On Tudesday Baseball America's Ben Badler handicapped the frontrunners in the Yoan Moncada bidding. He states the Yankees and Dodgers are the favorites to sign the 19-year old Cuban, which is something that shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone. What might come as a bit of a surprise to some here is that the Phillies were not listed among the top five suitors for Moncada's services.
Friday, Fangraphs' prospect writer Kiley McDaniel provided updates on some of the bigger name Cuban baseball players who are likely to sign with Major League teams soon, including Moncada, Hector Olivera, Yadier Alvarez, and Andy Ibanez. McDaniel also listed some of the teams that are likely to sign each player. Again, the Phillies didn't appear on any of his projected suitor lists.
Both Badler and McDaniel have recently spent time in the Dominican Republic scouting these players and talking to scouts and various representatives from teams, so they are as clued in as an outsider can be when it comes to being able to gauge which way teams are leaning, and they've both come to the conclusion that the Phillies are not strong suitors for any of this current crop of Cuban exiles.
This, however, likely isn't due to the Phillies being excessively frugal. Instead, it seems to be a strategic decision the Phillies have made to pursue players after the 2015 July 2 signing deadline. Any team that exceeds their international slot bonus pool by more than 15% to sign international free agents will be prohibited from signing an international free agent to contract greater than $300,000 for the next two seasons. This changes the incentives for some of the teams involved.
- Any team already over their signing allotment (Yankees, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, Angels, Rays, etc.) has a greater incentive to sign these players than teams not already over their international bonus pool because they will incur no further penalties, and because they will be locked out of that end market for the next two years.
- Any team that has preexisting commitments to players that cannot sign until after the July 2, 2015 deadline would have to break those commitments in order to sign one of the marquee players mentioned above.
The preexisting commitment issue is actually a rather large issue for a number of teams, as Badler notes here (emphasis mine):
In recent years, the Latin American amateur market has moved at an accelerated pace, with teams locking in players to oral agreements to sign well in advance of July 2. Clubs have always agreed to sign players in advance of July 2, but now there are 2015 players who have had deals in place since this summer, a year before they’re eligible to officially sign the contract. [...] If a team signs Moncada during the current signing period, those deals are going to be wiped off the table. That would create an ugly situation for a team that had to renege on its agreement with a high-end player, or multiple players. Trust and honoring your word are paramount in the small world of Latin American scouting, where relationships are critical, especially with MLB’s new rules, and a team would rather not infuriate some of the most influential trainers in the region.
This appears to be the situation the Phillies find themselves in. Badler:
@Wilsonce Everything I'm hearing is they're planning to be aggressive to sign players on July 2 instead.— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) February 17, 2015
After surveying about a dozen international sources, here are the dozen clubs that scouts either are sure, pretty sure or at least very suspicious will be spending past their bonus pool, ranked in order of likelihood:
Almost Definitely (3): Cubs, Blue Jays, Phillies
Expected/Likely (4): Rangers, Padres, Dodgers, Diamondbacks
And from his February 13th Chat:
All signs point to the Phillies going big after the July 2nd deadline, which would not be possible if they sign any of the current crop of marquee international free agents. While the Phillies of yore tended to sign under-the-radar guys for minimal money, (with some success under Sal Agostinelli), they've changed tack in recent years, going after more refined, higher-priced talent. Last year the Phillies signed Arquimedes Gamboa for $900,000, Daniel Brito for $650,000, and Lenin Rodriguez for $300,000. In 2013 they signed Luis Encarnacion for $1,000,000. While they've done well signing sub-$100,000 players, they're no longer limited to those guys.
The Phillies have also coupled those philosophical changes with personnel changes, which also hint at their intentions in the international free agent market, as friend of the blog Matt Winkelman notes:
This offseason they hired the Braves Director of Latin America Operations, Johnny Almaraz to be their Director of Amatuer Scouting, and odds are he comes with some connections and names already in hand.
There are a couple benefits to this strategy, the first being that the Phils would not be putting all of their eggs in one basket here. Sure, Moncada seems like a great prospect, and might be a great player, but is one player worth the financial commitment, penalties, AND inability to sign any highly-touted, highly-skilled IFA for two years? Is that one player, who will probably start his career in A-ball worth breaking any verbal agreements in place with players and trainers, and in the process damaging the Phillies' reputation in Latin America? Is that one player such a sure thing that you'd take him over a handful of other highly touted guys signed after July 2? Those are debatable questions, but the Phillies have seemingly made their choice, and it's, no, Yoan Moncada, for all his talent, is not worth all of that.
An ancillary benefit of this strategy is that once the Phillies exceed their IFA bonus pool for the upcoming year, they have added incentive to go after any player who defects in the next calendar year, in the same way that the Yankees have that incentive this year, except they'll get to enter that market with at least two of the four the richest teams in baseball (NYY, BOS) already prohibited from bidding. Taken in this light, the opportunity cost of signing a player such as Moncada seems very high for a team like the Phillies.
Or, as Winkelman put it:
The other missed opportunity is saying that rather than spend on Moncada you are just going to spend all that money internationally with the penalty anyway. So what does $40M buy you in Latin America? For that $40M, you could buy every member of Baseball America’s Top 30 International prospects (a task the Yankees got 33% completed). No one on the market has Moncada’s upside, but that is a lot of potential and safety in numbers that could be bought for the same cost.
As I know this isn't what a number of readers here want to hear, let me leave you with this list of the top 2015 July 2 prospects: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/scouting-the-top-2015-july-2nd-prospects/ I'd suggest you shift your pining and salivation over Moncada to one or more of those guys.