- The Braves have interest in Robert, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. “Through the hard work of our international department, led by Gordon Blakely, we are in every game,” says GM John Coppolella. “We like Robert, and so do many other teams, so we will see where it goes.” O’Brien notes, though, that the Braves are “unlikely to get in a major bidding war” for Robert. The Braves were among the heaviest spenders in international free agency last season (nabbing top prospect Kevin Maitan and others), but can still make Robert whatever offer they like before mid-June, albeit with penalties for exceeding their bonus pool.
- The White Sox, Padres, Cardinals, Reds and Astros are among the favorites to sign Robert, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez writes, echoing previous reports. Sanchez also lists the Athletics as a possibility, noting that the A’s have spent heavily on international talent (including Cuban outfielder Lazaro Armenteros) since July and have “strong interest” in Robert. Sanchez further notes that the A’s took the rest of MLB by surprise by signing another Cuban outfield phenom, Yoenis Cespedes, in 2012. Sanchez also tweets that A’s GM David Forst and other team officials are in the Dominican to scout Robert.
- Cardinals GM John Mozeliak confirms his team is interested, according to Derrick Goold and Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I know the math,” Mozeliak says. “I think we’ll be in the game.” The Cardinals think he is a “rare talent” who would be worthy of a top draft choice if he were eligible for the draft, Goold writes. Like other teams likely to be involved in the bidding, the Cardinals have already spent heavily on international free agents this signing period, giving seven-figure bonuses to outfielders Jonatan Machado, Randy Arozarena and Victor Garcia as well as pitcher Johan Oviedo.
- The Padres have also confirmed their interest, reports Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. “We have seen him multiple times and will continue to scout him aggressively until he signs,” says Padres international scouting director Chris Kemp. Including penalties, the Padres since July 2 have already spent an amazing total of nearly $80MM on a large collection of international amateur talent headlined by Cuban lefty Adrian Morejon. Lin notes that sources tell him the Padres might not have much more to spend on amateur talent after such an incredible expenditure (although it should also be noted that the team’s international spending has been balanced by a remarkably cheap big-league payroll). The Padres might see Robert as a special opportunity to add top talent, however, particularly given that their ability to spend will be restricted once the current spending period ends.
- At his Twitter page, Baseball America’s Ben Badler has videos explaining which teams look most likely to sign Robert and which teams don’t seem likely. One obstacle for some teams, Badler notes, is that they already have unofficial deals in place with players who are not technically eligible to sign until the start of the next signing period on July 2. Signing Robert before that would cause those teams to incur penalties, thus jeopardizing existing agreements. Such deals are not binding, but backing away from them would be seen as negotiating in bad faith.
Top Cuban prospect Luis Robert has been declared a free agent by Major League Baseball, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. He’ll now be eligible to sign with any team as soon as May 20th, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez tweets, though there are some constraints at play.
Because he’s eligible to sign in the current international free agent signing period, Robert will have an opportunity to ink a deal that isn’t limited by the new caps that will enter effect on July 2nd. But the youngster will be subject to the existing international rules, meaning certain clubs can’t offer him more than a $300K bonus while others would need to pay a 100% tax on any bonus money. (We covered the details on those clubs when it was reported Robert was heading stateside.)
Robert, a 19-year-old outfielder, has reportedly drawn wide interest from around the league. Last we checked in, a variety of organizations were planning to take closer scouting looks. If there’s a favorite at this point, it could be the White Sox, though they’d be entering the penalty box by striking a deal with Robert. Numerous other organizations have already blown past their bonus pools, so going on to sign Robert would mean ponying up double his bonus but wouldn’t change their future international spending eligibility.
The chief reason for the keen interest in Robert is his advanced power bat, as Ben Badler of Baseball America explained in a recent profile. He’s also currently athletic enough to play in center field, though there are questions as to whether he’ll stay there in the long run. Teams are now getting a chance to see more of Robert in person, and he’s currently planning another showcase in May, per Sanchez (via Twitter).
