The Cubs and Cuba

With a strong tradition of landing young Cubans, don’t count the Cubs out even though they can’t sign Yoan Moncada until July 2.

Not trying to build up Cubs fans’ hopes because the odds are stacked against them, but a young Cuban superstar who plays shortstop—don’t count out the Cubs.

While the 19-year-old conducts private workouts under the Florida sunshine, the Cubs wait silently in the shadows, unable to sign any international prospects for more than $250,000 as a penalty for going over their bonus pool in 2013.

The Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers are the obvious suitors for Yoan Moncada and he’s also held a private workout with the Cubs as well as the Rangers, Padres, Giants, Tigers, Braves, Brewers, Rays and Angels. The price for Moncada will be hefty. Various national reports have the bonus between $30-50 million and that doesn’t include the matching fine the team will be penalized for going over their international cap. Since Moncada is under 23 and hasn’t played five years in Cuba’s top professional league, he’s subject to the international free agent rules, the same as any 16-year-old Latin American player from the Dominican or Venezuela.

The Cubs would have to wait until July 2 to sign Moncada and would delay his debut into pro baseball, so speculation is Moncada won’t wait and wants to start playing right away. If you are familiar with the Moncada story, nothing is normal. He was given a visa and a plane ticket to “flee” Cuba, and traveled to Guatemala to establish residency. If I had to guess, he had a tentative deal in place when he left Cuba, which might help explain why he’s being represented by a Florida accountant who’s never negotiated a baseball contract.

The Cubs are no strangers to signing young Cubans. One of Theo Epstein’s first additions was 19-year-old left-hander Gerardo Concepcion, who inked a five-year, $6 million deal in 2012. Three months later, Jorge Soler agreed to a nine-year, $30 million contract, just days before the international rules changed. Despite injuries last year, Soler is projected as the starting right fielder on opening day while Concepcion’s career has been slowed by health and injuries, although he’s likely to start the year in AA working out of the bullpen.

While the Cubs have shown interest in several Cuban players the past two years, they’ve only acquired reliever Armando Rivero. The fireballing right-hander was one of five Cubs minor leaguers to record over 100 strikeouts in ’14 and led all Cubs minor leaguers with a 14.9 K/9 rate. Rivero, 27, should be in Chicago’s bullpen by season’s end.

Investing heavily over the past five years, the Cubs gave outfielder Rubi Silva a $1 million dollar bonus in Dec. of 2010, making him just the fifth Cuban ball player to hit the $1 million plateau. That same year they added catcher Yaniel Cabezas for $500,000 and RHP Juan Yasser Serrano for $250,000. The following year they signed Frank Del Valle ($800,000), OF Yasiel Balaguert ($400,000) and RHP Carlos Martinez ($250,000).

Silva, 25, spent the past two seasons at AA Tennessee while Balaguert, 22, just finished his first full season at Kane County, but missed 6 weeks with a broken bone in his foot. The rest of those players have been released.

Moncada isn’t the only Cuban player currently available. Last week was the coming out party for Yadier Alvarez as the 18-year-old right-hander was clocked at 93-97 at International Prospect League showcase in the Dominican. Alvarez has yet to be cleared and its not known if he will be signed by the June 15 deadline or will need to wait until July 2, which would bring the Cubs into play.

Hector Olivera drew rave reviews at the showcase but he’s a 29-year-old second baseman playing against teenagers. A two-time batting champ in Cuba’s top league, Olivera won’t be subject to any of the international restrictions facing Moncada or Alvarez. A total of 17 Cuban players took part in the IPL showcase including LHP Elier Sanchez, IF Leonard Laffita, RHP Jorge Despaigne, OF Michel Travieso, and IF Paviel Quesada.

Back in January, 21-year-old pitcher Yoan Lopez signed with the Diamondbacks for $8.25 million, the largest signing bonus ever for an international amateur. Moncada’s deal is expected to blow past that mark, but by how much remains to be seen.

There’s a few reasons not to count out the Cubs on Moncada and the Lopez deal may be one of them. First, the Cubs haven’t been afraid to spend when draft picks aren’t attached and aren’t concerned with spending caps when it comes to international players. Throw in the Cubs payroll flexibility and they have the capital to get a deal done, if its reasonable.

I’m not buying the estimated price tag for Moncada. Paying Moncada $50 million, coupled with a $50 million fine, essentially eliminates the dollars saved signing and developing a player in the minors.To put things in prospective, the projected pool money for the top eight teams in the ’15 draft is less than $100 million—and that includes the draft rights to 320 players, not one.

If the bids do come in lower than expected, the Cubs may be able to offer top dollar and the extra cash may be enough to keep the 19-year-old from turning pro until July. You need to remember that he couldn’t have had any expectations when his pro career in the U.S. would start, especially after how he left the country. I’m in the camp that three months isn’t going to make or break this kid’s career.

This could all be wishful thinking and its likely coming down to a bidding war between the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers. Both New York and Boston have already gone over their 2014 spending limits and will not be allowed to spend more than $350,000 on any player the next two years. Moncada and his agent have both said a decision will be made by the end of the month but don’t count out the Cubs.

Northsiders Report Top Stories