After Cuban center field prospect Rusney Castillo signed a seven-year, $72.5 million contract with the Boston Red Sox a few weeks ago, eyebrows were raised.
Most expected Castillo would something in the Yasiel Puig range of seven years and $42 million. Certainly no one thought Castillo would surpass the six-year, $68 million deal that Jose Abreu signed with the White Sox last year. But there it was, $72.5 million for a player that is seen as a very good prospect, but not quite as good as Puig or Abreu.
But Cuban players are the new hotness. They are all the rage, and with every Yoenis Cespedes RBI double, with every Jorge Soler extra base hit, with every Yasiel Puig homer and with every Jose Abreu, well, everything, the price tag for the top Cuban sluggers keeps going up.
Corner outfielder and slugger Yasmani Tomas is up next. He's expected to become a free agent sometime over the winter, after some technical paperwork has been navigated. If Castillo got $72.5 million, and he is seen as a lesser prospect than Tomas, how much is Tomas going to get?
Friends, don't be surprised if it's north of $100 million. And you know what? The Phillies need to pay him whatever it takes to land him.
Seriously, if it's $100 million, then fine. If it's $110, 120, 130 million, that's fine too. At just 23 years old, Tomas has a long career ahead of him, plays a premium position (left field) and is a bona fide slugger in the same vein as Abreu.
Clearly, the Phillies will be interested. There is perhaps no team in more desperate need of a young, powerful left fielder than Philadelphia, although virtually every big-money team in baseball is going to try and land him. General manager Ruben Amaro, if he is still the GM by the time Tomas becomes a free agent, will have to use his renowned uber-agressiveness in order to outbid the other sharks.
There are several reasons why landing Tomas is of paramount importance. One of the big reasons is the lack of power throughout baseball. It has simply disappeared.
|Year||Players SLG% .500 or better|
This year, there are only 15 players in all of baseball with a slugging percentage of .500 or better. In 2006, before PED testing became the norm and various other factors contributed to the rise of the pitcher, there were 47 players who slugged .500 or better. And in 2000, it was 55 players.
Clearly, sluggers have become far more rare and far more valuable. Hence, the big payday for a young slugger like Tomas.
Another reason to pay Tomas whatever he wants is the incredible lack of talent among free agent outfielders next year.
That is a rather large collection of guys in their 30s who make a lot of money and are largely unproductive. The players in bold have team options attached to them, and it's more than likely Span and Markakis at least will be retained by the Nationals and Orioles, respectively.
Nelson Cruz has had a terrific season at the plate, but has tailed off in the second half, can't really play defense, will turn 34 next year, and will command a huge, multi-year deal. No thanks. Melky Cabrera is only 30 and would be an interesting selection, but he has a PED past.
One of the few intriguing names on the free agent list is Toronto center fielder Colby Rasmus, who is having a dreadful season for the Blue Jays, hitting .225/.287/.438 with just 16 HRs and a 32.0% strikeout rate. However, he just turned 28, had a very productive 2013 season in which he hit .276/.338/.501 with 22 HRs and a 4.8 fWAR, and the year before hit 23 homers for Toronto, albeit with a lower fWAR of 1.0.
Rasmus could be a half-decent bounce-back candidate who likely won't get a qualifying offer from the Jays and perhaps could be snagged on the cheap. But there are no obvious answers for the Phillies here, other than Tomas. The team is building towards 2016 and beyond, and if they can lock him up to a six or seven-year deal, they can have him for the duration of his prime.
Of course, there are risks. No one really knows how good he'll be in the Majors and a commitment that long, for that many dollars, usually requires a bit of a Major League track record. However, his fellow countrymen have made it seem a little less risky, given their success almost entirely across the board.
But really, the Phils have no choice. They have to tell Tomas' people that they will outbid everyone in order to land him. Aside from trading Cole Hamels, Yasmani Tomas is the only way the Phillies can acquire a young, talented player for the future.
Ultimately, it's up to Tomas where he signs. He'll be able to choose from a slew of big-money offers and may decide to take a lesser deal with a better team. If that happens, you throw up your hands and congratulate Amaro for trying his best.
But there should be virtually no limitations on landing Tomas. Money is one of the few advantages the Phillies have left, and they have to use that cash in this particular spot, perhaps more than any other in the last few years.
Go get him, Ruben.