The Tigers hosted Cuban shortstop prospect Yoan Moncada in Lakeland for a workout last week, according to Lynn Henning of the Detroit News. Henning spoke to assistant GM Al Avila, who was understandably mum on the issue. Moncada, a 19-year-old switch-hitting shortstop, is considered one of the best international free agents in MLB history. Moncada has drawn comparisons to Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder (and fellow Cuban) Yasiel Puig, but with the potential to stick as an infielder at the MLB level.
Despite months of rumor-mongering, Moncada still has yet to sign with a team due to limitations put on him by Major League Baseball and the U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Many assumed that OFAC was the issue, but earlier this week, Baseball America revealed that MLB was the organization limiting Moncada's eligibility.
We profiled Moncada earlier this offseason after Baseball America's Ben Badler labeled the Tigers as one of the eight most likely destinations for the Cuban star. Here is what Badler had to say about Moncada's potential.
How good is Moncada? He has more upside than Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo, who just reached a $72.5 million deal with the Red Sox. He’s better than Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, who’s in the Dominican Republic but is still likely several months away from free agency. If Moncada were eligible for the 2015 draft, he would be in the mix to be the No. 1 overall pick. [Yulieski] Gourriel and [Alfredo] Despaigne would be safer bets, but there’s no player in Cuba with Moncada’s combination of youth, tools and hitting ability.
Moncada's price tag is expected to reach into the tens of millions, which would blow away the $1.9 million the Tigers are allocated to spend on the amateur free agent market. Both Henning and Jason Beck largely dismissed the Tigers' chances of signing Moncada because of the spending limit and strict taxes on overages, but I don't think that these are as big of deterrents as they appear. The Tigers were heavily invested in the Yoenis Cespedes sweepstakes back in 2012, a saga that we profiled quite extensively.
The point is, we don't know how involved the Tigers will get, but the penalties associated with exceeding their spending limit might not be as limiting as some think. Here's what Badler had to say about the matter.
Under international director Tom Moore, the Tigers’ strategy has been to spread their money around. The ceiling on their investments have generally been around the $420,000 they spent for shortstop Willy Adames and $400,000 for middle infielder Domingo Leyba, a pair of 2012 Dominican signings that have shot through the system quickly, with Adames helping net David Price at the trade deadline and now ranking as Tampa Bay’s No. 1 prospect. With their success finding those types of players and mining Venezuela for under-the-radar gems as well as any club, the $300,000 limit wouldn’t hamper them too much.
The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are considered the favorites to sign Moncada, but as we have seen with Cespedes and other recent Cuban imports, the loudest team in the room isn't always the one that comes away with the prize.