Since signing their new cable deal with Comcast, the Phillies have a lot of money. Unfortunately, the ways in which a rich team can use money to their advantage has dwindled in recent years.
It stinks. When money gave a team a great advantage, the Phillies didn't have any. Now that they do, it's not as valuable. Major League free agency is mostly a waste of cash, as most of the players there are either on the downside of their career or too costly. And you can't throw wads of cash at prospective draft picks anymore because of baseball's new slotting system.
However, there are still some ways a team can use their influx of cash to their advantage, and making a splash on the international market is one of them.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Cuban slugger Yasmani Tomas.
Oh good heavens, he just killed a Japanese family of five, 20 rows up.
Baseball America's Ben Badler wrote about him today, and he has me salivating. Tomas just left Cuba in order to pursue a career in MLB. He's 23 and has played five years in the Cuban baseball league, which means he's exempt from the international bonus pool. He also plays corner outfield, a position you may be aware is one in which the Phillies could use some help.
A righthanded-hitting corner outfielder, Tomas can hit towering home runs thanks to the strength from his thickly-built 6-foot-1, 230-pound frame. Tomas has 70 raw power on the 20-80 scale, and with Jose Abreu already gone, the only player still in Cuba with more raw power than him was Alfredo Despaigne. He has some experience in center field and is a decent runner for his size, but his speed is still below-average and he’s going to be a corner outfielder in pro ball.
I want him. But you can bet other teams do too, and the bidding war will be fierce.
With the success of other Cuban imports Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu and Yasiel Puig, every Major League team that can afford him will be moving heaven and earth to sign him. He'll likely be in line for a deal similar to what the Chicago White Sox gave Abreu this off-season (6 years, $68 million), but if he produces anywhere near the levels of Cespedes, Abreu and Puig, it would be a bargain.
However, signing an unknown player like Tomas is a risk. And, according to Badler, Tomas has regressed a little this year.
Tomas did show some swing-and-miss tendencies at the WBC with an uppercut stroke and trouble handling good breaking pitches. Three months after the WBC, when Cuba took a team to the U.S. last summer to face the college national team, the U.S. power arms were able to exploit some of those holes by beating him with good velocity up and in and getting him to swing through soft stuff in and out of the zone.
This past season in Cuba, which ended with Industriales losing in the semifinals in April, Tomas seemed to regress, even losing playing time in the second half, which one source said was the result of an arm injury he sustained crashing into an outfield wall in February. He finished the season at .290/.346/.450 with six home runs, 21 walks and 46 strikeouts in 257 plate appearances.
Perhaps those struggles will bring his price down a little bit. That would be nice. And one has to wonder if the Phils have been scared off of big-ticket Cuban imports after the Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez signing, who has been a complete bust in the first year of his 3-year, $12 million deal. Although, the fact they signed him in the first place, and appeared willing to give him a 6-year, $48 million before reducing the contract due to injury concerns (thank goodness), is a potentially good sign.
And of course, a forward-thinking organization should be able to put that behind them and see the two situations as completely isolated. And given the team's need for some star talent to join the big club in the next couple years, one would think they'd be willing to at least get involved in the chase for Tomas. That chase, as Badler noted, likely won't culminate until after this season or before the 2015 season, as he still has some red tape hurdles to clear.
Still, whether the Phillies go out and sign Tomas are not, this is exactly the type of international prospect Ruben Amaro should be aggressively trying to acquire. The international market is one of the few areas where big money can still buy big time players and prospects with immediate big league potential.
The Phillies have the capability to go out and land the next Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes or Jose Abreu if they are aggressive. They should use their financial advantage, take a risk, and try to land the next great Cuban superstar, if at all possible.
Maybe that next Cuban star is Yasmani Tomas.