Archive for International Free Agents
Via George King: The Yankees will be among the teams in attendance when soon-to-be free agent Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas works out for scouts in the Dominican Republic. The early front-runners to sign him are the Giants, Padres, Rangers, and Tigers, according to Peter Gammons. Jim Salisbury says the Phillies also have “legitimate interest.”
Tomas, 23, is billed as a right-handed power hitter with some swing-and-miss-ability and a strong right field-caliber throwing arm. Here’s some video. He has established residency in Haiti and has been unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, but he’s still waiting for MLB to declare him a free agent. That should happen soon. Given his age and their need for a big right-handed bat, I hope the Yankees make a real strong push to sign him. The fit is obvious.
One thing is very clear with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season: the Yankees need to improve their offense this offseason. They tried to do it last winter by signing Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann to big free agent contracts (while simultaneously letting one of the best hitters in world leave) but it didn’t work. They’re on pace to score only 627 runs this year, 23 fewer than last year.
The Yankees are locked into players at catcher, first base, left field, center field, maybe third base, and either right field or DH already, so their options to fix the offense are limited. Martin Prado is going to play somewhere — I’d prefer second base until the inevitable Alex Rodriguez injury, but that’s just me — leaving shortstop and either right field or DH as the most obvious places to add an impact bat. There are slated to be plenty of free agent shortstops but not as many impact outfielders outside of Melky Cabrera and Nelson Cruz.
The free agent market is likely to add another potential impact outfield bat in the coming weeks, when MLB officially declares Cuban defector Yasmany Tomas a free agent. (It’s Yasmany, not Yasmani, apparently.) Jesse Sanchez and Ben Balder report that Tomas has already established residency in Haiti and has been unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, an important step needed to become a free agent. Badler says MLB should declare him a free to sign relatively soon.
Tomas, 23, defected back in June and he is scheduled to hold a showcase for scouts in the Dominican Republic this Saturday, according to Badler and Tomas. There’s no word on whether the Yankees (or any other team, for that matter) will be in attendance, but they’ve gone to see every other notable Cuban free agent at their workouts, so I expect them to be there just to do due diligence, at the very least. Here’s what we know about Tomas, first from Sanchez:
Tomas is known for his power and he has a reputation for launching long home runs, but he’s also prone to big swing and misses. He’s agile for his size, and he has a strong arm, but there is room for improvement on defense. As a result, he’s characterized as “high-risk, high-reward” type of player in some international scouting circles. He is said to be in much better physical shape and has worked on his approach at the plate since leaving the island.
And now from Badler:
At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Tomas is a righthanded hitter with plus-plus raw power, although with some swing-and-miss tendencies, and a strong arm that should fit in right field. A standout on Cuba’s 2013 World Baseball Classic team, Tomas hit .290/.346/.450 with six home runs, 21 walks and 46 strikeouts in 257 plate appearances this past season in Cuba’s Serie Nacional.
One scout told Nick Cafardo that Tomas will likely command upwards of $100M while Jay Alou, Tomas’ agent, told Jorge Ebro (translated article) he is shooting for a record deal this winter. The contracts for big name Cuban free agents are only getting bigger and bigger, going from Yoenis Cespedes ($36M) to Yasiel Puig ($42M) to Jose Abreu ($68M) to Rusney Castillo ($72M, the current record for an international position player), so I can totally buy the $100M number, especially since Tomas is several years younger than Abreu and Castillo. It doesn’t sound far-fetched.
The Yankees have an obvious need for a big right-handed power bat and they have room on the roster for right field-type heading into next season. They’ve begun showing more interest in Cuban players this year, reportedly spending much more time scouting Aledmys Diaz and Castillo than they did Cespedes and Puig, even inviting them down to Tampa for private workouts. They didn’t sign either guy but it wasn’t because they didn’t take the time to evaluate them. Like I said, I expect them to do the same with Tomas out of due diligence if nothing else.
The jury is still out on Castillo and Diaz (and Jorge Soler and Alex Guerrero), but Cespedes, Puig, and especially Abreu have all exceeded expectations so far. Alexei Ramirez, Leonys Martin, Jose Iglesias, and Adeiny Hechavarria have all been pretty much exactly what they were expected to be. Dayan Viciedo is the only notable disappointment among the current crop of Cuban big leaguers. We’re talking position players only here, not pitchers. This small sample of players suggests Cuban players have a pretty high success rate when it comes to being at least serviceable big leaguers.
Does that mean Tomas will work out? Of course not. His propensity to swing-and-miss is a concern, especially since the pitching in Cuba is pretty weak, but 70 power (which is what Badler said Tomas has back in June) is an unteachable skill. Unteachable like Cespedes’ and Abreu’s power or Puig’s freakish athleticism. It’s also a very rare and valuable skill in this era where the entire league seems to have forgotten how to hit. If you want to dream, maybe the big righty pop and swing-and-miss-ability means he’s Alfonso Soriano without the steals. That would be pretty great, actually. Soriano was awesome in his 20s.
