Report: Yankees have $5.77M pool for 2016 draft, $2.28M for 2016-17 international signing period

(Taylor Baucom/Getty)
(Taylor Baucom/Getty)

According to Hudson Belinsky, the Yankees will have a $5,768,400 bonus pool for the 2016 draft and a $2,177,100 bonus pool for the 2016-17 international signing period. That gives them a $7,945,500 pool to sign amateur players this year, sixth smallest in baseball. Only the Cubs, Royals, Giants, Rangers, and Nationals have less to spend.

The Yankees did not gain or lose any draft picks via free agency this offseason, and there’s no reason to expect them to sign one of the remaining qualified free agents (Yovani Gallardo, Dexter Fowler, Ian Desmond). They’re currently slated to pick 19th overall, though they’ll move up to 18th if the Orioles finish their deal with Gallardo.

As a reminder, the draft pool covers the top ten rounds. Each pick in the top ten rounds is assigned a slot value, and if you pay one pick below slot, you’re free to spend the savings elsewhere. Every pick after the tenth round has a $100,000 slot value, and anything over that counts against the pool. The Yankees have exceeded their draft pool ever so slightly the last few years. Enough to get hit with a small tax but not enough to forfeit future picks. No team has forfeited future picks yet.

The international bonus pool is largely irrelevant because the Yankees are still stuck with a $300,000 bonus cap stemming from their 2014-15 international spending spree. New York is pretty darn good at finding under-the-radar Latin American prospects — Luis Severino ($225,000), Jorge Mateo ($250,000), and Domingo Acevedo ($7,500) all signed for under $300,000 — but that bonus cap stinks. It takes them out of the running for the best players.

The Yankees will be able to resume spending as they please next year, during the 2017-18 international signing period, assuming the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t drastically change things. An international draft could be coming. The international signing period opens July 2nd this year, as it does every year.

Rosenthal: Yanks among teams scouting Cuban outfielder Alexei Bell

The Yankees were among the 13 teams scouting Cuban outfielder Alexei Bell at his recent showcase in Mexico, reports Ken Rosenthal. The other dozen teams scouting him were the usual heavy hitters (Dodgers, Red Sox, Giants, etc.). Bell is still going through the process of becoming a free agent, so he can’t sign just yet.

Bell, 32, left Cuba with his family with the government’s permission last year. “Physically, I don’t feel 32. I feel strong. I feel young. I feel agile,” he said to Rosenthal. “I feel I can still produce a lot on the field. I do not feel old at all … I’ll demonstrate that in the games.” Here are his recent stats, via Baseball Reference:

2011 27 0.8 Santiago de Cuba 81 350 91 19 0 18 69 16 9 53 35 .327 .449 .590 1.038
2012 28 1.6 Santiago de Cuba 21 85 20 2 1 2 6 0 1 17 9 .303 .452 .455 .907
2013 29 1.5 Santiago de Cuba 44 179 43 11 0 8 24 3 2 21 13 .277 .374 .503 .878
2014 30 3.1 2 Teams 58 251 64 11 2 8 28 9 3 45 29 .323 .450 .520 .970
2015 31 Quebec 59 241 71 14 2 2 23 11 6 14 24 .317 .363 .424 .787
All Levels (15 Seasons) 718 3682 998 201 33 140 655 132 51 445 463 .319 .414 .539 .952

Bell, who is listed at a mere 5-foot-7 and 187 lbs., spent last season in an independent league and performed well, though not as well as he had in Cuba over the years. He’s starred in international competition while being teammates with Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes, among others.

“In (the 2008) Olympics, he was in his prime, a Raul Mondesi-type who could run and throw, had power — he was the guy,” said a scout to Rosenthal. “He’s not the same player now. I know he has numbers in Cuba. But he’s not the same powerful little guy, little but strong.”

