As of the writing of this article, RHP James Shields remains unsigned but for the most part appears headed to the San Diego Padres. Reports say the Marlins were aggressive in their pursuit and currently remain in the mix if Shields does not sign with the Padres.
If they do in fact fail to sign Shields (and even if they do sign Shields, although money would be much tighter), the Marlins’ front office should turn its full attention to Cuban phenom Yoan Moncada. A potential Moncada signing would have a number of effects on the money and baseball side of things. Considering that all 30 Major League teams will have some degree of interest in Moncada, he will certainly require a large signing bonus. However, his talent is immense despite being only 19 years old and he could make an impact at the big league level relatively soon.
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First of all, what kind of player is Yoan Moncada? The Cuban shortstop has received rave reviews from scouts that have seen him. He’s received a 60 grade (on the 20-80 scale) for his hit, power, and arm, 70 for his speed, and 50 for his fielding. He has a compact swing that is accentuated by his incredible bat speed. The foot speed is just as incredible, although there are questions about his ability to stay at short in the long run. He will definitely start at short and certainly has the potential to stick there, but it might be best to move him to a different position to fast-track his development.
The arm is plenty for the left side of the infield and the speed and athleticism mean he could easily switch to second or center field, so he there will be plenty of options when it’s time to find a position for him. While scouts have mostly only seen him at showcases where he took BP, rather than faced live pitching, he clearly has the physical tools to be a special talent. He appears to be further along, at least in terms of physical development, than his American counterparts of similar age. The only con is the lack of experience, but ultimately that’s probably just nit-picking.
Since Moncada is under the age of 23 and does not have 5 years of professional experience, he is subject to international signing rules. Most people probably have a rough idea of these rules, but for those that don’t or need a refresher: teams are given a bonus pool they can use to sign amateur international free agents. Bonuses that are greater than $10,000 count against the bonus pool. When a team exceeds its bonus pool amount, it has to pay a 100% tax on the overage. Depending on how large the overage, teams may also be hit with spending restrictions for future signing periods.
Given Moncada’s talent and youth, there is immense interest from all corners of baseball. Currently, his bonus is expected to be in the $30-$40 million range, which is definitely much more than any bonus pool amount for any team. Giving out a bonus of that size would mean a 100% tax on the overage and not being able to spend more than $300k on any amateur international free agent for the next two signing periods. Ultimately, signing Moncada would mean paying $60-$80 million plus the inability to sign higher end international talent for a couple years.
So why should the Marlins take this plunge?
On the money side of things, it would clearly be a big financial commitment for a team not known for spending a lot of money. While a James Shields contract would be payed out over 4 years, most of the money of the money paid out to sign Moncada would have to be upfront. The signing bonus could be spread out over 3 years but the overage tax would need to be paid to MLB immediately. The Marlins would have some flexibility with the signing bonus but the tax could potentially prove to be hefty for the team.
As far as the spending restrictions for future periods, the Marlins rarely spend big on international amateurs, although they did sign 4 players to bonuses worth at least $300k. However, the biggest bonus given out was $600k, so again they aren’t big spenders. The team never comes close to using up its entire bonus pool amount, so my guess is they wouldn’t be hurt by spending restrictions. Also, the team will still possess those bonus slot values, so they could continue to use them in trades like they usually do. While the money could be an issue, the spending restriction likely won’t be, especially when Moncada is an impact talent anyways.
If Moncada is such an incredible talent, where would he rank among the game’s best prospects and what kind of impact would he have on the Marlins’ farm system? Ben Badler at Baseball America recently wrote that Moncada would easily rank among the top 20 prospects in the game and could even be ranked as high as the top 10. For a player that has virtually zero professional experience and hasn’t had the same exposure as high school and college players here in the US, that’s incredible. That ranking would be solely on the strength of his physical tools and not how they play in game, which means he could rank even higher or he could potentially fall out of the top 100 (which I’d say isn’t very likely).
According to Keith Law, the Marlins have the 24th best farm system in baseball and feature two of the top 100 prospects in the game. RHP Tyler Kolek ranks #34 on his list and catcher J.T. Realmuto ranks #74. MLB.com has these players ranked at #27 and #70, respectively.
The system features some intriguing talent, but outside of Kolek there isn’t any true impact talent. Signing Moncada might only bump the farm system up a couple spots, but it would add a high end prospect that would join Kolek and Realmuto in the top 100. If Moncada ends up in the 11-20 range, then the Marlins would be just outside the top 10 in terms of prospect points according to MLB.com’s rankings. The system wouldn’t feature a ton of depth but with Moncada, it would have some good high end talent along with some high floor arms and position players with some good upside, albeit a certain degree of risk.
Do the Marlins really have a need for Moncada? Moncada is probably going to be the type of player that forces his way into a starting job when he’s ready to contribute at the MLB level, supplanting whoever is currently at the position he ends up at. Right now, the Marlins feature CF Marcell Ozuna, 2B Dee Gordon, and 3B Martin Prado. Ozuna is under club control through 2019, Gordon through 2018, and Prado through 2016.
Moncada is expected to start at Single-A and that could be low- or high-A depending on what the eventual signing team thinks of his readiness. If the team is aggressive and Moncada tears through Single-A, he could end up in Double-A in 2015. Moncada could play his way onto a big league roster at some point at 2016, but that’s being very aggressive. Most likely, he should spend time at Double-A in 2016 and would probably be ready for action in 2017. This would be right after Prado’s contract expires, so the Marlins could have a need pop up right as Moncada would be ready for Major League action.
Signing Yoan Moncada is going to require a lot of money considering that all 30 MLB teams are going to be interested to a certain degree. The money might be an issue for the Miami Marlins, although adding Moncada would clearly boost the farm system a bit and would fill a need a couple years down the road. While the team doesn’t spend on international amateurs very often, they should definitely look into making an investment in what appears to be a major impact talent.
(Most likely) missing out on Shields stings a little bit as far as 2015 is concerned, but adding Moncada would extend the window of opportunity for the Miami Marlins, especially if they can lock up some of their core players. If the Marlins want to be serious contenders on a consistent basis, then they need to spend the money to do so. Yoan Moncada would be a worthwhile investment.