I think one of the reasons the Yankees passed on Castillo was because he is an imperfect fit for the roster. (Whether that’s right or wrong is another matter.) He was billed as a leadoff hitter type with strong defense, and, well, the Yankees already have two of those guys in Brett Gardner and Ellsbury. A third isn’t necessary. Tomas profiles more as a middle of the order hitter and that’s something the Yankees desperately need. Add in the fact that he is only 23 (four years younger than Castillo), has a strong right field-caliber arm, and plays a position of need, and you’ve got a player who makes a lot more sense for New York going forward.
As always, information about these Cuban players is very limited. Everything I know about the guy is in this post. The number of teams that pursue Tomas when he becomes a free agent — Cespedes, Abreu, and Castillo (and Masahiro Tanaka, he was in a similar situation) all had multiple top dollar suitors while the Dodgers reportedly blew everyone out of the water for Puig — will tell us more about how teams view him than anything Baseball America publishes. Teams don’t go hard after nobodies. The Yankees went all-in on Tanaka because he was an ace in his mid-20s. If Tomas is a middle of the order hitter in his early-20s, then they need to go all-in on him as well.
Via MLBTR: The Yankees were among the teams to scout Cuban left-hander Misael Siverio during a showcase event back in June. He is scheduled to throw for teams again on Friday, according to Jon Heyman. Siverio has already been declared a free agent by MLB and cleared by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, so he is free to sign at any time.
Siverio, 25, is a small guy listed at 5-foot-9. Heyman says he has a low-90s fastball with a “tight offspeed variation” that includes a curveball, a changeup, and a splitter. The recent history of Cuban defectors heavily favors position players, but both Orlando Hernandez and Jose Contreras (after he left the Yankees) had success in the big leagues not too long ago. The Yankees signed Cuban lefty Omar Luis to a $2.5M deal a few years ago and there’s no word on what kind of bonus Siverio is expected to command.
Late last week, the Red Sox signed free agent Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo to a seven-year contract worth $72.5M. He’ll play in some minor league games this week and make his MLB debut in September. The Yankees were connected to Castillo — they reportedly liked him more as a second baseman — but opted to “end any pursuit” of him a few days before he wound up in Boston. Here are some notes on the international market, including some more details on New York’s pursuit of Castillo.
Yankees never made offer to Castillo
Both Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman report the Yankees did like Castillo — they saw him as a potential 20-homer player — but balked for luxury tax reasons once the bidding got up to $40M. They didn’t even make a contract offer. The Yankees are taxed 50% on every dollar they spend over the $189M threshold, so $72.5M for Castillo would have meant a $108.75M total investment, and they didn’t view him as that type of player. They considered him to be similar to trade deadline pickup Martin Prado. One thing is clear: the price for Cuban free agents is only going up with each new player who arrives.
The Next Big Thing
Isn’t it amazing how as soon as one high-profile Cuban player signs, the next one pops up? Ben Badler puts on a name on that next big thing, and it is 19-year-old Yoan Moncada. He is described as a “a 6-foot, 210-pound switch-hitting infielder who’s the best teenager to leave Cuba since Jorge Soler, a player with exciting tools and dominance of the Cuban junior leagues on par with what Yasiel Puig did at the same age.”
Here’s the obligatory video The video was removed from YouTube for whatever reason.
Now here’s the catch: no one seems to know where Moncada is at the moment. Badler says it doesn’t appear he is in Cuba but other reports say he is still on the island. If he is still in Cuba, it will obviously be a long time before Moncada is able to sign with a big league team, if ever. If he has defected, teams still have to wait for MLB to declare him a free agent and for the Office of the Foreign Assets Control to unblock him.
Because he is only 19, Moncada will be subject to the international spending restrictions clubs deal with each summer. The Yankees are unable to sign a player for more than $300,000 during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods as a result of this year’s international spending spree, so they won’t be able to make a serious play for Moncada if he becomes the available anytime soon. That’s the risk with going big in one signing period, taking yourself out of the running for the top talent in future years.
Tomas establishes residency
Cuban outfielder Yasmani Tomas has established residency in Haiti, according to Jesse Sanchez. That is a big and necessary step towards being unblocked by the OFAC and declared a free agent by MLB. It’s still likely he will not be able to sign with teams until the offseason, if not sometime in 2015. Because of his age (23) and service time in Cuba, Tomas will not be held to the international spending restrictions.
Back in June, Badler described Tomas as a “righthanded-hitting corner outfielder” who can “hit towering home runs thanks to the strength from his thickly-built 6-foot-1, 230-pound frame,” though he cautioned Tomas has “some swing-and-miss tendencies” and an “uppercut stroke and trouble handling good breaking pitches.” Tomas is also described as a below-average runner who will be a corner outfielder in the big leagues. Here’s video. Jim Salisbury says the Phillies intend to be major players, for what it’s worth.