Last month Ben Badler (subs. req’d) said Bell “is a smart hitter with a good approach … (but) there just aren’t many corner outfielders his size who aren’t speedsters, and Bell is a fringy runner who doesn’t have plus power.” Badler adds scouts loved Bell when he was in his 20s and feel he should have tried to leave Cuba ten years ago. Those same scouts are “skeptical of him being an everyday big leaguer.”

It’s good the Yankees are scouting Bell simply because they should do their due diligence on everyone, but signing a 32-year-old outfielder with no MLB track record doesn’t make any sense right now. Beyond their three starting outfielders they have Aaron Hicks and Dustin Ackley, plus a small army of Triple-A outfielders (Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, Aaron Judge, Lane Adams, even Tyler Austin). There’s no room at the inn.

If the Yankees are going to splurge for the 30-something Cuban player, it should be Yulieski Gurriel, who’s a better player than Bell and fills a more pressing need on the infield. He and his brother Lourdes Jr. told Jesse Sanchez they’d like to sign with a team as a package deal, which would be pretty cool. Point is I don’t see much of a fit with Bell. There’s always a price point where it makes sense, but given the team’s outfield depth, that price point figures to be pretty low.

Sanchez: Yulieski and Lourdes Gurriel defect from Cuba

Lourdes Jr. (Getty)
Lourdes Jr. (Getty)

Brothers Yulieski Gurriel and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. have defected from Cuba and are looking to sign with MLB teams, reports Jesse Sanchez. They’ve gone by Gourriel in the past but dropped the “o” a few years back. Along with Japanese right-hander Shohei Otani, the Gurriel brothers are arguably two of the three best players in the world not under contract with an MLB team.

The Gurriels defected Sunday while in the Dominican Republic for the Caribbean Series. Both have expressed interest in coming to MLB over the years but did not want to betray the Cuban government. So either the Gurriels changed their minds and left, or the government let them leave a la Yoan Moncada. Either way, both have to go through the process of establishing residency in another country, being cleared by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and then being declared a free agent by MLB before they can sign. The whole process could take months.

Lourdes, 22, is the more significant player of the two because of his age, and the timing of the unblocking process and declaration of free agency could be crucial for him. He is subject to MLB’s spending restrictions, so if he is cleared soon, he can be signed as part of the 2015-16 international period. That means big spenders like the Dodgers, Giants, Blue Jays, and Cubs can still bid since they are already over their bonus pools for the current signing period.

But, if Gurriel is not cleared until after July 1st, those clubs as well as the Yankees, Angels, and Red Sox would be out on him because they’re limited to bonuses of no more than $300,000 as a result of the penalties for exceeding their signing pools in recent years. Lourdes could wait until his birthday in October to sign and probably will, now that I think about it. Once he turns 23 he will no longer be subject to the spending pools. Any team could pay him whatever they want at that point.

Lourdes is considered capable of playing shortstop, though he has played mostly first and second base in Cuba in deference to veteran players. He was hitting .321/.387/.537 with eight homers in 43 games during the Cuban season prior to defecting. Here are his career stats via Baseball Reference:

2010 16 -9.8 Sancti Spiritus 16 16 3 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 4 .200 .250 .400 .650
2011 17 -9.2 Sancti Spiritus 55 151 30 6 0 3 16 2 2 13 23 .227 .304 .341 .645
2012 18 -8.4 Sancti Spiritus 67 244 55 12 3 4 32 1 0 18 35 .253 .318 .392 .710
2013 19 -8.5 Industriales 45 184 31 6 1 1 17 5 5 36 23 .218 .379 .296 .675
2014 20 -6.9 Industriales 63 258 68 11 0 8 42 7 4 28 28 .308 .388 .466 .854
2015 21 Industriales 43 183 52 11 0 8 32 5 1 16 21 .321 .387 .537 .924
All Levels (6 Seasons) 289 1036 239 46 4 25 140 20 13 112 134 .269 .355 .414 .769

Back in April, Ben Badler (subs. req’d) ranked Lourdes as the fourth best player in Cuba, saying his “game is comparable to a young Ryan Zimmerman.” Here’s a snippet of Badler’s scouting report:

Gourriel has plenty of bat speed to catch up to good fastballs and the plate coverage to make frequent contact. He can have trouble at times against slow breaking balls, but he has good strike-zone discipline and a patient approach, giving him a chance to be a plus hitter with a high OBP. Gourriel flashes above-average raw power with the swing path to generate backspin and leverage the ball for loft in games, making him a 20-homer threat.

