The New York Yankees need Yoan Moncada, the next Cuban sensation readying to make his way to Major League Baseball. And they need him for oh-so-many reasons.
Moncada, in case you haven't been paying attention, defected from his native Cuba and established residency in Guatemala, where he held a showcase workout for teams in mid-November. He already has been declared a free agent by MLB, but before open season on signing Moncada starts, teams still are awaiting word that he has been cleared by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the United States Department of the Treasury.
The quick must-knows about Moncada that make him such a phenom are as follows: He is a 6'0", 210-pound, switch-hitting infielder with average or better tools across the board—all at the age of 19.
As a teenager, Moncada hit .273/.365/.406 for Cienfuegos in Cuba's Serie Nacional from 2013-14.
Just about every team, of course, is interested in this sort of player, especially given the recent success other former Cuban stars have had in America.
But when it actually becomes time to sign Moncada, the Yankees should be at the top of the list.
Already this offseason, the Yankees have traded for new shortstop Didi Gregorius and right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, and they have signed free-agent third baseman Chase Headley and reliever Andrew Miller for a combined $88 million—a steep but reasonable amount by MLB and Yankees' standards these days.
General manager Brian Cashman has indicated the club apparently will not be shelling out major money to land one of the two remaining premier high-priced free agents, righties Max Scherzer and James Shields, according to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.
Perhaps they're keeping a little stashed away for Moncada? And why not?
The Yankees' minor league system has been middle-of-the-pack to mediocre the past few years, and the club's ranking has dropped three straight seasons, according to Baseball America:
|Yankees' Farm System Rank Among All 30 MLB Teams|
A number of Yankees prospects have been stunted by injuries (Manny Banuelos, Ty Hensley, Jose Campos) or a failure to develop (Tyler Austin, Eric Jagielo, Angelo Gumbs). And that's to say nothing of those top picks who were questionable selections even at the time they were drafted, like Cito Culver and Andrew Brackman, New York's first takes in 2010 and 2007, respectively.
While a number of pitchers actually have graduated to the majors recently, including 2014 breakout reliever Dellin Betances, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Shane Greene, as well as David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain before them, there has been next to nothing out of the position players.
This is oft-cited but very much still disturbingly true: The last position player drafted and developed by the Yankees who has turned into a productive big leaguer for them is outfielder Brett Gardner, now 31, who was a third-rounder all the way back in 2005—or a decade ago now, if you're counting along at home.
That is just staggering.
Heck, even the top-of-the-line, can't-miss hitting prospects New York has traded away haven't been any good for their new teams, either. Just ask the Seattle Mariners how they feel about Jesus Montero.
And the likes of Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott and Dante Bichette Jr., all considered to possess impressive potential not long ago, have shifted gears to reverse and put the pedal to the floor, devolving from highly regarded prospects into complete suspects.
Because of all that, combined with an aging, increasingly injury-prone and expensive roster—Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixiera, among others, say hello—the Yankees have a dire need for young position players who represent potential franchise building blocks.
To wit, the average age of the Yankees' position players in 2014 was 32.6, nearly two full years more ancient than any other club in baseball. And several key members of the roster, from Teixeira and Carlos Beltran to Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda, missed significant time to disabled-list stints.
Sure, there's finally some hope in the minors, thanks to slugging outfielder Aaron Judge, offensive-minded catcher Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird, a first baseman with a knack for getting on base.
But there has to be more. That is why the Yankees must go all-out to land Moncada for all of the above—his youth, his wide-ranging skill set, his steep ceiling, his marketability—once he's declared an amateur international free agent.
"We scout Cuban players extensively," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said via Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, who writes that Moncada is the "most celebrated young prospect to leave Cuba since Jorge Soler, who signed with the Cubs in 2012."
In the past handful of years, a number of prominent Cuban stars have come to MLB and had an immediate impact, including Soler, Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu, who ran away with the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2014.
"In most cases, a lot of those teams have benefited from doing their transactions," as Cashman points out, per Sanchez, "but we'd like to scout a player, but also get a chance to know the player before we make recommendations at those financial levels. It's harder when you don't have access to get background and stuff like that."
As for Moncada, here's a take from Christopher Crawford of ESPN Insider (subscription required):
In terms of pure talent, he's as good as any Cuban prospect there is...Moncada has big-time bat speed from both sides of the plate, with the tools to hit for both average and power. Add in plus speed and the fact he already has a track record of performing well in tournaments against upper-level competition, and you have a potential superstar, though expecting him to contribute at the big league level before 2016 is probably asking too much of the 19-year-old.
For all that hype and hope, Moncada could command a contract upward of $30 million to $40 million, as Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports speculated, an amount that would obliterate what teams are supposed to pay for international amateurs.
In that regard, Moncada is somewhat restricted by MLB's rules, which state that any international free agent who is younger than 23 and doesn't have five years in another pro league must count against an MLB team's allotted international signing bonus pool.
But the Yankees already have blown past that mark for the 2014-15 signing period, so they're facing the penalty and coinciding overage charges for the 2015-16 period, which begins next July 2.
In fact, that's yet another reason the Yankees should go hard for Moncada: Since they're already going to be taxed on their spending this time and won't be able to give out a contract north of $300,000 to an amateur international free agent for the 2015-16 signing period anyway, they might as well go all-in right now.
As Ben Badler of Baseball America writes:
The top players at every position on [the Yankees'] depth chart are at least 30. The farm system takes more heat than it should because it’s New York, but the Yankees have struggled to produce good young talent in the big leagues, and there isn’t a star position prospect who’s close to helping in the majors. The Yankees have the money to beat anyone’s offer. They’re willing to invest in international talent, whether it’s unprecedented spending on Latin American amateurs or $175 million for Masahiro Tanaka. When you line up all the evidence, if the Yankees truly want Moncada, they’re going to be tough to beat.
That assumes, of course, OFAC unblocks Moncada and MLB declares him a free agent before the next signing period begins—otherwise the Yankees are out of luck.
With no more Core Four, and no Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera around, the Yankees need a new face of the franchise.
If they get Moncada, and he pans out and plays to his potential, he could be just that.
The Yankees need Moncada. For oh-so-many reasons.
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