Luis Robert, a 19-year-old Cuban outfielder, could be a very interesting player for the Cincinnati Reds to pursue. Ben Badler of Baseball America wrote about him Monday afternoon. The premise of what Badler writes is just about the exact date in which Robert could become eligible to sign.

For the Cincinnati Reds, and even for Luis Robert, that is an enormous deal. Until June 15th, Baseball is still in the 2016-2017 signing period where the rules of the old CBA apply. After June 15th everything changes. Teams will be limited to hard caps (though trades are allowed for some additional cap space – but will be limited to ~$11M for the top end teams) after that point. Until then, teams have soft spending caps. They will just have to face fines and penalties if they go over their limit.

For Luis Robert, if he’s approved to sign before June 15th he is likely to sign for more money. For the Reds, it means that they could make one final splash. The Reds are already past their cap for 2016-2017. The penalties can’t get worse than they already are. The only further penalty the Reds would have to pay would be the 100% tax on whatever they sign a player for. They will be unable to spend more than $300,000 on any player in the next two signing periods – eliminating them from signing any top end talent.

Signing Cuban players has been where the organization has been able to shine on the international market for the last seven years. Aroldis Chapman, Raisel Iglesias, Alfredo Rodriguez and Vladimir Gutierrez are four of the top five bonuses the Reds have ever handed out. All are from Cuba. The team seems to, understandably, favor older and closer to the Majors players in this market.

Luis Robert has been a well followed Cuban player since he was 14. You can read all about his amateur exploits with the Cuban national team at the Baseball America article linked above. He has played in parts of four seasons at the highest level in Cuba. As a 16 and 17-year-old, he struggled. That’s understandable given his age. He stepped forward in 2015 as an 18-year-old. He hit .305/.384/.413 that season with 32 walks and 46 strikeouts. That’s about league average production.

Comparing Luis Robert to other Cuban sluggers

This past season was the big breakout for Luis Robert. While he left the country before the season was completed he hit an incredible .401/.526/.687 with more walks (38) than strikeouts (30). Here’s a quick comparison as to how that stacks up to some other, more recent Cuban sluggers at the same age (19).

Year Player AVG OBP SLG OPS BB% K%
2016 Luis Robert .401 .526 .687 1.213 16.4% 12.9%
2010 Yasiel Puig .330 .430 .581 1.011 12.8% 10.2%
2006 Jose Abreu .293 .382 .449 .830 6.2% 14.5%
2005 Yoenis Cespedes .351 .442 .649 1.091 11.1% 10.8%

Now, it’s worth noting that the level of play in Cuba has declined in recent years. That means it’s not a 1-to-1 fair comparison here. Still, Luis Robert hit significantly better than any of these guys did at the same age. That, of course, doesn’t mean he will be as good as these guys have been, but it’s probably a pretty good sign that he’s at worst, very comparable to them and at best outperformed all of them depending on just how much the talent gap is.

After the Reds signed Vladimir Gutierrez they said they were finished spending on the international market. They seem to be targeting low-end free agents on the big league market as well. Perhaps the money simply isn’t there. With that said, if they could find a way to bring in a player like Luis Robert, it would be huge for the organization and could really make the 2016 international spending make up for what is very likely to happen the next two seasons when they will be hoping to get lucky in developing those two classes of lower end signings. Of course, this all hinges on his being available before June 15th.

41 Responses

  1. Greenfield Red

    If the Reds are truly going to be a ‘ground-up’ organization, they have to maximize opportunity. In my opinion, they did a lot in 2016, but not enough to build a World Series team when you consider that they will have less opportunity over the next two years to acquire elite talent.

    This one may cost $10mil + the penalty. If they wouldn’t pony up the $4mil or so + the penalty for Ruiz or Perez, I’m not confident they’ll be a player here either. Gutierrez looks the part, and we can hope AR really blossoms in the next couple of years, but I have a feeling this ownership and front office will come up short of bringing us a World Series in the foreseeable future.

    I challenge them to prove me wrong.

  2. MK

    I imagine money could be an issue especially with the number two pick in the amateur draft and the price the will there.

    • DaveCT

      I was thinking the opposite. That with already having broken the bank, they might as well keep going. Almost a Chapman like signing, with monies coming from wherever they came from before. Definitely not in budget. Aren’t the draft budget and int signing budget separate?

      • Doug Gray

        I think I’d pull money from the big league budget for this kind of guy. I’d find the money, to a point, to bring him in. The reports, the numbers – they look good. They aren’t going to be able to add this kind of talent, short of the #2 overall pick in the draft, for quite a while.

      • Greenfield Red

        I hope they do Doug. Do you have any confidence it will happen?