Yulieski, 31, is a second and third baseman and has been the best player in Cuba for several years now. He was hitting .535/.604/1.012 with ten homers, 15 walks, and one strikeout in 23 games for Industriales before defecting. He spent the 2014 season with the Yokohama Bay Stars in Japan — the Cuban government allows players to play overseas in Asia — and hit .305/.349/.536 with eleven homers in 63 games. Here’s some video:

You can see Yulieski’s career stats at Baseball Reference. Badler ranked him as the top player in Cuba last April, saying he “would have similar value to Hanley Ramirez and David Wright in terms of age and offensive performance if he were to leave Cuba to pursue a major league contract.” Being comped to Hanley and Wright sounded better last April than it does right now. Here’s a little more from Badler:

He has plus bat speed and squares up all types of pitches with good hand-eye coordination and barrel control. He wraps his barrel behind his head, angling the bat toward the pitcher, but he gets the barrel into the hitting zone quickly and has good plate coverage. He stays within the strike zone and uses the whole field, and with plus raw power on the 20-80 scale, he offers a balance of being able to hit for average, get on base and hit for power.

Last year Yulieski said he wants to play for the Yankees because his favorite player is Alex Rodriguez, which is neat. The elder Gurriel will be a true free agent free to sign with any team for any amount once he’s given the thumbs up. Hector Olivera, who signed with the Dodgers at age 30 last year, received a six-year contract worth $62.5M. Yulieski figures to receive more because he’s a better player and doesn’t have Olivera’s injury history.

Yulieski. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)
Yulieski. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)

Lourdes is the big one though. If he decides to sign before his 23rd birthday, he’s looking at Moncada’s bonus ($31.5M) plus more due to inflation and the fact he’s closer to MLB ready. If he waits until his 23rd birthday, Lourdes could receive a contract in line with the six-year, $68.5M deal Yasmany Tomas took with the D’Backs. Tomas signed that deal at 24 but was also an inferior player, so adjust up some amount. He’s going to wait until his birthday in October so he’s not subject to the spending pools, right? Makes too much sense.

The Yankees would have use for both Gurriel brothers, especially Lourdes because he’s so young. They’d have to hope he waits until October to sign, in which case he’d get a big league contract that would screw up their luxury tax plan, but that should be a minor consideration. If you can get a potential star caliber up-the-middle player in his early-20s for nothing but money, you do it. Surely they have some level of Moncada regret, which could be a factor in their pursuit of the younger Gurriel brother.

Yulieski would be interesting too. He could potentially fill a Ben Zobrist-esque supersub role — he has experience in the outfield as well as second and third bases — or even take over as a starter at second or third. Who knows what the roster will look like in a few months? The Yankees are not going to want to pay huge money for a player who will be 32 in June, especially since he’s unproven at the MLB level. Does he want to play with A-Rod bad enough to take a discount? Developing!

Sanchez: Cuban righty Yaisel Sierra declared a free agent

( screen grab)
( screen grab)

According to Jesse Sanchez, Cuban right-hander Yaisel Sierra has been declared a free agent by MLB and is now able to negotiate and sign with any team. That means he’s already gone through the process of getting unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control as well.

Sierra, 24, impressed during a showcase event earlier this offseason and has reportedly been visiting interested teams these last few weeks. It’s unclear if the Yankees have any interest but, to be fair, no teams have been connected to Sierra yet. His market is a big mystery right now. The showcase reportedly drew approximately 350 talent evaluators, for what it’s worth.

