The Cincinnati Reds have reportedly come to an agreement with Cuban infielder Michel Triana (he’s listed as Michael Triana and Michel Triana Monet at some publications) for a $1.3M signing bonus. Francys Romero was the first to report this.
Sources: INF Michel Triana (19) sign with @Reds. Triana received a signing bonus for 1.3 million. Triana confessed me that if he had been in Cuba when the agreement with MLB was signed, he wouldn´t have left the island. @m_sheldon @johnfayman @ctrent
— Francys Romero (@FrancysRomero10) February 16, 2019
This deal will not be official until July 2nd. And things could always change between now and then, though it does seem unlikely. The Cincinnati Reds are currently unable to spend more than $300,000 to sign a single player on the international market. They face that penalty because of how much money they spent in the 2016 signing period and have been in the “penalty box” for the last two years. The new signing period begins on July 2nd and at that point no teams will remain in the penalty and everyone is basically on equal footing when it comes to the amount of money they can spend.
It seems that the Reds won out on their bidding over the Houston Astros, who were also a team that was attempting to sign the infielder. In the 2017-2018 season in the Cuban National Series (their professional league), Michel Triana played in eight games for Villa Clara. The then 18-year-old hit .263/.417/.474 with a double, home run, five walks, and four strikeouts. BeisbolenCuba.com has a slightly different line of .308/.455/.538 over 33 plate appearances. The sample size is next to nothing, but it’s also the only statistical information that we have to look at, too.
Michel Triana left Cuba to seek a job in Major League Baseball in mid-August of 2018. He’s a left-handed hitter who has spent time at third base, first base, and shortstop in his career in Cuba. Listed at 6′ 3″ and 216 lbs, he’s already filled out quite well. In his amateur career he has played on the international stage for Team Cuba.
The Reds have been rather active in signing older players out of Cuba over the last decade. When it comes to international free agency, going back to Aroldis Chapman, the team has handed out deals of $1M or more to six players. Five of them were from Cuba: Chapman (MLB deal), Raisel Iglesias (MLB deal), Alfredo Rodriguez, Vladimir Gutierrez, and Jose Garcia. The only seven-figure bonus handed out to a non-Cuban born player on the international market in the last decade by the organization went to outfielder Cristian Olivo in 2015.
There’s been some success here. Obviously what the Reds were able to get from Aroldis Chapman and Raisel Iglesias is very easy to see. The rules, however, were very different then, and they were both older players who were either almost ready to pitch in the Major Leagues, or ready to on the day that they signed. Vladimir Gutierrez has found success in Double-A to this point in his career. He finds himself in big league camp this spring as a non-roster invitee at age 23. Jose Garcia is a Top 15 prospect in the organization. After his first season it’s the scouts that have the faith that his poor numbers in 2018 aren’t telling the story of his potential.
There’s something to be said about the Reds going in on older, Cuban prospects than younger guys from other Latin American countries. There’s less guessing involved in how the players bodies will develop. Usually there is also more ability to have seen them play in competitive games against advanced competition. This takes some of the guess-work away.
At the same time, this can also work against you. With a little bit less risk, you are paying more money for some certainty. Usually, for the same price, you would get a higher upside player that is 16. More risky and probably further away from the Majors – but for the price the team paid Alfredo Rodriguez, Jose Garcia, or Vladimir Gutierrez, they could have signed the top 16-year-old prospect in any international free agent class since the rules changed a couple of years ago.
That last sentence, though, is worth looking at beyond face value. Particularly in the international market outside of Cuba, it’s usually not the team willing to pay the most money that winds up signing the player. While technically it’s “not allowed” to come to an agreement with players in advance of the signing date, every team does it. And some of the guys are doing it a year to a year-and-a-half in advance. Developing the relationship with the player, his agent, his family – these are more important than flat out writing the biggest check.
While the Reds have opened up their checkbook a bit more in Latin America than in the past, they’ve also been quiet by comparison to some other teams. It takes a while to get “in” with some of the right trainers/buscones. And if the Reds haven’t been able to make that happen, then going with the older, easier-to-just-write-the-biggest-check-to Cuban players, it’s not a bad strategy. Of course, there’s always the chance that the Reds simply prefer the risk-factor with the older players, too.
After spending two years in the penalty box for spending in 2016, this summer Cincinnati will be out of it. It seems that they are going to be willing to spend their pool allotment. Over the last two years we’ve seen them trade it away since they weren’t able to spend it. Come July and August it will be worth really keeping an eye on.
Update: The Reds officially signed Michel Triana
On July 2nd, the first day he was eligible to sign, the Cincinnati Reds made the deal official. You can read more about it here.