Yoan Moncada is expected to be cleared to sign a contract with a major league team soon. His signing would be incredibly beneficial to the farm system in the near term, but comes with several long-term risks. Moncada's signing will cost a significant amount of money, and could hinder the Cardinals' ability to sign international prospects in the future. The Cardinals' decision on whether they try to sign him could very well come down to factors outside of money.
According to Jesse Sanchez, the Cardinals are interested in Moncada, but have not yet worked him out privately. The Cardinals are not alone in their interest.
The international signing rules complicate which teams can sign Moncada. The signing period runs every year from July 2nd to the first of July the following year. Teams are given an allotment of money they are allowed to sign players with. If a team goes over the cap, penalties are involved. Two years ago, the Cubs and Rangers went over their signing caps. As a result, they are unable to sign any player for more than $300,000 in the current period that runs through July 1st. If Moncada gains eligibility soon, as expected, the only way the Cubs or Rangers could sign Moncada would be if Moncada waited another five months to sign a deal. Given the number of suitors involved, this scenario would appear unlikely, although not impossible.
In the current international spending period, the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Rays, and Diamondbacks have already gone over their allotment. Beginning July 2nd, they will not be able to sign a player for more than $300,000 for two spending periods. However, they are free to spend as much as they want up until July 2nd as long as they are willing to pay a 100% penalty any more contracts. The above teams are at an advantage because we already know they do not have plans to sign any major contracts starting July 2nd.
The next signing period makes it difficult to determine the Cardinals plans. Teams often have the deals worked out before the signing period date, but cannot make those deals public or official until after July 2nd. When I wrote about Moncada in November, I discussed the difficulty with signing a major deal ahead of the next signing period.
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.
Even if the Cardinals were to sign Moncada, and the price is expected to be high, perhaps $30-$40 million plus double that amount for the penalty, they could still sign international free agents for under $300,000. Magneuris Sierra, who was the Cardinals minor league position player of the year, signed for just $105,000 in the 2012-2013 signing period. However, in that same period, the Cardinals also signed top pitching prospect Alex Reyes for $950,000 and young shortstop Edmundo Sosa for $425,000. That signing period is currently looking very good for the Cardinals as all three players were placed in the Cardinals top ten by ESPN's Keith Law. Signing Moncada would mean missing out on some very good prospects over the next few years.
Missing out on major prospects in the next few signing periods could be a big problem in building up the farm system. The Cubs will likely spend big during the next period, but without the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels, the Cardinals could be in a good position to sign multiple young prospects if they waited to go over their allotted level until this year or the next.
Moncada would be a perfect fit in the Cardinals' system. Stephen Piscotty is the only highly regarded hitting prospect close to the majors on the Cardinals' farm. St. Louis rarely has a high draft choice to land a top hitter. Most international signings are for teenagers far away from the majors. Getting a player of Moncada's talent level so close to the majors is not an opportunity the Cardinals often receive.
With Albert Pujols long gone and Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina in their 30s, the Cardinals are looking for their next star. Jason Heyward could be that player, but so could Yoan Moncada. We do not yet know how high the bidding will go for Moncada, but the Cardinals have the money to be major players in this market. The Cardinals' system lacks high end talents nearing the majors like Moncada, and he would immediately elevate the system as one of the top 20 (or so) prospects in the game. This signing is complicated and involves a lot of moving parts. The Cardinals have been quiet thus far, but as we saw with the the Jason Heyward trade, silence does not always equate with inactivity.