    • Greenfield Red

      Unfortunately, Doug, I agree. I will be really surprised if the Reds get involved. I hope I’m wrong.

      • gaffer

        That is why the Storen signing is so stupid. That 3-5 million would have gotten us half way there I bet. To go further, Cozart should be traded for nothing or simply non-tendered. That is 8-10 million and possibly enough to sign him.

      • Doug Gray

        At the same time, the franchise is worth $950,000,000. If you can’t come up with the money to sign this kid it’s because you’re being cheap, not because you don’t have the money. The team has cut big league payroll by nearly $40M since 2014. The money is there to be found, big league signing of Drew Storen or not.

      • Bill

        Doug, the estimated value of the franchise has nothing to do with the affordability of payroll. Short of an outright donation, companies add cash to their revenue stream by issuing debt or raising equity. Raising equity would likely have to be agreed to by all of the owners (I think there are 18) or at least a significant majority depending on the way their by-laws are structured. Otherwise, some of the owners would have their share of the franchise diluted. Realistically there’s no incentive to do this–they already own all of the franchise–unless you somehow think this signing would make the franchise more valuable.

        I agree the money is likely there given the reduction in payroll and that a $15-20M signing is probably affordable.

      • Doug Gray

        It’s got everything to do with short term payroll. Yes, rules are in place to do things, but you’ve got to invest in the future at times when you’re given the option that you may not have foreseen. If a company worth that much money can’t find a way to come up with $15M In the right scenario, they shouldn’t still be owning the company.

  3. Bill

    Based on the other top position player signees, my guess is that it will cost about $7M plus the matching penalty to sign him. His leverage drops significantly on Jun 16. In my opinion this is the best investment the Reds can make for the money during what we hope to be our last full-fledged rebuilding year.

    • fromcubawithluv

      if it’s only 7 mil than the Reds would be crazy not to do that. I was thinking much higher.

  4. fromcubawithluv

    is there any guess as to what He will cost to sign if he is available before the change to new cba? any comps for possible cost?

    • Doug Gray

      I’d think that you’re probably looking at something in the $6-12M range. Which, of course, would double for almost any team that signs him.

  5. rhayex

    Doug, correct me if I’m wrong, but this kind of guy seems like a prospect you find money for, even if it comes from the big league budget rather than the “international” or “prospect” budget.

    • Doug Gray

      Guess you skipped over my comment above where I said that exact thing. Lol.

      But yeah, sounds like the guy you find money for.

  6. Warren McLean

    Sign the kid! Fire Marty & take that money & sign the kid! Should be a wash!

  7. redsvol

    I think the last few years demonstrate the lack of confidence the Reds have that they can develop top-end latin offensive talent. They’ve sunk quite a bit of money into latin offensive players who haven’t panned out (Yorman, Duran, etc.). On the flip-side, they’ve been able to get some latin pitching taken to the majors – Cueto, Chapman, Iglesias and reap great results for the money invested. Hopefully the next wave (Aquino, Siri, etc. ) turn out but those were low cost signings so low risk. The Reds just don’t seem sold on those high cost latin offensive players – and for this reason I don’t see them going after this player either. Maybe this will change under Williams.

    • RobL

      A big difference is that those were all 16 year olds. And while I agree that they are gun shy on 16 year olds, this guy is not. He is three years older with extensive experience at Cuba’s top level. And much like they spent more than expected for Aroldis, Iglesias, and AlfRod, so would they be inclined for this guy.

    • Doug Gray

      In the 2015-2016 period they signed two high profile offensive guys for a combined $1.65M. We will see how they turn out – but, if the Reds aren’t sold on the high dollar LA kids, I’d argue it’s their own fault. It’s a lot harder to develop guys when you are working with the 50th-100th best guys year after year after year after year after year. The team had signed two 7-figure hitters in the history before the 2015-16 period when they added another one. By comparison, the Yankees signed like eight in one season in 2014, I believe.

  8. DHud

    Gotta think with numbers like that the Reds will just be outbid by the Yankees, Dodgers, or Red Sox

    • Bill

      Red Sox, Dodgers & Yankees are all restricted from signing players for more than $300K during the current signing period.

      • DHud

        Well that’s exciting.

        Point remains there are still probably teams out there with deeper pockets than the Reds

    • Bill

      I think it will be less about deep pockets and more about how much the Reds like him. They’ve shown they will spend big for players they like (e.g., Chapman, Iglesias, Rodriguez & Gutierrez), but they are not going to take a “shotgun” approach in international signing.

      Roberts leverage is somewhat suppressed. The most a team could pay him in the next signing period would be $10,062,500–he would have to be the only signing they made and only 5 teams can go that high. 10 teams are limited to $300K signings this period. Doesn’t mean the Reds will get him–still 19 other teams to compete with several of which could also make a very competitive offer.

