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).
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.