The CSE Talent agency announced that it has purchased Arland Sports, with Arland founder Jason Wood taking over as the president of CSE’s baseball division. Arland Sports’ client list includes such notable big leaguers as Jake Odorizzi, Devon Travis, David Phelps and Andrew Benintendi. It isn’t known whether these players or any of Arland Sports’ other clientele will be joining Wood under the CSE umbrella, so stay tuned for any potential representation changes via MLBTR’s Agency Database. Here are some more news and notes from around the game…
- Early indications are that Cuban outfielder Luis Robert will be cleared for free agency during the current international signing period, Baseball America’s Ben Badler reports, though nothing has yet been finalized. If Robert is cleared before the stricter international bonus rules come into play during the next signing period (which opens on July 2), he stands to score a much larger payday than he would if his free agency isn’t granted until after the end of the current signing period on June 15. Robert had a private workout for the Astros in the Dominican Republic and he is scheduled for workouts with the Athletics and Reds next week; the Padres, Cardinals and White Sox are also expected to bring the 19-year-old in for workouts. Chicago is the only one of those six teams that hasn’t already exceeded its 2016-17 bonus pool limit, though Badler has reported that the White Sox may be the favorites to sign the highly-touted Robert.
- Luke Hochevar could potentially sign with a team in the second half of the season, though MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan hears that “2017 is more than likely a wash for him.” Hochevar underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery last August and was originally projected to be ready when Spring Training camps opened in February. Hochevar’s surgery, however, was “much more complicated” than a similar procedure for Royals prospect Kyle Zimmer (who had his TOS surgery last July and is back pitching in the minors), and thus Hochevar is apparently facing an extended recovery time. The 33-year-old Hochevar already missed all of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery, though the former first overall draft pick posted strong numbers in 2013, 2015 and 2016 out of the Kansas City bullpen.
- Eric Thames is one of the early stars of the 2017 season, as the Brewers slugger is leading the league in homers (seven), runs (15), and slugging percentage (an even 1.000) while also hitting .405 and posting a .479 OBP through 48 plate appearances. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale profiles Thames’ unique personality and unlikely career path, as he bounced around several MLB organizations before becoming a Ruthian superstar in South Korea from 2014-16.
- Francisco Lindor would be short-changing himself by signing an extension worth anything less than $100MM, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan opines. Lindor is off to a huge start in 2017, and while he is five seasons away from free agency, the Indians shortstop is putting himself in line for a massive payday. Assuming Lindor keeps producing all season, Passan argues that Lindor could ask for something in the realm of Mike Trout’s six-year, $144MM deal from the Angels.
The Reds are “keeping an eye on” top Cuban outfield prospect Luis Robert, reports Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Manager Dick Williams called Robert “a physical specimen” when speaking to Buchanan, adding that the Reds have scouted Robert several times in the past. The price tag on Robert, of course, will be a major consideration for the Reds, but Buchanan points out that Cincinnati has greater incentive than most clubs to break the bank on the 19-year-old. Cincinnati has already soared past its international bonus pool, meaning they’ll be prohibited from signing any player for more than $300K in either of the next two international signing periods. If Robert is declared a free agent before the current period ends on June 15, it’s logical for the Reds to make one last splash while they’re still allowed to do so. Williams, though, notes that they won’t pursue him at all costs. “I have no idea where the dollars are going to go on him,” says the GM. “It could be that it quickly gets outside of our comfort level.” The Padres, Cardinals, Astros, Braves, Athletics and Nationals are all over their allotted bonus pools as well.
More from the NL Central…
- The Brewers and Dodgers are still in touch on a potential trade involving Ryan Braun, reports Jon Morosi of MLB.com, though there’s no indication that there are any serious negotiations at the moment. However, as Morosi notes, Braun effectively faces not one, but two trade deadlines this year, as he’ll receive 10-and-5 rights on May 24. Those rights — afforded to players with 10 years of Major League service time, the five most recent with one team — allow a player full veto power over any potential trades. Braun suggests to Morosi, though, that his no-trade provisions may not be a significant factor simply because the communication between him and the Milwaukee front office is strong. “I have such a great relationship with [Brewers owner] Mark Attanasio, [general manager] David Stearns and [assistant general manager] Matt Arnold,” says Braun. “We’re all really on the same page when it comes to my situation.” The full column is rife with quotes from Braun — covering far more than just his trade candidacy — and is well worth a full read.