MLB implements new rules to curb pre-July 2nd deals
Last week, MLB sent teams a memo detailing new rules for how they are allowed to evaluate international amateurs, according to Badler. Players are now no longer allowed to be at a team facility until they are 16 years old or until six months before they are eligible to sign, whatever comes first. Before that, players can go to team facilities for MLB sanctioned league games and showcases only. The rule change is effective immediately.
Under the old rules, teams would bring players to their complex and have them work out. If they liked what they saw, they would make an offer and often agree to a contract in advance of the signing deadline. Teams would “hide” players they like at their complex so other clubs couldn’t scout them. That isn’t possible anymore. Long story short, MLB is trying to crack down on pre-July 2nd deals, and limiting how long players can spend at team complex is a big step towards doing that.
According to multiple reports, the Red Sox will sign Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo to a record six-year contract in the $72M range. The Yankees had Castillo in Tampa for a private workout and were said to have interest in him as a second baseman, but the other day we heard they “ended any pursuit” of him. Commence complaining.
Via Pete Caldera: The Yankees have “ended any pursuit” of Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo. For what it’s worth, George King says the Phillies are the favorite to sign him while Jim Salisbury says Philadelphia is not the front-runner, so believe these reports at your own risk. Caldera also notes Castillo is having visa issues and is unlikely to sign before August 31st, meaning he will not be postseason eligible this year.
The Yankees reportedly like Castillo as a second baseman more than as an outfielder, which goes against the consensus. They had him in Tampa for a private workout two weeks ago. Castillo is said to be sifting through several offers — it’s unknown if the Yankees made one — and he was initially expected to sign within a few days, but I guess the visa issues put an end to that. It’s unclear why the Yankees are passing on the 27-year-old Castillo. In all likelihood they think he’s not worth the money he’s going to get.
Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees are viewed as “major players” for Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo. They are said to like him more as a second baseman while most teams view him as an outfielder. The 27-year-old Castillo is finished with private workouts and is currently sorting through contract offers. He could sign as soon as next week.
According to Sherman, teams have a lot of urgency to get Castillo signed quickly for a few reasons. One, needs a work visa and they want to start that process as soon as possible. Two, he has to be in the organization by August 31st to be postseason eligible. Three, there is a little more than two weeks left in the minor league season and teams want Castillo to get in as many games as possible before considering him for a September call-up. The Yankees should be focused on 2015 at this point, so if they’re going to sign Castillo, the sooner they get him into the organization the better.
Via George King: The Yankees have until the end of the week to submit a contract offer to Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo. Several teams have already made him an offer, though it’s unknown if the Yankees are one of those teams. Castillo is expected to sort through the offers in the coming days and could sign next week.
The Yankees had Castillo in Tampa for a private workout last week, and they reportedly like him more at second base than in the outfield. Most teams like him in the outfield. Castillo has had private workouts with several teams and King says he still has a few more scheduled this week. I have no idea whether signing Castillo is a smart move — reports indicate he could get as much as $50M — though the Yankees certainly have a long-term need at second. If that doesn’t work, the outfield is always a fallback option.
Via George King: Following Friday’s private workout at the team’s complex in Tampa, the Yankees want to talk about a contract with Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo. They like him more at second base than in the outfield, which puts them in the minority. Castillo has experience both on the middle infield and in the outfield. The Yankees had scouts from several different departments at the workout.
“This guy could get $35M to $50M because of what (Jose) Abreu, (Yoenis) Cespedes and (Yasiel) Puig have done, but eventually somebody is going to be wrong about one of these guys,” said a scout to King. Another pointed out “the league he played in Cuba wasn’t great but there is momentum, who knows?”
Castillo, who hit against the rehabbing Preston Claiborne (shoulder) during the workout, has already been declared a free agent by MLB and unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, so he is free to sign at any time. He has also had private workouts with Phillies, Red Sox, and Cubs, plus the Tigers, Giants, White Sox, and Mariners have shown interest as well. Castillo has been billed a speedy leadoff hitter type with surprising pop.
Wednesday: The Yankees invited Castillo to their Tampa complex for a private workout next week, reports George King. Andrew Marchand says they should not be considered the favorite to sign him, for what it’s worth.
Monday, 1:43pm: The Yankees are one of three teams that have scheduled a private workout with Castillo, according to Ben Badler. Balder says Castillo is likely to sign within two weeks.
1:00pm: Via Ken Davidoff: The Yankees sent a contingent of four to watch Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo’s showcase in Miami over the weekend. Those four: international scouting director Donny Rowland, international cross-checkers Gordon Blakeley and Dennis Woody, and pro scout Jay Darnell. Their level of interest in unknown. Twenty-eight of 30 teams were in attendance.
Castillo, 27, was said to have an impressive workout with the caveat that it was only a workout, not game action. Walter Villa has an excellent breakdown of the day. Castillo worked out in the outfield and at shortstop, but Villa says the consensus is that he won’t stick at short and his arm isn’t right field caliber. He showed good speed and surprising pop from the right side. “I like him, he’s a Major League player,” said one scout while another estimated he would sign for $25-35M. I have no idea whether he is worth that money or a good fit for the Yankees.