As I reported on twitter moments ago, MLB sent a memo to clubs detailing the new process for Cuban players to go from leaving the country to signing with an MLB team. The short version is that super prospect Yoan Moncada is eligible to sign now, after a maddening long delay.
For those new to this topic or if you just want a refresher, here’s a recap of my coverage of this Moncada saga from the start:
– October 3, 2014: Moncada is confirmed out of Cuba, but no one knows where he is. We assume his whereabouts will become clear soon as he’s the most hyped prospect to leave the island in years. Here I first quote the common “teenage Puig that can play the infield and switch hit” comp and break down all the implications about who can sign him, who is likely to pony up the big bucks, game theory implications and more.
– November 13, 2014: The day after Moncada’s heavily-attended open workout in Guatemala, I break down what scouts thought of his performance at the event and the hilarious way that super agent Scott Boras entered the equation. The most interesting additional information here is that we learn the Moncada’s agent is a CPA from St. Petersburg, Florida that has never negotiated a baseball contract before and that Moncada appears to be the first Cuban ballplayer that’s ever been allowed to legally leave the country.
– November 15, 2014: MLB declares Moncada a free agent. This means that once Moncada is unblocked by the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), teams can sign him. OFAC is essentially in place to confirm Moncada’s identity and paperwork and confirm he isn’t sending money back to a communist government.
– November 19, 2014: One week later, I find even more content from this story as I found the answer to a common question about Moncada’s situation. You can read in more depth about this at the linked stories, but to sign Moncada, the rules dictate that teams pay essentially a dollar-for-dollar tax to MLB on the signing bonus they give him. He can’t sign a big league deal, so all the money has to be lump sum and upfront, with MLB getting half of what he gets, which should be about $40 million. The question is what will MLB do with this money? The short answer is that the CBA says MLB will use the money to do something that nearly everyone in the industry thinks is bad for international baseball.
One more interesting element from this story is that teams that have high-dollar verbal deals to sign 16-year-olds on July 2nd (the first day they’re eligible to sign) would have to back out of those deals to sign Moncada. It would be considered collateral damage, but would hurt a team’s reputation with in the July 2nd market, where verbal deals are done months in advance for almost every top player.
– December 2, 2014: Moncada arrives in Florida to stay with his agent and train for private workouts with MLB teams. He is still awaiting unblocking from OFAC.
– December 17, 2014: President Obama announces plans to soften sanctions against Cuba. Speculation runs wild about what this could mean for baseball, but there is no immediate, baseball-specific news.
– January 26, 2015: OFAC posted updated rules on their website in mid-January and these rules appear to say that the specific license that Moncada is still waiting to receive from OFAC isn’t necessary to sign. The new rules say that the general license, which Moncada reached the requirements for months ago, is all he needs to be unblocked and sign with an MLB team.
– January 30, 2015: After a week of PR statements from OFAC and MLB that essentially point the finger at each other for dragging out the process, OFAC tells Moncada’s agent that they won’t give him a specific license. Earlier OFAC statements said they’d consider giving a specific license on a case-by-case basis, so this now puts the onus squarely on MLB as the only party holding up free agency for Moncada and two other notable Cuban players also stuck in limbo.
– January 21, 2015: MLB sends a memo to the teams acknowledging this statement from OFAC. The three-sentence memo tells teams that MLB “hope(s) to receive guidance by early next week” from the U.S. government on what the new MLB policy should be regarding Cubans and that MLB teams are not to sign Cuban players until MLB gives them the go-ahead.
– February 3, 2015 (today): I tweeted to remind readers that we are now in the “early next week” time that MLB targeted for clarity, amidst some (unreported) rumors that the rules changes may come later in the day. Then, about 90 minutes later, those changes are sent to MLB teams in a memo, first reported to exist by Yahoo’s Jeff Passan. I was first to report the details of the memo.
Sources: Yoan Moncada is free to sign with an MLB team now. MLB just sent a memo to teams outlining the conditions.
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) February 3, 2015
The special license is no longer necessary, so a general license along with a sworn statement is sufficient to sign with an MLB team.
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) February 3, 2015
“..[a] sworn statement [from the player] that the prospect permanently resides outside of Cuba and has no intent to return to Cuba.” — Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) February 3, 2015
MLB also cautions that this only applies to players who have already left the island. It’s still forbidden to scout Cubans in Cuba. — Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) February 3, 2015
So, here we are after four months of speculation and reporting and some nonsense for good measure. In the last section of my most recent article on the topic, I outline the stakes for fans hoping their team signs Moncada. The heavy favorites are the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers, with my best estimation that the price will be around $40 million on the bonus and another roughly $40 million going to MLB as a penalty, along with a two-year ban on international signings over $300,000. This ban doesn’t include Japanese/Korean professional players or Cubans over the age of 23 with five or more years of pro experience, with recent players like this including Yasmany Tomas, Jose Abreu and Rusney Castillo. Moncada has had private workout for other clubs, including the Rays, Padres, Rangers, Tigers and Giants, but these clubs have publicly said they’re almost certain they won’t be able to afford where Moncada’s price tag likely ends up.
The Rangers and Cubs are the only two teams that can’t sign Moncada right now, because they’re finishing up their penalty year for going over their international pool last year (the penalty recently was changed to two years, but Texas and Chicago broke it when the penalty was only one year). Sources indicate both teams are trying to convince Moncada to wait until July 2nd (when sanctions on both clubs will end) to sign, but it’s extremely unlikely that Moncada will wait that long and take the Red Sox and Yankees out of the bidding, as Boston and New York start their two-year penalties on July 2nd for going over this year’s pool. This dynamic was a big reason why the ongoing delay of Moncada’s unblocking was so interesting, as it increased the odds of certain big market teams being knocked out of or entering the market.
Moncada, 19, likely spends 1-2 years in the minors before settling in the big leagues at either second base, third base or center field, with the offensive upside of Yasiel Puig. For those wondering where Moncada would land on a top 100 prospects list, he’d be somewhere from 5-12 for me, with comparable talent to guys like Carlos Correa and Corey Seager, but with far less proven as Moncada hasn’t played in a game for a long time. That said, Moncada was a standout performer in nearly all of his international tournaments before leaving Cuba, so his hitting tools are expected to lead to big numbers. If you need more detail than that, I’d suggest checking out the first couple articles I wrote that go into much more detail about the rules around his contract and my scouting report.
I haven’t had it confirmed, but it appears that Cuban second baseman Andy Ibanez is eligible to sign now, as his situation mirrors Moncada’s in every important way (details on Ibanez, who is subject to bonus pools like Moncada) and 2) Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera will be a free agent once MLB clears him, which should be soon (details on Olivera, who isn’t subject to pools, like Tomas, Abreu and Castillo).
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.