- After finishing the 2016 season with a $99.9MM payroll, the Pirates opened 2017 with a payroll of about $91.5MM, per the Associated Press, and Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette spoke to GM Neal Huntington about the change. “It’s a product of how we chose to allocate the dollars,” says Huntington. “With Jung Ho Kang’s money, our thought is at some point in time we’ll be responsible for the dollars once he’s able to get here and return to the major league level.” Huntington also notes that the team made a late decision to move on from Jared Hughes, who would’ve otherwise accounted for another $2.8MM on the payroll. Instead, as Brink notes, the Buccos are on the hook for about $740K of that would-be salary. And, Brink points out, the payroll will organically increase over the course of the season, as additional players are brought up to the MLB level.
Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez left Saturday’s game in Baltimore with a right biceps strain, per a team announcement. There’s no timetable for his return, tweets FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, but it’s worth noting that Angels righty Garrett Richards landed on the 10-day disabled list Friday with a right biceps strain. It’s possible Sanchez’s injury will be more severe, of course, which would be a terrible development for the Yankees. The 24-year-old deservedly entered the season with significant hype surrounding him after hitting an astounding .299/.376/.657 with 20 home runs in 229 plate appearances as a rookie in 2016.
More from Rosenthal:
- When it comes to potentially acquiring starting pitching help this summer, the Rockies could be a team to watch, says Rosenthal (video link). Colorado might have enough young talent to swing a deal for White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana or Athletics right-hander Sonny Gray, posits Rosenthal, who notes that Baseball America regards its farm as the 10th-best system in the majors (ESPN’s Keith Law ranks it an even better ninth).
- The White Sox, Astros, Padres, Reds and Cardinals are the teams with the most interest in highly touted outfield prospect Luis Robert, reports Rosenthal. If he’s cleared to sign by June 15, the 19-year-old will go down as the last Cuban amateur to sign for big money – should the new collective bargaining agreement rules remain in place for a while, that is. Ben Badler of Baseball America has reported on multiple occasions that the White Sox are the favorites to land Robert. Unlike the ChiSox, all of the Astros, Padres, Cardinals and Reds have already exceeded their 2016-17 international bonus pools.
- With Manny Machado, Zach Britton and Adam Jones slated to become free agents after next year, the Orioles might look far different on the field by the 2019 season. Changes could be coming off the field, too, as both GM Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter will also see their contracts expire when the 2018 campaign concludes, per Rosenthal. Showalter isn’t looking to leave Baltimore, according to Rosenthal, though he’ll turn 61 next month, leading to questions as to whether he’ll transition to a front office job sometime soon.
- The Mariners’ competitive window might only stay open through next season, observes Rosenthal, who points out that Nelson Cruz, Jean Segura, Drew Smyly, Hisashi Iwakuma and Leonys Martin are scheduled to hit free agency after the 2018 campaign. General manager Jerry Dipoto made it clear over the winter that the Mariners are in “win-now” mode, which makes sense considering those soon-to-be free agents, not to mention that integral players such as Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Felix Hernandez are either in their 30s or will be soon. The Mariners don’t have a deep farm system, either, as both Baseball America and Law place it in the majors’ bottom 10.
The Tigers will “look into” signing just-released outfielder Melvin Upton Jr., according to general manager Al Avila, though Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press relays that a deal sounds unlikely (Twitter links). With J.D. Martinez on the shelf because of a foot injury, Upton’s brother, Justin Upton, will enter the season as Detroit’s only established outfielder. The Uptons played together in both Atlanta and San Diego from 2013-15, but it doesn’t seem as if they’ll reunite in the Motor City. Meanwhile, it doesn’t appear the Giants will even consider signing Melvin Upton. He’s not on their radar, tweets Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle.
