The next Cuban superstar will be able to be signed by MLB clubs soon, but are the St. Louis Cardinals be interested in his services?
In case you may not be aware, the next Cuban superstar has been declared a free agent, and will be available to be signed by MLB clubs on February 10. According to MLB Trade Rumors, there are at least nine teams vying for the Cuban prospect known as Lazaro “Lazarito” Armenteros. With a number of the big international spenders being disallowed from contending for Lazarito, the St. Louis Cardinals very well could be one of the nine teams.
Now, you may be thinking, who the heck is Lazarito? Lazarito is a 6’2 200 lb 16 year old kid from Cuba, who has the body of a 22 year old. He is an outfielder who is probably best suited in the corners. When trying to compare this kid to guys in the majors now, most think of Bryce Harper. The Washington Nationals slugger who ran away with the NL MVP this past season and not that long ago was a 16 year old impressing big league scouts.
This has Lazarito ranked as one of the top international prospects who have yet to sign. Guys like Lazarito don’t grow on trees and when they are on the table, you throw the table at them and hope they choose you. This is why it is being reported by MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez that Lazarito could exceed a signing bonus of $15-$20MM.
Let’s review the guidelines for signing Cuban players of Lazarito’s age and experience.
Due to Lazarito’s age and lack of professional experience, there are restrictions to what the team can offer him. Each team is given a pool of money that they can use for signing bonuses for international free agents. For the St. Louis Cardinals, that this is normally around $2 million as Craig J. Edwards of Viva El Birdos mentions. This means that the base of the contract is a minor league free agent, but the team is able to give them a sum of money as a signing bonus.
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Now, the club is not specifically held down to that amount and that amount only. The club can spend as much money as they want for all intents and purposes, but the league does have penalties for those clubs who do happen to go over their bonus pool. Viva El Birdos’ Ben Humphrey tells us that it works out this way.
- 0-5% overage: MLB taxes the club at 100% tax rate.
- 5-10% overage: (1) 100% Tax (2) The club may not sign any player at a bonus higher than $500,000 during the next international period.
- 10-15% overage: (1) 100% Tax (2) The club may not sign any player at a bonus higher than $300,000 during the next international period.
- 15% overage: (1) 100% Tax (2) The club may not sign any player at a bonus higher than $300,000 during the next two international periods.
So, if the Cardinals were to sign Lazarito at a $15 MM bonus, they would have to turn around and pay MLB a $15 MM tax as well. This would obviously make it a $30 MM investment on a player who is at best three to four years away from the majors.
If Lazarito turns out to be as good as he is reported, that is not a bad deal, especially considering the lack of “superstar” talent in the Cardinals’ minor league system. Most fans believe that this is a good idea for the Cardinals.
However, the money is not necessarily the issue here.
While the Cardinals have stated that they would like to be more involved in the Cuban market, there is an obvious reason why they have yet to go over their bonus pool to sign an amateur. I have been saying this for a while now, the Cardinals simply value the relationships that they have in the Dominican/Venezuelan/Panamanian markets too much to give up on those markets for two whole years.
The team has been successful in those markets. In the past July 2 market the club locked up the top international pitcher to be had by reaching an agreement with Alvaro Seijas. The Cardinals have grabbed guys like Alex Reyes, Oscar Taveras, Carlos Martinez, Edmundo Sosa, Junior Fernandez, Sandy Alcantara, Raffy Ozuna, and more in the recent years. They have signed all of these guys without going over their bonus allotment. That’s a pretty good slew of players.
However, this could all change this year. The Cardinals have been linked to perhaps the biggest international free agent prospect of the year in Kevin Maitan, a Venezuelan shortstop who is being heralded as the next Miguel Cabrera. Derrick Goold in his chat has mentioned that the Cardinals will not be deterred by other suitors, and it seems like the Cardinals are all over Maitan, having scouted him since he was 13.
Unfortunately, there are rumors that Maitan has a handshake agreement with the Atlanta Braves for somewhere in the neighborhood of a $4 MM bonus, according to Keith Law. However, Maitan will not being able to sign until the July 2 signing period. This has spurned rumors that Lazarito could potentially wait to sign after the July 2 period, allowing teams like the Braves and Cardinals to double dip on him and Maitan in the same signing period.
If the interest is there, I think the Cardinals should pursue both Lazarito and Maitan. They could be key additions for a farm system lacking “superstar” talent.