LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi confirmed the club's interest in amateur Cuban free agent infielder Yoan Moncada on Wednesday in an interview with MLB Network Radio.
The 19-year-old power-hitting, switch-hitting infielder is still awaiting clearance from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, the final step before he is cleared to sign with an MLB club. Zaidi was a guest of Jim Bowden and Casey Stern on the Inside Pitch on Wednesday, and was asked about the infielder.
"Yoan Moncada, we've scouted extensively. We have the checkbook. Young, elite talent in baseball is the most valuable asset to have, and to the extent that our evaluation of him matches or exceeds where his market goes, we will definitely be a player there," Zaidi said. "We're doing all the homework we can."
Moncada hit .273/.365/.406 in 195 plate appearances last year in Cuba for Cienfuegos, the same team for which Yasiel Puig used to play. Moncada played second base, shortstop, and center field.
The interest in Moncada was mentioned on Tuesday by Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, but to have Zaidi even acknowledge the Dodgers interest is news in itself. By contrast, Zaidi was also asked about the club's interest in major league free agents Max Scherzer and James Shields, and gave the same answer he and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman have given all season: that the team won't comment on free agent pursuits.
But the interest in Moncada is clear, and the Dodgers one of the few teams that might be able to afford him.
First, there aren't many players on the planet with the upside of Moncada, who is a switch hitter with power and speed and can play the middle infield. His praise has been high. From Sanchez in November:
Scouts have called Moncada the next Jorge Soler, and his skills have been compared with those of Yasiel Puig at the same age. He once beat new Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo in a baserunning competition during the Serie Nacional all-star festivities in Cuba, and his power has been compared with that of Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas.
Ben Badler of Baseball America had similar comments in August:
How good is Moncada? He has more upside than Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo, who just reached a $72.5 million deal with the Red Sox. He’s better than Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, who’s in the Dominican Republic but is still likely several months away from free agency. If Moncada were eligible for the 2015 draft, he would be in the mix to be the No. 1 overall pick. Gourriel and Despaigne would be safer bets, but there’s no player in Cuba with Moncada’s combination of youth, tools and hitting ability.
Secondly, the money for Moncada will be vast, but unlike Puig, Tomas or Castillo, Moncada counts against the international signing bonus pool, because he's under 23 and has less than five years of professional experience. The Dodgers' pool for the 2014-2015 international signing period is just over $1.9 million, and with the kind of money Moncada will command it will trigger the maximum penalty phase for the team that signs him.
In other words, his bonus would be taxed at 100 percent, and the club wouldn't be allowed to sign an amateur international free agent for a bonus over $300,000 in either of the next two signing periods, running through June 15, 2017.
For Moncada, a double bonus could get quite pricey, as Kiley McDaniel noted at FanGraphs in October:
I feel like $50 million (with a roughly $45 million tax on top of that) is the most you could justify while $30 million seems reasonable enough that multiple teams may be willing to pay that much. For reference, the biggest draft/international bonus of all time is $8 million (Gerrit Cole) and the biggest guarantee (via a major league contract, back when those were legal) is $15.1 million (Stephen Strasburg).
A factor that could work in the Dodgers' favor is that international signing bonus money doesn't count against the competitive balance tax, for which the Dodgers are well over, and figure to be for the foreseeable future. The Dodgers will pay a 40-percent tax on all salary above $189 million in 2015, and a 50-percent tax on everything above $189 million in 2016.
In other words, if the Dodgers were to willing to pay $80 million for Moncada, but miss out on him, spending that money elsewhere on major league salary would give the Dodgers only $57.1 million in purchasing power in 2015, or $53.3 million in 2016. So in reality, this hypothetical $40 million bonus wouldn't be doubled, but subject to an effective tax between 33 and 43 percent.
Zaidi in his interview stressed a meticulous approach.
"That's really the biggest part of these types of investments, as the Cuban market has taken off. You really want to feel like you don't just evaluate the talent, but also the person, understanding the cultural and lifestyle adjustments these guys have to make. That's all part of the homework we have to do," Zaidi said. "This is probably going to be one of those investments where you don't want to leave a stone unturned."