Building off Matt Garrioch's piece about Yoan Moncada the other day, it got me thinking about the waves of excellent Cuban players already here and those on the way. When you talk about modern players defecting from Cuba to join the ranks of the MLB, the first names that come to mind are Jose Abreu, Aroldis Chapman, Yasiel Puig, and Yoenis Cespedes. These four players have all excelled from the moment they started their careers. Three of those players skipped the minor leagues for the most part, but their performances have driven not only the price, but the expectations for Cuban imports through the roof.
The two most recent high profile signee's have been Rusney Castillo of the Red Sox and Yasmany Tomas of the Diamondbacks. Each signed deals for over $60M, but neither has had the opportunity yet to show their stuff over a full season. They have their own strengths and weaknesses, but both are expected to be at least league average players. Both Castillo and Tomas were also exempt from the international bonus pools, so there was no tax on their signing bonus, and they were free to sign major league deals. Exempt right handed pitcher Raisel Iglesias signed with the Reds for $27M over seven years, and the Braves also inked 25 year old outfielder Dian Toscano, who was also exempt, for $6M over four years. So far this offseason, two teams have blown past their bonus pool allotments in order to sign a Cuban player. Arizona shelled out $8.27M to 22 year old right handed pitcher Yoan Lopez while the Los Angeles Angels inked 20 year old middle infielder Roberto Baldoquin for $8M.
The next player in line to take home a hefty paycheck without signing restrictions is 29 year old second baseman Hector Olivera. The rumors right now are that his contract could be in the same range per year as Tomas and Castillo, but could be somewhere in the $25-40M range due to age and other factors. FanGraphs Kiley McDaniel pegged him on the low end on a three year deal, but provides a great breakdown on Olivera. Yoan Moncada, the 19 year old infield phenom is likely to sign before the calendar flips to March, and could command a $40M bonus along with a dollar-for-dollar tax paid to MLB. Second baseman Andy Ibanez also looks to break the bank for whatever team signs him with estimations for his bonus being in the $5-10M range. The soon to be 22 year old Ibanez was profiled by Ben Badler of Baseball America, and he mentioned the second baseman has already hosted two open work outs in the DR, and also included his Cuban stats.
In early February, right handed pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez, 19, and short stop Dainer Moreira, 30, have defected and are in the process of establishing residency somewhere. Moreira isn't considered a major league ready player but could sign to a minor league deal. Ben Badler reports Gutierrez has an 88-93 mph fastball, an excellent 77-80 mph curve that has been named the best on the island, and a change up. Three more players defected less than two weeks later - 19 year old first baseman Lazaro Alonso, 20 year old catcher Yoel Rojas, and 29 year old utility man Osniel Madera. Badler has a quick breakdown on those three as well, mentioning Alonso as having the highest upside, Rojas played in the 23 and under minor league, and Madera spent most of his time playing right field on the Cuban squad that faced off against the US College National team.
That brings us to 18 year old right handed pitcher Yadier Alvarez. So far the only reports on Alvarez have been from Kiley McDaniel, but they have been very impressive. His heater tops out at 98 mph in short stints, likely sitting in the low 90's over longer stretches. McDaniel also mentions a plus slider and a potentially above average change up. The questions he has surrounding Alvarez are his stamina and if he can be consistent with his offspeed stuff. Its an exciting package coming from a lean 6'3, 175 pound frame. There's plenty of projection remaining there and he should command a low seven digit bonus.
The game theory here is now that a handful of teams have exceeded their pool and already paid the 100% tax on overages, they may be more active for the Cuban players that are cleared to sign before July 2nd. The Dodgers and Yankees look to be major players while the Angels, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, and Rays have all gone past their bonus pool limits and could be players as well. After that point the teams will be subject to two years of restrictions, including not being able to sign a player for more than $300,000, so why not stock up? They will be out of the running for any high dollar players for the next two years so make a push for the best talent remaining. Of course, budget constraints will be major factors in how far each team will go and you can probably expect the Rays to be pretty quiet.
So here are a few topics for discussion.
- Who goes where and for how much?
- What do you think of the projected bonus amounts thrown out by prognosticators?
- Just how good do you think Yoan Moncada will be?
- Is the Yadier Alvarez hype train now boarding?
- Will Andy Ibanez make an impact?