For players living in and around the Caribbean, International Free Agent Signing Day on January 15 is like New Year’s, Christmas, and the Fourth of July all rolled up into one. Many family’s lives are drastically changed with the infusion of signing bonuses, but this may be the final year in which teams are free to sign players on an open market. Owners have proposed the implementation of an international draft, which we could see next year depending on what happens with the collective bargaining agreement.
There are no changes for now, though the lockout and pending completion of the MLB free agency period are impacting what teams can and will do on the international front. For instance, the Cubs’ strategy this winter could be hampered if they sign Carlos Correa or another free agent who turned down a qualifying offer. They’d forfeit $500,000 of their international bonus pool for signing such a player, which is a large chunk of change, especially for a team on the mend.
Then again, the Cubs are slated to have somewhere close to $5.3 million to spend and could still make some big moves even with the remaining $4.8 million. Three big moves, to be exact.
As things currently stand, the Cubs are set to sign catcher Adan Sanchez out of Panama and shortstops Alexis Hernandez and Jefferson Rojas from the Dominican Republic. All three are slated to make close to $1 million apiece, eating up most of the bonus pool and making it unclear what the Cubs will opt to do when it comes to signing other players.
Sanchez also played some third base and started garnering attention in the Little League World Series a few years ago when David Ross was the color man for ESPN’s coverage. Sanchez does not look like he has missed a day in the weight room and he will probably start his career in the Dominican this summer with an outside shot at Mesa depending upon just how good of a catcher he is and how mature his hitting profile is.
“He’s made it this far because of his powerful bat and versatility on defense,” MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez wrote. “And that’s exactly why scouts love him. Not only can he drive the ball out of the ballpark, but Sanchez also wows scouts with his big frame, projectable body and strength. He is expected to hit in the middle of the order […] As a catcher, he shows athleticism and emerging defensive skills with the potential for a plus arm.
— Ramón Barrios Vargas (@RABV77) August 18, 2018
Hernandez and Rojas are sort of a package deal as they both train at the same facility. The 6-foot-2, 170 pound Hernandez is almost the exact size as his brother Cristian, who is currently the No. 3 ranked prospect in the Cubs’ system, but Alexis is said to be a little bit more athletic and could play the outfield if needed. While not quite as hyped as brother, all his scouting grades at MLB Pipeline were all over 50 and he should begin his professional career in the Dominican.
— Cubs Zone (@CubsZone) August 31, 2021
Rojas is a 6-foot and 160 pounder who is still filling out but is said to have an all-fields approach with the potential for power later. He should likewise join his fellow signees in the Dominican once he signs.
With most of their pool drained by these three, the Cubs might sign a few players for $100,000-300,000 before targeting several at the $10,000 level because those deals do not count against the pool. One recent developmental trend sees them signing a lot of what we call “late bloomers,” particularly pitchers who have grown into their bodies and are 18 and 19 years old rather than most IFA candidates who are 2-3 years younger. The Astros are famous for doing this and now have both Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy, who were signed at 21 and 20, respectively, in their rotation.
For the first time in a while, we should see some surprises on signing day. Baseball America typically puts out a preview of what each team will doing, but that hasn’t come out this year and the pandemic has also impacted scouting and dissemination of information. That makes things a bit of a mystery outside of the big three we’ve discussed here, so Saturday and beyond could be really fun for those of us who follow this process.