A few weeks ago, I advocated for the Cardinals to exceed their international spending limits in the next cycle which begins July 2, and while the piece was more speculative than based on the Cardinals' intentions, there has been some good news on that front as of late. First, Jesse Sanchez reported that the Cardinals would be aggressive. Aggressive is good, but lacks specificity, but recent reports from Ben Badler at Baseball America and Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch indicate the Cardinals seem to be prepared to pay bonuses that go well past their expected cap.
The negatives of such a strategy include a dollar for dollar penalty for going over the cap as well as restrictions preventing the team from signing any single prospect for more than $300,000 for the following two years. This strategy has been used so much the last few years that 10 teams are in the penalty this season, leaving the Cardinals less competition for the best players. I explained my rationale for doing so last month:
[T]he Cardinals have shown talent in acquiring players with low bonuses in the past due to spending limits, and they might be forced to for the next couple years as well. That price could well be worth the cost if they could sign a number of high-profile players in the coming year.
Ben Badler reported last week the Cardinals were prepared to exceed their bonus pool this year, although warned that penalties for the Astros hacking scandal were still unknown. As for who they might sign, Badler mentions two names as possibilities.
The Cardinals have been connected to multiple players they are likely to sign, including 16-year-old Victor Garcia, who could be the top-paid Venezuelan outfielder this year. They are also the team that sources say is most likely to sign 17-year-old Jonatan Machado, a speedy 5-foot-9 center fielder from Cuba with good bat control from the left side, by convincing him to wait until July 2 to sign.
Baseball America has video of Machado and one scout was very complimentary.
"He has a below-average arm, but he can fly and he can hit," said one scout. "He can handle the bat, he can bunt, he can hit to all fields and he has surprising power for his size. For his age, he really knows what he's doing at the plate."
As for Victor Garcia, Jesse Sanchez listed Garcia in his "Performers to Watch" among players who recently attended a showcase in the Dominican Republic.
The 6-foot-1, 202-pound teen showed his athletic body and enormous strength. Garcia might have the most raw power in the entire class and projects to hit for average when he fully develops. He showed decent range and an average arm on defense.
Derrick Goold also discussed the Cardinals' potential to exceed their bonus pool money in his chat when asked if the Cardinals might break the bank this year.
This is the year to do it. And when asked about it the Cardinals have agreed.
But over the coming month we'll get a sense of who the Cardinals are going beyond scouting to pursuing. For a team that has picked at the back part of the draft in recent years, that is a big reason for pushing beyond the cap.
Goold expands in his chat, discussing a few options, inlcuding the Gurriel brothers and Kevin Maitan. Yulieski Gurriel and his younger brother, Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. present an interesting opportunity for the Cardinals. The elder Gurriel will be a free agent not tied to the bonus cap rules if the Cardinals wish to sign him. As for Gurriel, Jr., he can become a free agent with no strings attached in October when he turns 23, but some team, if they are willing to pay double the bonus due to the penalty, could be aggressive and get him into an organization earlier without making Gurriel, Jr. wait. That would be a high price to pay due to the penalty as well as paying his salary later which is what makes the scenario unlikely, but the possibility does exist.
As for Kevin Maitan, the Venezuelan shortstop prospect is likely the best player available in this year's class. The Cardinals have been active in Venezuela, signing Avaro Seijas last season for $762,500, and rumored to be in on Victor Garcia this season. There are reports that the Atlanta Braves have had a handshake agreement with Maitan for $4.25 million since last July, but in his chat Goold called the international market "fluid" and the week before indicated the Cardinals were not "willing to concede to others".
Whether the Cardinals end up with a really big name like Maitan or Gurriel remains to be seen, but they certainly have money to spend this season, and now there is an expectation that the money will go toward the international market, specifically Latin American, where they have had a lot of recent success. This is welcome news and a tremendous opportunity to revitalize the Cardinals' farm system and keep the pipeline moving as they have done over the last half-dozen seasons.