In parts of five seasons in Cuba, Sierra had a 4.23 ERA with a 16.5% strikeout rate and a 12.4% walk rate in exactly 300 innings. That includes a 6.10 ERA with a 18.6% strikeout rate and a 10.5% walk rate in 62 innings in 2014, his last season before defecting. Keep in mind Sierra was a boy playing against men for much of his career. Here’s a recent mini-scouting report from Ben Badler (subs. req’d):

Everything looks good, with a nice frame, clean arm action, a lively fastball that sat 91-94 mph in Cuba and touched 96 (and has since been up to 97) while flashing an above-average slider. In Cuba, Sierra would sometimes use a splitter that could be an effective swing-and-miss pitch against lefties, though he’s scrapped it now for a changeup instead.

Badler says Sierra has settled on one arm slot — he used to throw from all different angles a la Orlando Hernandez — and notes he has been held back by his “poor command and pitchability,” which would be easier to stomach if he were still a teenage pitching prospect and not in his mid-20s.

Because of his age, Sierra is not subject to the international spending restrictions, which means the Yankees or any other team can pay him any amount. He’s a big league free agent, basically. The Yankees can not pay any international amateur players age 23 or younger a bonus larger than $300,000 until July 2017 due to the penalties associated with their spending spree a few years ago.

The Yankees are said to be looking for a young starter they can control beyond 2017, so, if nothing else, Sierra is an option who wasn’t available when the offseason began. Badler’s scouting report doesn’t exactly scream “must sign,” plus there’s a chance the “poor command and pitchability” mean Sierra’s future lies in the bullpen. (He pitched in relief a bunch in Cuba, including in 2014.)

The Reds signed Cuban righty Raisel Iglesias to a seven-year contract worth $27M last offseason, which I suppose gives us a ballpark contract estimate for Sierra. Seven years is a long time! That’s not a lot of money though, even if Sierra winds up in the bullpen. The Yankees haven’t signed a big name Cuban player since Jose Contreras, though Sierra’s not some kind of no-brainer pickup in my opinion. Just someone to consider.

Twins win posting for Korean slugger Byung-Ho Park with $12.85M bid

The Twins have won the negotiating rights to Korean first baseman Byung-Ho Park, MLB announced earlier today. Multiple reports say the winning bid was $12.85M, the second largest ever for an Asian position player (Ichiro Suzuki, $13M) and the second largest for a Korean player overall (Hyun-Jin Ryu, $25.7M). The Twins and Park have 30 days to work out a contract.

The Yankees were said to be among several teams scouting Park this past season, though it’s unclear if they even placed a bid. Jon Heyman said they were out of the race over the weekend. Park is a right-handed hitting first baseman, and while the Yankees could use a righty bat, pretty much the last thing they need right now is another first baseman/DH. Mark Teixeira, Greg Bird, and Alex Rodriguez are plenty.

Park, 29, hit .343/.436/.714 with 53 home runs for the Nexen Heroes this past season. He hit 52 home runs last year in the offense happy Korea Baseball Organization. Remember Eric Thames, the former Blue Jays and Mariners outfielder? He hit .381/.497/.790 with 47 home runs in Korea this past season. So yeah, it’s a great place to hit.

The Yankees figure to continue looking for a righty bat to balance their lineup this offseason. They need to replace Chris Young on the bench, at the very least. Second base is really the only open position player spot, though a trade is always possible. Brett Gardner would be rather easy to move if the Yankees wanted a righty hitting outfielder.

Reports: Cuban RHP Yasiel Sierra impresses in showcase, will begin visiting interesting teams

Cuban right-hander Yasiel Sierra shined during a recent showcase event in front of approximately 350 scouts and executives, reports Jesse Sanchez. It’s unclear which teams attended the workout in Jupiter, Florida, but if there were 350 of them there, I’m guessing the Yankees had eyeballs on him.