More from around baseball:
- Well-regarded Cuban outfield prospect Luis Robert held a showcase Thursday in the Dominican Republic, and “high-ranking team officials” from several major league clubs were on hand, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America (click to watch footage of Robert). “Nearly all teams” sent someone to watch Robert, per Badler, who reported in March that the White Sox seem to be the likeliest landing spot for the 19-year-old. The White Sox sent special assistant Marco Paddy to observe Robert, and they have scheduled a private workout with him for next week. The Astros will also work out Robert, though they’ve already exceeded their 2016-17 international bonus pool.
- Brewers reliever Tyler Cravy threatened to retire after his demotion to the minors Saturday, but the 27-year-old quickly walked back those comments, writes Adam McCalvy of MLB.com. “I don’t plan on quitting,” tweeted Cravy, who noted he’ll “continue to work hard” and allow his performance to “do the talking.” Cravy remains less than thrilled with the organization, it seems, as he added that he’s “still not aware” why he didn’t make Milwaukee’s roster.
- The Rays have made “steady” progress toward a new stadium in the Tampa Bay area, owner Stuart Sternberg announced Sunday (Twitter link via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times). Sternberg is “very optimistic” something will get done to replace Tropicana Field, which opened in 1990 and has been the Rays’ home since 1998, their inaugural season.
- The Orioles tried to make a trade with the Red Sox to keep Rule 5 pick Aneury Tavarez, Baltimore GM Dan Duquette told reporters, including Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, on Sunday (Twitter link). The division rivals couldn’t agree to a deal, though, so the Orioles had to return Tavarez to the Red Sox. Duquette revealed that there was less urgency to retain Tavarez because of the emergence of 22-year-old outfielder Cedric Mullins, whom MLB Pipeline ranks as the Orioles’ 19th-best prospect. Mullins will start the season with Double-A Bowie.
Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, a 19-year-old prospect who’s hoping to be cleared to sign during the current July 2 period, has a variety of possible suitors, as Ben Badler of Baseball America reports. But the White Sox may be the team most likely to land Robert, per the report, given their current approach to the international market. Badler goes on to profile the talented youngster in detail in the post, which also includes some video.
Here’s more on the South Siders:
- Hopefully, Robert’s process of moving to the majors won’t be nearly as wild as the experiences of many other Cubans, including White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, who testified yesterday in the human trafficking trial of former agent Bart Hernandez and trainer Julio Estrada. As the Associated Press reports (via ESPN.com), Abreu said that he literally ate the fake passport he used to board a plane to the United States while on board. The slugger is set to take the stand for further testimony today.
- Right-hander Nate Jones gave the White Sox a bit of a scare when he had to exit yesterday’s game after being hit on the leg by a one-hop comebacker, but the Chicago setup man has been diagnosed with a bruised knee, per Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune. That’s certainly good news for the club, as Jones could end up representing quite an interesting trade chip at the deadline this summer (if not before). The high-powered reliever, who’s controlled through 2021, could also step into the closer’s role if David Robertson is dealt.
- The White Sox still don’t have a timetable for third baseman Todd Frazier’s return from an oblique strain, as MLB.com’s Barry Bloom reports. That’s due in part to the fact that it’s spring, with Frazier noting there’s “plenty of time” left for him to make it into competitive action. For now, the veteran is working out but making “slow progress.” The situation seemingly makes it less likely that the White Sox will strike a late deal involving the veteran, though rushing him back would run the risk of spurring a much bigger problem.
The Cardinals have been scouting Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, as the team had evaluators at Robert’s recent workout in the Dominican Republic. It was reported last month that Robert left Cuba in November to pursue a career in Major League Baseball and he has since established residency in Haiti, as per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez.
As one scout tells Goold, the “floodgates have opened” on the Cardinals’ international signing processes. The Cards have already far exceeded their spending pool limit for the 2016-17 July 2 international signing period, and also added such non-pool players as the recently-signed Jose Adolis Garcia. It’s no surprise, therefore, that St. Louis is exploring yet another highly-touted star in Robert while they still can.
