Cuban Yoan Moncada is nineteen years old. He has been declared a free agent by Major League Baseball. His fellow countryman Yasmany Tomas is set to sign a deal that could near $100 million. Moncada better than Tomas, yet Moncada is expected to command a bonus significantly smaller than Tomas because of baseball's international amateur bonus rules. Those rules could make it complicated for the Cardinals to make a run at Moncada, but those same rules could provide the Cardinals with incentive to face the penalties for going over their international spending limits.
The term probably gets thrown around with more frequency than it deserves, but Moncada appears to be a five-tool talent. Ben Badler at Baseball America had this to say:
Moncada is a 19-year-old switch-hitter (though much better from the left side) with explosive tools. He can fly, he has tremendous bat speed and power, he's been the most dominant hitter in the Cuban junior national leagues and has excelled on the junior national team during international competition.
Badler went on to say that Moncada could "play virtually anywhere in the field other than shortstop." He is likely to start in the minors, but Badler was not alone in his praise. Kiley McDaniel at Fangraphs called him "a 6'1/210 switch-hitting infielder with plus tools and a Puig body." He also wrote:
He's a plus-plus runner with above average raw power from both sides of the plate and the tools/skills to stick in the infield, possibly at shortstop. Moncada is the quick-twitch type with big bat speed that clubs covet and his track record of hitting at big tournaments and in Cuba's professional leagues is excellent considering his age.
Jesse Sanchez adds to Moncada's superlatives:
Scouts have called Moncada the next Jorge Soler, and his skills have been compared with those of Yasiel Puig at the same age. He once beat new Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo in a baserunning competition during the Serie Nacional all-star festivities in Cuba, and his power has been compared with that of Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas.
Moncada had a workout last Wednesday and although he did not face live pitching, he was very impressive:
Different sources had Moncada timed differently in the 60-yard dash, though he ran somewhere in the 6.56 to 6.6 second range. That gives him a 70 for his speed on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, or close to the top of the scale. He reportedly looked better at third and second than he did at shortstop, with enough arm from any infield position. Moncada swung the bat well from both sides of the plate, showing plus raw power both ways.
In terms of the player, he is everything a team could want, a potential superstar. He is the type of player nearly impossible for the Cardinals to obtain. The Cardinals have not drafted high enough for a player of his talents. Prospects at his level are incredibly hard to trade for, and if he is successful in the big leagues, he is not likely to hit free agency during his prime as we just saw with the contract extension for Giancarlo Stanton. In order to sign Moncada, the Cardinals would have to shatter their MLB intenational spending cap, currently last in the majors at roughly $1.9 million.
Unlike Yasmany Tomas, Moncada does not have five years of professional experience. As a result, any team that signs Moncada, has to count the money against their international spending limit. Given Moncada's talent and expected asking price, any team that signs Moncada will end up well over their allotment. Going over the limits come with harsh penalties: a 100% penalty on every dollar over the pool amount and no international signings over $300k for the next two international signing periods.
Those penalties have proven to be a deterrent for some, but not all teams over the past two years. I wrote about the unintended consequences in attempting to depress international spending, with a handful of teams, almost all from big markets, flaunting the limits. The list of teams who have exceeded the spending limit over the past two seasons has been almost solely the province of large-market teams: New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, and Chicago Cubs. Only the small market in Tampa have been willing to go over the limit, perhaps borne from a risk-taking necessity due to meager payrolls and an outdated stadium that fails to attract fans.
The Rangers and Cubs went over their limits in the 2013-2014 spending period which means they cannot spend more than $300k on any prospect until July 2, 2015. The Angels, Red Sox, and Yankees (as well as the Rays) all went over their limit in the current period, meaning they will not be able to sign any international player after July 2, 2015. Baseball America called this issue "One Big Problem for Teams with Yoan Moncada".
The problem is that it is common practice for teams to reach agreements well in advance of the signing period. If any of those handshake deals are for more than $300k and Moncada becomes eligible to sign before July 2nd (He still has to go through OFAC approval), a team wanting to go after Moncada would have a difficult choice. If they go back on another player agreement to sign Moncada and therefore cannot sign anyone in the next period, they risk ruining a reputation and make signing players more difficult in the future. Moncada could wait to sign, allowing the Cubs, Rangers back into the bidding as well as any team with handshake agreements for the next period, but that would rule out the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels. The latter three teams could be very active in the bidding, but they will be unable to sign any player over $300k beginning July 2, 2015.
Where does that leave the Cardinals? If the Cardinals already have agreements in place for the next signing period and Moncada is eligible and wishes to sign before July 2nd, the Cardinals will have little choice but to back out of the bidding. They will likely not want to risk their reputation in the Dominican Republic by going back on an agreement. If, on the other hand, Moncada signs after July 2nd or the Cardinals have not made any promises regarding the next signing period, Moncada is a player who could be worth the penalties.
With the Cardinals perennially at the bottom of the draft and with low international bonus pool that is also based on prior record, a player like Moncada is typically out of the Cardinals' reach. Estimates have Moncada potentially signing in the $30-$40 million dollar range, doubled with penalties. That is not an insignificant amount for the Cardinals, but the team has money to spend. It plans to do so wisely. The penalties for overstepping the limits are harsh, but when their bonus pool is under $2 million, the Cardinals cannot go too far over $300k to sign players anyway, partially muting its effect.
Moncada could the be the Cardinals third basemen or centerfielder of the future. The cost will be high, but for the second straight offseason, the Cardinals have money and appear to have little to spend it on based on the current free agent options. Taking a risk on a player like Moncada does have potential negative ramifications if he does not come close to meeting his expectations, but stars are incredibly difficult to acquire, and Moncada could prove worth the risk.