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Yoan Moncada signs with Red Sox; should the Tigers have pushed harder?

Rob and Jon debate whether the Tigers should have pursued Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada more heavily.

After months of hearing bits and pieces about Cuban wunderkind Yoan Moncada, the big news finally broke yesterday: Moncada signed with the Boston Red Sox for $31.5 million. The Tigers were reported to be involved for Moncada, but assistant general manager Al Avila later said that they knew they would not be the team to land him.

"We scouted him," Avila said. "We had him here for a private workout. Once we knew where the money was going, it was just a point that we had our money invested in other areas."

Before we debate whether the Tigers should have ponied up for Moncada, a brief explanation of his contract is required. Moncada's $31.5 million is a signing bonus, not a total contract value. He will officially sign a minor league contract, identical to the ones that any given draft pick will ink this summer. He does not need to be placed on Boston's 40-man roster until the team is ready to call him up to the major leagues, and his annual salary structure follows that of a normal player working his way through the minor leagues to the majors. After three years of MLB service time, he will be eligible for arbitration. After six, he will be eligible for free agency. Whatever he gets paid during his time in the minors and majors is in addition to the $31.5 million the Red Sox signed him for.

The Red Sox are also taxed an additional $31.5 million, roughly -- this part is a bit fuzzy still -- but this does not count towards their luxury tax figure. This "taxed" money goes into a fund controlled by Major League Baseball. The fund serves many purposes, but most people believe that the huge influx in cash will go towards creating an international player draft, the merits of which are beyond the scope of today's discussion.

So, was it a good idea for the Tigers to let Moncada go elsewhere?

Jon: Rob, the Tigers didn't sign Yoan Moncada. We don't know if they bid or not at this point. Do you think the Red Sox scored here or tossed money around like a drunk on Bourbon Street?

Rob: It's tough to accuse the Red Sox of spending recklessly when they're still a fair ways behind the Dodgers and Yankees in terms of total payroll, but I don't know how much of a bargain Moncada is going to be. With a signing bonus north of $30 million and taxes levied on every dollar spent, the Sox will have coughed up more than $60 million before Moncada ever sets foot in the minor leagues. From there, they are still responsible for his salary as if he were any other player in the system. They may get six-plus seasons of All-Star production from him, but they will have likely spent $80-90 million for that money.

When you look at it like that, it's tough to say that the Tigers truly "missed out" on Moncada. Sure, a player of his caliber might turn out to be the next big thing, but the price tag above is hardly the bargain that Yoenis Cespedes or Yasiel Puig were for the A's and Dodgers, respectively. They might get six great seasons out of Moncada, but $80-90 million could also get you a player like Alex Gordon in free agency. Moncada might outperform Gordon over the next five seasons, but Gordon is a proven commodity that has a much higher floor, even if he is a decade older.

Who would you take? The potential superstar or the surefire Gold Glover in the later stages of his career?

Jon: I get accused by some as having a "Cuban addiction" when it comes to the Tigers needing to sign players from Serie Nacional. It's true I was loud about signing Aroldis Chapman, Cespedes, and Puig to no avail. But the truth is, I don't expect the Tigers to sign every guy or even dive in consistently. I'd like to see them just start with one!

If they agreed with what seems like the prevailing consensus that Moncada was the equivalent of a top five draft pick, I think this was the time to dive in.

The Tigers hopefully won't have a Top 5 pick for a while. They have a system bereft now of high-end talent. Add Moncada plus picks #22 and #34 in this year's draft and suddenly you have made an investment in your farm system that could be paying off as Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez age a bit more.

For the BoSox? I see very little risk. Given their revenue streams, if Moncada is a total bust or has a catastrophic injury it's a financial speed bump. If he's just an average player than it's a mild overpay. If he's a star, it's a bargain.

In short, I'd have rather see the Tigers invest in youth given their long term commitments to old guys. A 19-year-old switch-hitter with power potential is a bet I'd have enjoyed watching pay out (or not).

Rob: The question I have about this recent infusion of Cuban talent is when the bubble is going to burst. Nearly every Cuban player that has defected to the U.S. in the past several years has become a star talent. Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, and Jose Abreu have combined for six All-Star appearances and three top-two finishes in Rookie of the Year Award votes already.

Not everyone from the island is going to do this, and the first bust is going to be notable. Will it be someone that has already signed, like Rusney Castillo or Yasmany Tomas? Will it be Moncada? Will it be one of the several players who defected after Moncada? The last thing I would want is for the Tigers to be the team that paid through the nose for that first bust and be left holding the tab.

It seems almost counter-intuitive based on my previous opinion, but I agree that the timing was right for the Tigers to go after Moncada. Blowing past their bonus pool limit would not have limited them significantly over the next two years, as the Tigers' M.O. is to find low-priced talent in Venezuela and other countries instead of hunting the big fish.

However, I'm still hesitant of investing that much money in an unproven commodity, especially when he isn't necessarily the consensus #1 prospect in baseball now. Baseball America's Ben Badler said that Moncada would have been "in the mix" to be the top pick in this year's amateur draft if he were eligible, and I'm not sure I would want to see the Tigers pay $60 million for that distinction. For every Justin Verlander at the top of the draft, there's a Matt Bush. And when you already have so much money invested into the older guys in the organization, missing on a young gun like Moncada could truly turn this team into the next version of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Jon: ...and Moncada being the real deal would be the kind of move that staves off becoming the Phillies one day.

I agree with you. Some team will eventually commit major cash to a Cuban and get left holding a bag of crap. Odds dictate it will happen. However, I don't think you operate out of fear on that front. If your evaluators love the talent, you have to trust that first.

It sounds like Al Avila indicated the Tigers weren't going to the stratosphere for the kid even though they liked him. That's too bad. They have shown the willingness to take the payroll to the verge of the Luxury Tax. They also offered Scherzer $144 million last year. So, not fully competing for Moncada must be more about the risk associated with youth more than the lack of ability to cut a healthy check.

Rob: As we all know, there's a big difference between like and love. Paying $60 million for a player who still isn't big league ready is well across the "love" line. We don't know how good the Tigers thought he was, but he clearly wasn't worth the money to them, whether they have it or not.

It will be interesting to see where they go from here. Do they invest that money into one player on next year's free agent market, a la Price or another frontline starter? Or do they do something similar to what the Chicago White Sox did this offseason and spread the wealth among a few key free agents? We're a long way away from that point now, but a little future speculation is always fun.

Jon: Now that Moncada is off the market we'll see if Detroit likes the 18-year-old pitcher with solid heat, Yadier Alvarez. Gambling on pitchers for major cash would scare me more than blowing a wad of cash on Moncada, however.

Or there is the 29-year-old second baseman, Hector Olivera. Good stick. I like all the reports and he's more mature physically than the others. But with Ian Kinsler around, where would he play?

The Tigers might not be playing in this market again this year. I'm not feeling it on these guys being Tigers.