  9. The Duke

    People see these names and immediately want the Reds to sign them because they are the highly rated names, but I agree that how the Reds scout these guys is a big part as well. That said, it certainly sounds like the scouting reports on this kid are pretty solid. Good plays discipline, plus power, solid coat rates if a little high on the K’s, plus athlete, etc…

    I’d love to see the Reds add one more impact international talent before their 2 year hibernation starts, and absolutely agree you dip into the 2017 big league payroll to make it happen if need be. If we can shed Phillips and Cozarts salaries, that will more than pay for it. Phillips is tricky, but maybe lower the ask on Cozart to free up that money. That’d also open up an every day role for Peraza who I would rather not play him all around the field. Just because you have defensive versatility, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for a player to just it. I’m a big believer in consistency in a 162 game season.

    • Bill

      All great points. Definitely need to do due diligence before committing $15-20M. With the kind of investment he will take, the Reds can’t hope they can fix a glaring weakness. But if he checks out with the scouts, the Reds should help him get his paperwork through the process and sign him up–the kind of player that would make busting the IFA limit an A+ decision.

      • Doug Gray

        The Reds have no ability to push paperwork forward. It’s all up to MLB. Some guys get through faster, with no explanation as to why, than others.

      • Bill

        Is the thought that MLB holds up the process? I would think the likely hold up is working through establishing residency in another country. I would think the right local attorneys could go a long way with moving that process along.

      • Doug Gray

        For a guy like this, he’s got top representation and top lawyers. MLB has to do an investigation into the player before declaring them a free agent. I do not know all that goes into the investigations, which may be some of the reason some take longer than others.

  10. Hoyce

    Doug. I read that he’s an OF. But what position are we talking here?? Elite CF. or sluggish LF?

    • The Duke

      What I read is he can play CF for now, but more than likely ends up in RF as he fills out. Plus athlete with a good arm.

  11. Terrence Meranda

    BA has the top 100 college players for the draft.. Their are a LOT of arms on the list. If this kid is legit it may be the best way to get a premium bat and go for the best player at #2 in the draft even if he is a pitcher. I for one still thinks the reds need a TOR type of pitcher…

    • Greenfield Red

      I’d rather have this bat and another at the top of the draft, but I guess it doesn’t matter so long as the Reds get elite talent in the door. I think VG may be an impact pitcher.

  12. Michael Green

    Last chance for a while in the international market. “Do it.”

  13. Arnold Ziffle

    I keep hearing the Reds front office personnel saying things about “maximizing value” whenever and wherever they can. This seems like just such an opportunity for the Reds. Forsake any IFA signing taxes for this period and make a run for this guy. If RF is truly his calling, the Reds need a RF in the near future.
    Doubling the $$$ due to the 100% MLB tax, won’t be palatable for the Reds, even as they ponder eating the full $14MM owed to Brandon Phillips. Releasing BP will be very distasteful $$$-wise for the Reds. This is a double whammy that could cause the Reds to pass. But for the Reds to pass up this opportunity, just because of a little $$$ indigestion, would be front office negligence. With their IFA limitations for the next 2 years, signing this guy really would maximize value as they have stated they want to do. It could help make up for the Chapman trade debacle. And to go along with this past year’s excellent draft and this coming year’s draft positioning, this one signing could help bolster a promising future. Trading BP and/or Cozart isn’t going to bring back much of a prospect return if any, so here is an opportunity to add quality talent that the Reds should not pass up. If the Reds want to acquire talent now, they will have to dip down into their prospect talent pool to do so, which they don’t seem ready to do just yet. This is a rare chance for the Reds front office. We will see what the Reds front office is really made of. Are they serious about winning baseball, or are they just going to go through the motions??

    • Greenfield Red

      Hey Arnold. I agree, and I’ve been saying the same thing for a couple of years.

      They have added a ton of talent in the last year. Given the Reds are a build from the group-up organization they need to add a ton of talent every year in order to find enough high quality prospects that pan out. In 2017 and 2018, they are limited by the International rules and by the fact they don’t have many near-to-free-agency players to trade for prospects. Therefore, they need to add 2 tons of talent in the 2016-2017 period.

      While they did a lot, they missed out on a lot… several of which were mentioned as being connected to the Reds. These international guys tend to drip out a little at a time… more than say the draft lists which hit pretty much all at once. Luis Robert may or may not be the last big name to come out before June 15. But I want the Reds to grab him and any others that pop-up before then.

      If the Reds are going to build from the ground up and not participate in the major league free agent market, and sign even less of their own guys going forward, there really is no other choice if they want to keep the fan base interested. While I agree with this plan, they can not do it half way.

      Just my opinion.