Robert has yet to be declared a free agent by MLB, and if that designation comes before June 15, the Cards still have a chance at landing the 19-year-old outfielder, who is subject to pool limits due to his age. If Robert isn’t a free agent by June 15, however, then he will become part of the next international signing class that opens on July 2. That would take the Cardinals (as well as the Astros, Athletics, Braves, Cubs, Dodgers, Nationals, Padres, Reds and Royals) out of the running for Robert’s services, as they would be limited to spending no more than $300K on any international prospect as punishment for exceeding their pool number.
Needless to say, Robert will command far beyond that $300K figure given the eye-popping early reports on his talent. One NL international scouting director tells Sanchez that Robert is second only to Shohei Otani on the list of best international talents in baseball, describing the 19-year-old as “a five-tool guy that can be in the big leagues soon.” An international scouting director for an AL team goes even further, calling Robert “the best player on the planet, and that’s no exaggeration.”
Eight teams (the Cubs, Dodgers and Royals, as well as the Angels, Diamondbacks, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees) are currently under the $300K limit for past excesses of the spending cap, with the latter five teams regaining their full spending eligibility on July 2. So Robert would have a larger market for his services if he is named a free agent sooner rather than later, not to mention the fact that he is likely to score a bigger contract while the old international signing rules are still in place. The new rules, as negotiated in the new collective bargaining agreement, place a stricter signing cap on international players and go into effect for the coming July 2 class.
Top Cuban outfield prospect Luis Robert left his home island in November, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America. His whereabouts are not given in the report, but it seems he is working towards joining a major league organization.
Clubs figure to line up for a chance at the 19-year-old Robert, a right-handed-hitting outfielder who Badler labels one of Cuba’s five best talents, citing his plus bat speed and power. Though he may ultimately turn into a corner outfielder, Robert is currently capable of playing center. Already a productive player in his age-18 season, Robert turned things up a notch in his most recent Serie Nacional action. Before he departed, Robert was hitting a robust .401/.526/.687 with 12 home runs and 11 steals over 232 plate appearances. That put him at or near the top of the leaderboard in most major offensive categories — certainly, rather a notable output given his age (even with the number of talented players that have departed Cuba’s top league in recent years).
As Badler explains at length, Robert’s timeline for obtaining clearance will play a major role in determining his earning capacity and ultimate landing spot. Because the old CBA’s international rules will apply through to the end of the current July 2 signing period — which wraps up on June 15 of this year — it’s still possible that Robert will become eligible to sign under the current system. If not, he’ll be subject to the tighter cap that is set to go into effect under the new CBA (which Badler detailed in full right here).
While Robert could certainly still land a significant payday under either regime, the current one holds out the hope for the greatest riches. That’s because it allows organizations to spend at leisure, so long as they are willing to sacrifice their ability to dole out $300K+ bonuses for two future years and pay a 100% tax on the amount they go past their pool allocation. Under the new system, all clubs will face spending caps, which can be extended only through trades for additional space. While some smaller market teams will receive slightly higher allocations, most organizations won’t be able to go past $4.75MM with their base pool and can’t trade for more than a total of $8.3MM. Plus, Badler notes, some teams have already committed portions of their 2017-18 pool space to other players.
If Robert is cleared to sign before the signing period is up, he’d at least have greater options. That would open the door to the clubs that have already gone past their limits — the Astros, Athletics, Braves, Cardinals, Nationals, Padres and Reds. Otherwise, those organizations would join others (the Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, and Royals) on the sidelines for significant international talents. Alternatively, he could join another club either before or after the signing calendar flips. Badler notes that the White Sox have been discussed as a team with possible interest; if Robert is cleared in time, Chicago (or another hypothetical team with heavy interest) could elect to spend past its 2016-17 pool limits (thus taking on penalties) or make Robert the signature piece of their 2017-18 signing group.