Who is Yoan Moncada?
Well for our purposes, in this micro-sabbatical fleck of hyperspace Moncada is, first and foremost, a baseball player. A really, really interesting one. Actually, if you combine the details of all the articles written about him in the last month at Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and Fan Graphs, you come up with a superalloy of entrancing descriptors. Something along the lines of: A 19-year-old, switch-hitting Yasiel Puig at shortstop.
Of course, Moncada is also just another human being like the rest of us. He's just a guy trying to navigate the bureaucratically-crooked labyrinth of defection in order to play there game at the highest level. Most of us can empathize with having to navigate bureaucratically-crooked labyrinths; however, few can relate to the often-dangerous journeys Cuban ballplayers are forced to withstand just to get a chance to play in the major leagues.
But perhaps no one can relate to Moncada's journey. Until his unorthodox departure from Cuba, it was well-understood and widely accepted that "No One Walks Off The Island," but it appears as though that's exactly what Moncada did -- well not exactly, since he couldn't literally walk off the island unless the ocean was frozen, but he did reportedly leave Cuba with permission from the government. In some ways, that seems weirder than the Gulf of Mexico turning into a block of ice.
In what will represent a massive shift in policy -- if it isn't eventually refuted -- Cuba allowed Moncada to leave the country freely. Fan Graphs' Kiley McDaniel spoke with Moncada's agent about his client's unusual departure:
"I was told by Moncada’s agent last week that he was allowed by the Cuban government to leave the country, that Moncada has a Cuban passport and can fly back to the country whenever he wants to ... multiple high ranking club executives told me this is how they understand the situation at this point as well. Take a moment and let that sink in. Countless dozens of ballplayers and hundreds of normal citizens have risked their lives to leave the island on makeshift boats and under the cover of darkness. The government apparently just let one of their best ballplayers in a long time just leave on a flight to Central America. There’s been plenty of unfounded speculation about how and why this happened, with some prominent executives still unclear on how it was even possible."
Watching the details of his relationship with his homeland come into focus will be intriguing. Of course, I'd much rather watch him actually play baseball than read about administrative apostasy, but this situation could have a meaningful long-term effect on the way Cuban players make it to the majors.
The way Moncada left Cuba could end up being even more consequential than his playing career, but that doesn't mean scouts aren't expecting big things from him. Really big things.
In an appearance on MLB Network, Baseball America's Ben Badler said Moncada has "way more upside" than Yasmany Tomas or Rusney Castillo, and that he as a "legitimate chance to have five above-average tools." In summation, Badler called Moncada a "potential franchise player," saying there's going to be "a ton of interest from pretty much every team on him."
Additionally, Badler listed the Nationals, Giants, Tigers, Rays, Angels, Braves, Red Sox, and Yankees as the favorites -- but personally, I'm still hanging onto the "pretty much every team" line from the MLB Network interview.
It's highly unlikely that Moncada will end up with a small- or mid-market team. The bidding is expected to get extremely competitive. Yahoo's Jeff Passan expects Moncada to receive a record bonus for an amateur player -- up to $40 million, which would, of course, be paired with an almost dollar-for-dollar tax for every penny spent beyond the applicable team's international bonus pool "limit." If things get as competitive as some expect, the total price tag on Moncada could approach $100 million. That's an obscene amount of money for a player who, not only hasn't ever played in the Majors, but also hasn't been tested in the minors or any other elite competition beyond international tournaments.
On the other hand, Moncada has been graded out as having a 60 hit tool, 60 power, 70 speed, 60 arm, and 50 field -- in terms of future potential. He might have to move to second or third base, since he isn't an ideal shortstop defensively, or he could always move to an outfield spot. Badler mentioned that he has the bat profile and the arm to land in a corner spot, and/or the speed and athleticism to play center. But other than the uncertainty about him being able to stick at short, Moncada looks like a scout's dream.
As it always does, however, it's going to come down to the money. Moncada has already been declared a free agent by Major League Baseball, and once he is cleared by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control -- it's uncertain when this will happen -- the offers will start pouring in. It's only a matter of time, but that matter could end up being an interesting one. He could end up waiting until the July 2nd signing period begins in an effort to make the market for his services more competitive -- the Rangers and Cubs will have served their two-year penalties for going over the spending limit in 2012 at that point -- or he could sign this winter when he's cleared by OFAC. Several teams will be willing to blow past their spending limits and face the tax penalties -- about 100% -- and the two-year suspension the Cubs and Rangers are currently serving that prohibits signing players for more than $250,000.
The tax penalties are only a one-time cost, so it doesn't exactly add up the way a traditional $100 million deal might, and there's no guarantee the bidding gets that competitive. However, deciding whether or not to pursue Moncada will be a tough one for every team in the game. He's extremely talented, but the team that ends up signing him will have sacrificed a lot of internationally and financial flexibility in order to do so. McDaniel got into some game theory stuff in one of his Moncada breakdowns -- that can be found here, here, and here ... if you're into that sort of thing. I am to some extent, but even if that isn't your typical scene, McDaniel's explanation of the strategy inherent to the process is fascinating.
McDaniel also reported that many MLB teams don't even know all the rules that are currently affecting the international market. Obviously, teams aren't pleased about that. If an international draft was in place, Moncada would simply go to the team with the first overall pick. It'd be a lot easier, but McDaniel notes that every club he's talked to about an international draft opposes the idea "for literally dozens of reasons." It's a huge mess that isn't likely to change significantly until the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on December 1, 2016.
No matter where Moncada signs, his first professional contract is going to change things in Major League Baseball. The already-questionable system in place is going to be broken sooner or later, and this might be the player that does the trick. Even if he is, plenty of clubs will be more concerned with signing him first and worrying about the consequences later.
Will the Royals be one of those teams?
Who knows? Disclosing they intentions would only make things easier for their competition, so they aren't likely to share any useful information on the matter until after Moncada signs a contract. It's a longshot for Kansas City, especially since some scouts think Moncada is destined to be a Yankee if Brian Cashman decides he wants him. But it is a possibility. In fact, many prominent Cuban players have signed with small- or mid-market teams in the recent past. Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu, and finally, Yasmany Tomas ended up signing with mid-market teams -- or in Abreu's case, a team that was in transition both financially and in terms of player personnel.
If the Royals somehow managed to sign Yoan Moncada away from the salivating financial elites, he'd instantly become their best prospect. He might even become the best prospect in baseball. Maybe you don't think any prospect could ever be worth $100 million, but if you can put aside the owner-friendly, industry-procured impulse to immediately begin thinking in terms of surplus value and returns on someone else's investment, a wildly quieting pipe dream might just wash over you in somnolent highlight-reel fevers and
towering literal towers of home runs stacked on themselves into the atmosphere like some kind of agnostic Babel.
Although the cost may end up being about that high, Moncada might be worth it.