher Christopher Acosta and $1.8 million for Venezuelan pitcher Anderson Espinosa. By virtue of blowing past the $3 million threshold, the Sox would need to pay a 100 percent tax on any signing bonus committed to Moncada. That’s important because it’s been speculated that Moncada could land a $40 million bonus — Boston then would need to pay an additional $40 million to MLB — but the most pertinent aspect of the Red Sox’s international situation is the restrictions they face.
After June 15, the Red Sox are not allowed to award a signing bonus of more than $300,000 to any player subject to MLB’s international guidelines over the next two years because they exceeded their bonus pool for 2014. While this is prohibitive in a sense, it’s also a clear-cut reason why the Red Sox should consider going all-in for Moncada. Not only is the kid an immense talent, and thus an extremely valuable organizational asset. But Boston also won’t be able to pursue such a player again until at least 2017. Why not break the bank now for someone with superstar potential?
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington recently indicated that Boston has scouted Moncada, though he was mum on whether the club had legitimate interest because Moncada hadn’t yet been declared a free agent. This tidbit is rather insignificant in that several other teams, including the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, also have been linked to Moncada. But it does suggest the Red Sox at least are open to pursuing the Cuban stud if they feel he checks the boxes of a worthwhile expenditure.
The Red Sox are in position to gamble rather than fold. If the resources are in place, now’s the time to take a stab at bringing home what could be a huge prize.
Thumbnail photo via Twitter/@SBNationaMLB
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