FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — The Boston Red Sox are all in on Cuba, with their pursuit of acclaimed prospect Yoan Moncada the latest example.
Moncada’s representative, David Hastings, said Tuesday he is hopeful the contract with a $31.5 million signing bonus will be finalized by the end of the week. The cost for the Red Sox will double because of the tax for exceeding the international signing bonus pool, a provision in baseball’s collective bargaining agreement.
That means $63 million for a 19-year-old, but owner John Henry said he’s not concerned about the risk.
“I think we’re more discerning than ever, despite what people might write this week,” Henry said Tuesday at JetBlue Park. “With high-ceiling players, you have to take risks, especially on young players.”
General manager Ben Cherington decline to confirm the agreement with Moncada, a switch-hitting, multi-skilled middle infielder who was heavily courted by multiple teams. Moncada’s physical is scheduled for Wednesday in Boston and Florida.
Henry was wary, too, of declaring the deal done. Speaking generally, was expressed confidence in the organization’s ability to evaluate Moncada’s talent.
“There have been a number of Cuban players who’ve come into the game that have really produced, and there’ve been some that haven’t over the years. But I think we’ve done our homework, and we expect a lot,” Henry said.
Moncada has played primarily second base, but he’s considered athletic enough to be moved to shortstop or the outfield, too, as he develops. With speed, an ability to hit for power and contact plus a good glove and a strong arm, Moncada will carry the five-tool label with him into the majors.
“There’s been a lot of interest in him and a lot of teams have spent a lot of time on it and it’s been a competitive process,” Cherington said.
Including from the New York Yankees, who offered $25 million and told Hastings they would consider it if he countered at $27 million.
“We went where we were comfortable going,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “It was an uncomfortable number to put forth, but it still fell short.”
In 2002, the Yankees outbid the Red Sox for Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras, prompting president Larry Lucchino to famously call the Yankees the “evil empire.” But under the direction of Cherington, senior vice president of player personnel Allard Baird and director of international scouting Eddie Romero, the Red Sox have tried to stay at the forefront of the Cuban influx.
They were outbid by the Chicago White Sox for first baseman Jose Abreu, but they traded last year for outfielder Yeonis Cespedes, whom they later dealt to the Detroit Tigers. Then they signed outfielder Rusney Castillo to a $72.5 million, seven-year contract.
“There are $150 million contracts that end up being good values, and there’s $500,000 contracts that end up being bad values, and everything in between,” Cherington said. “So the exercise is to identify the player, identify what you think he’s worth and then see if you can acquire him for that.”
Moncada’s bonus will be the most for an international player under 23 who is subject to the signing pool, topping the $8.27 million pitcher Yoan Lopez agreed to in his deal with Arizona last month.
Boston already was over its signing pool for the period running through June 15. Because of that, for the signing periods starting on July 2 this summer and in 2016, the Red Sox will be ineligible to give a signing bonus of more than $300,000 to any international players subject to the pool.
Hastings said the threat of the 100 percent tax impacted negotiations.
“That was mentioned by every team as a hindrance to the contract part,” he said.
Baseball’s rules call for Boston to pay the tax by July 30 and for Moncada to receive the entire signing bonus amount by the end of 2018. The tax is to be used “to further the international development of baseball,” according to the labor contract.
The restraints on signings began in the 2012-13 period.
“We thought we put a set of deterrents in the international signing pool that would be effective. So far I would say that they have not been quite as effective as we hoped for,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “But remember, the piece that hasn’t kicked in is the inability to sign in the following years. So we’ll have to see how that piece of the deterrent plays out before we make a full judgment.”
The hefty price tag on Moncada’s deal increased the chatter about an international draft, which Major League Baseball would like to institute in the labor contract that starts with the 2017 season. Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Drew Smyly said on Twitter he didn’t believe it was “right” that a Cuban 19-year-old can get this kind of money when an American the same age would get far less in a signing bonus after he’s drafted.
Smyly clarified in a subsequent tweet that he wasn’t criticizing Moncada or the size of his deal.
“I’m all for any player making as much as he can. I only meant every amateur should have same opportunities and guidelines to play MLB regardless where they are from,” Smyly said.