As the A’s look to play surprise contender, some surprising early season news has come from the free agent marketplace. Highly touted Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, who defected earlier this year, is soon to be in play for MLB teams. He’ll sign between May 20 and June 15, and for reasons we’ll address in this post, the A’s have a legitimate shot. Time to get overly excited.
The mystique of international stars
There’s something so exciting about international free agents. It’s basically impossible to tell how someone who hasn’t played on US soil before will perform, and unlike boring old domestic free agency, where league average is exciting and backups are the norm, teams can find true stars from outside the country.
We’ve seen it a number of times. Most notably with Yoenis Cespedes and most recently with Eric Thames (who is slightly different, but you get the point), international players have come to the U.S. and made immediate impacts. The kind of talent and impact available during free agency just doesn't compare to the kind of franchise-changing talent that the international market can bear.
Robert profiles as that kind of game-changing player.
The scouting reports
So who is Robert?
Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com
Check out this profile for a bit of Robert’s backstory, coming up in Cuba.
This is why international scouts love Robert: The teenager starred for Cuba's 16-and-under league as a 14-year-old and began playing in the 18-and-under league at 15.
And hyperbole time:
How good is Robert? One American League international scouting director described Robert as "the best player on the planet, and that's no exaggeration."
That is, of course, a major exaggeration. But an exciting one! And it doesn’t mean it can’t come true eventually. For now, he’s a 19-year-old on the verge of free agency.
Eric Longenhagen of ESPN (he has since moved on to FanGraphs)
The end result projects as a 55 bat (on the 20-80 scouting scale) with plus raw power, more than enough to profile in an outfield corner should Robert fill out so much that he must move out of center field. Not everyone thinks he'll have to, and if that sect of observers is correct, Robert is a star.
Age is oh so important and Longenhagen drives home a great point — Robert isn’t near his physical peak. To repeat, I could hide behind this man’s left bicep and HE’S NOT EVEN FULL GROWN.
Top Cuban OF prospect Luis Robert in the cage. Listen to the sound of the ball hitting his bat & the impressed rooster. More today on @mlb. pic.twitter.com/eplT2ujk5t— Jesse Sanchez (@JesseSanchezMLB) February 24, 2017
More Longenhagen, this time with FanGraphs
I’m not sure that Robert will retain the wheels for CF as he fills out but he should at least be a defensive asset in a corner and I think he’ll hit enough to play there.
Projecting players is hard, particularly on defense. Centerfielders usually aren’t physical specimens quite like Robert is. He’s a big boy, and if he puts on more weight like some project him to do, he’d move to a corner. That’d put more pressure on him hitting for some power, but it’s certainly something he’s capable of.
To be clear, a not-quite-centerfielder is usually a good corner outfielder, and that’s likely with Robert.
From Ben Badler at Baseball America, another link you should definitely read in full
Robert has the talent of a first-round pick if he were in the draft. After he signs, he should be ready for an assignment to a low or high Class A affiliate. He has a strong, lean frame at 6-foot-3 with broad shoulders, a wide back and quick-twitch athleticism. A righthanded hitter with excellent bat speed and a sound swing, Robert has plus power with room to continue filling out and increase that in the future.
This is a nice reminder again that the dude is 19. He’s a ways away from the bigs, and while we’ve seen internationals fly through the system, it might be some time before he actually reaches MLB.
All in all, Robert is a toolsy prospect with a high ceiling. Finding these kinds of prospects isn’t easy, typically costing an established star or coming from an early draft pick. Baseball teams consist of 25 players and landing Robert wouldn’t guarantee future success. He would still be a prospect facing the same issues all prospects face.
He would, however, change the face and direction of the club’s future. The A’s should make a serious play.
Why are the A’s odds good?
Robert is set to work out privately for the A’s Friday. That’s a good sign, as his market is expansive and taking the time to work out for any individual team means there’s at least an inkling of interest from his side.
There’s a reason the A’s are near the front of the pack, and that’s money. Per Ken Rosenthal, MLB has cleared Robert to sign during the current signing period, which starts on May 20 and lasts till June 15. Being in that signing period (as opposed to the next period beginning July 2) means Robert is subject to the old CBA, something that is beneficial to both him and the A’s.
Using the old CBA rules helps Robert because he can sign for more. Simply put, the maximum amount teams are allowed to spend on the international market will go down quite a bit when the new CBA rules kick in, so signing before the switch means Robert can make significantly more money.
Meanwhile, the A’s have already gone over their allotted spending pool for this current signing period, therefore incurring a penalty that effectively prevents them from signing any notable international free agents for two years starting in July. Since the A’s are already facing the max penalty anyway, why not keep spending until this current signing period is over? In a rare twist, they have more financial freedom than other clubs who might want to avoid spending big Robert and facing the same penalties the A’s are already subject to.
There are seven total teams in the A’s position, over their bonus pool and therefore more likely spend big during this current signing period. The most likely to do so are the White Sox thanks to financial flexibility, however any of these teams could be the one.
True to form the A’s are the underdog in this race. There are more prestigious teams with better facilities an deeper pockets. But the A’s have pulled off an international shocker before, and it’s time to do it again.