Sierra, 24, has been throwing for scouts for weeks, but this was his first time facing hitters — he retired all nine batters he faced during the showcase, but it was a bunch of high school kids — and pitching in front of a very large crowd. He must still wait for MLB’s clearance before he can actually sign, but Sanchez says Sierra will begin visiting the cities of interested teams soon.

Prior to defecting, Sierra spent parts of four seasons pitching in Cuba and participated in a bunch of international tournaments as well. He’s not a total unknown to scouts but they haven’t had a ton of looks at him at him either. Here are Sierra’s stats from Cuba, via Baseball Reference:

2010 19 -5.7 Holguin 12.00 4 0 3.0 5 4 4 1 4 0 19 3.000 15.0 3.0 12.0 0.0 0.00
2011 20 -4.9 Holguin 5.33 25 3 52.1 58 34 31 5 26 30 231 1.605 10.0 0.9 4.5 5.2 1.15
2012 21 2 Teams 2.20 41 4 81.2 69 22 20 1 41 57 350 1.347 7.6 0.1 4.5 6.3 1.39
2013 22 -3.5 Holguin 3.92 25 18 101.0 79 47 44 3 64 79 448 1.416 7.0 0.3 5.7 7.0 1.23
All Levels (4 Seasons) 3.74 95 25 238.0 211 107 99 10 135 166 1048 1.454 8.0 0.4 5.1 6.3 1.23

Much more important than the stats is the scouting report. Teddy Cahill says Sierra sat in the mid-90s with his heater and around 87 mph with his slider during the showcase. He also threw a changeup. Here’s more from Cahill:

Thursday was Sierra’s first game action in a couple of months, but he overmatched the Chilidogs. While wearing a Cuban national team jersey, he threw three perfect innings, striking out four batters. His fastball sat in the mid 90s, peaking at 96 mph. He used his slider as his out pitch. All four of his strikeouts came on his slider, and a particularly tough 87 mph slider led to a broken bat groundout to end the second inning. He also showed one changeup.

Sierra said he is particularly pleased with the progress of his secondary pitches over the last few months.

“I worked 24/7 for my slider and changeup,” he said through translator and former big leaguer Alex Sanchez. “I was very excited to throw my slider and changeup because they don’t throw that kind of pitch in Cuba.”

Ben Badler (subs. req’d) ranked Sanchez as the 13th best prospect in Cuba before he defected earlier this year. “When Sierra is at his best, he has the look of a mid-rotation starter,” wrote Badler. “Like a lot of Cuban pitchers, Sierra intentionally throws from multiple arm slots, usually throwing from a three-quarters angle but frequently dropping down to a lower slot and at times going up to high three-quarters.”

Because of his age, Sierra is not subject to the international spending restrictions and can sign a big league contract worth any amount. That means the Yankees can sign him — they are limited to bonuses of $300,000 or less for international amateurs as a result of last year’s spending spree, but Sierra is exempt from those restrictions. The $300,000 limit doesn’t apply to him.

Sanchez says scouts believe Sierra can help at the Major League level next season and says the seven-year, $27M contract the Reds gave Cuban righty Raisel Iglesias last winter is comparable to what Sierra can expect. Iglesias spent part of 2015 in the minors but was serviceable in the big leagues, pitching to a 4.15 ERA (3.55 FIP) in 95.1 innings spread across 16 starts and two relief appearances.

The Yankees seem to scout every Cuban player these days — as they should, if only for due diligence — but they haven’t signed a big money Cuban player since Jose Contreras more than a decade ago. Sierra doesn’t seem like a budding star or anything, but pitching is pitching, and the Yankees could decide he’s worth an investment.

Report: Korean third baseman Jae-Gyun Hwang asks to be posted this offseason

(Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)
(Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)

Third baseman Jae-Gyun Hwang has asked his club, the Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization, to make him available to MLB teams via the posting process this offseason, reports Yonhap. The two sides were set to continue talking in recent days and weeks.

