Sixteen-year-old Cuban phenom Lazaro Armenteros — more commonly referred to simply as “Lazarito” — has been declared a free agent by Major League Baseball, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter link). Armenteros will be eligible to sign beginning on Feb. 10. Because he is just 16 years of age, Armenteros will be subject to international spending limitations. Any club that has already exceeded its budget — or any club that exceeds its budget to sign the infielder/outfielder — will be required to a pay a 100 percent luxury tax on the amount by which the pool has been exceeded.
Armenteros hosted a open showcase for interested clubs at the Padres’ facility in the Dominican Republic last Friday, as Ben Badler of Baseball America wrote a week ago (Badler’s piece also includes video footage of Armenteros, and Badler further noted on Twitter that the location of his showcase was not an indicator of a team having the inside track on signing him). In a subscription-only scouting report from November, Badler called Armenteros one of the most promising players in Cuba, noting that he has “good bat speed, a strong frame and a chance to hit for big power.” Armenteros is “much more well-rounded” than Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who signed with Toronto for a $3.9MM bonus last summer, per Badler.
Both MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez and USA Today’s Bob Nightengale have profiled Armenteros relatively recently as well. One AL scouting director told Sanchez that Armenteros is a “front-line guy” that possesses “lots of tools, size, strength and potential.” Sanchez interviewed Armenteros himself about his decision to pursue a Major League opportunity and leave his native country behind. As he explained to Sanchez, Armenteros was sanctioned by the Cuban government and not allowed to return to his 15U team in Cuba at the beginning of last season, which helped him to make the decision. Armenteros rejected the notion that he was sanctioned due to anti-government sentiments by others in his family, telling Sanchez that he doesn’t know why he was sanctioned, as the government would not give his father a good answer.
Within Nightengale’s profile, he gives an idea of how well-regarded Armenteros is not just among MLB clubs but worldwide. Per Nightengale, a Japanese team has shown a willingness to pay Armenteros upwards of $15MM to play in Nippon Professional Baseball, although the specific term and details were not included alongside the base sum of the reported offer. Nightengale chronicles Armenteros’ journey to Haiti and eventually establishing residency in the Dominican Republic, where he now resides and works out six days a week.
Because he’s eligible to sign this winter, Armenteros will be available to clubs that have already exceeded their international bonus pool during the 2015-16 signing period. That includes the Dodgers, Cubs, Royals and Giants, each of whom has already been subjected to luxury tax penalties on international prospects (particularly the Dodgers). Teams that exceeded their 2014-15 pools and are limited this offseason, however, will not be able to sign Armenteros, as they’re prohibited from exceeding $300K on a single signing bonus for an international prospect. That restriction rules out the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Angels and Diamondbacks from making a run at the raw but highly touted Armenteros.