“Any baseball player would dream of playing in the majors,” said Hwang to Yonhap. “And I have been working hard to realize that dream myself. I’ve already signed on with an American management company … I wanted to keep a low profile, but when articles on (teammate Ah-Seop Son) mentioned my name, I decided to go public, too.”

Hwang, 28, is a right-handed hitting third baseman who is known for his power and bat flips. Here is one of his better bat flips (skip to the 0:46 mark if you’re impatient):

Oh yeah, that’s the good stuff. Hwang spent time with three teams earlier in his career — there are ten teams in KBO now but there were only seven when Hwang first broke in — before finally finding a home with the Giants in 2010. Here are his career stats, via Baseball Reference:

2007 19 -9.5 Hyundai 63 171 19 48 6 0 2 12 2 2 5 33 .300 .323 .375 .698
2008 20 -8.2 Woori 117 333 27 73 10 1 1 18 10 7 16 56 .239 .279 .288 .567
2009 21 -7.3 Woori 133 608 86 152 27 5 18 63 30 15 55 100 .284 .349 .453 .802
2010 22 -6.0 2 Teams 94 352 41 69 14 3 6 40 18 7 32 73 .225 .303 .350 .653
2011 23 -5.4 Lotte 117 458 62 115 18 4 12 68 12 6 40 78 .289 .360 .445 .805
2012 24 -4.3 Lotte 133 504 42 122 19 1 4 51 26 8 38 81 .272 .335 .346 .681
2013 25 -3.5 Lotte 128 559 70 134 29 3 7 56 22 11 49 78 .274 .350 .389 .738
2014 26 -2.9 Lotte 128 550 66 156 33 3 12 76 17 10 53 86 .321 .388 .475 .864
2015 27 Lotte 144 596 95 155 41 2 26 97 11 10 48 122 .290 .350 .521 .870
All Levels (9 Seasons) 1057 4131 508 1024 197 22 88 481 148 76 336 707 .280 .343 .417 .761

So far Hwang has only had one big power season, and he attributes his 2015 power spike to a new offseason training regime designed to add muscle. It’s worth noting his strikeout rate jumped from 15.0% from 2012-14 to 20.5% in 2015. That suggests some approach changes as well. It seems Hwang is swinging for the fences more often.

Inevitably, Hwang will be compared to Jung-Ho Kang, who was a smashing success for the Pirates this year. Kang was a consistent 20+ homer guy in Korea and he swatted 40 dingers in 2014. He struck out in 21.2% of his plate appearances in his final season in KBO, so his strikeout rate was in line with Hwang’s. Of course, he also hit way more homers too.

Our Sung-Min Kim tells me Hwang is considered a natural third baseman with a strong arm. He has played some shortstop in the past but works exclusively at the hot corner these days. Plenty of teams have scouted Hwang this year and the consensus is his plate discipline and approach are a bit worrisome, though that seems to be the case for all foreign position players.

The Giants do not have to post Hwang this offseason — MLB’s posting agreement with KBO is like the old posting system with NPB, meaning a blind bid and then a 30-day negotiating window — but they have incentive to do so because he will qualify for international free agency next offseason. They could either post him now and get gobs of money or lose him for nothing next year.

Kang is the first Korean position player to successfully transition to MLB through the posting system, and because of his success, I’m sure teams will spend some extra time evaluating Korean position players. There are 29 clubs right now who wish they had pursued Kang more aggressively. Hwang could benefit from Kang’s success simply because there figures to be more attention paid to position players in KBO now.

The best third baseman on the free agent market this offseason is David Freese, so yeah. Hwang figures to generate some interest. The Yankees have Chase Headley at third base, though they are said to be seeking a right-handed bat, so I suppose it’s not impossible they could trade Headley and bring in Hwang to play third. Unlikely? Oh sure. But not impossible. The Yankees will surely explore every option.

Given the lack of alternatives, I doubt the Yankees would have much trouble finding a taker for Headley, especially with only three years and $39M left on his contract. That’s nothing these days. I doubt the Yankees pursue Hwang this offseason, but he is an option that exists.