Luis Robert, the 19-year-old Cuban outfielder who is widely considered to be the equivalent of a first-round pick among domestic amateur players — or a top-25 prospect among those already drafted — has been cleared to sign for a Major League Baseball team.
The freshly minted free agent won’t be able to sign a deal until May 20, but the timing is still optimal for him. Had the process been delayed past June 15, the new collective bargaining agreement would have applied to Robert. His bonus would have likely been capped at $8 to $10 million, and that would require a team to acquire international signing money in a trade. Some big spenders would have been out of the running, like the Cubs, Dodgers and Giants, although the Yankees will be back, and largely unburdened financially. The question then is whether the Yankees would have to choose between Robert and Shohei Otani, should he come over.
Instead, Robert will likely get a much larger contract from smaller club, because he’ll sign under the previous CBA’s rules, under which teams blew out their budgets and freely accepted the penalties.
Because most of baseball’s big-market clubs had exceeded their pools, it created a big opening for small-market clubs to do the same. Thus, the Padres, Reds, Cardinals and Athletics, Braves and Nationals were the ones to go nuts this time around, and Baseball America’s Ben Badler says those are the teams (specifically the first three) are the ones who are most interested in signing Robert.
He includes the White Sox, too, although it’s the one team without a precedent on the list:
Robert does have a private workout scheduled for Friday with the Athletics and next week with the Reds, Baseball America has learned. The White Sox, Padres and Cardinals are among the other teams also expected to hold individual workouts with Robert.
All of those teams except for the White Sox have already exceeded their bonus pools for the current 2016-17 signing period. As long as MLB clears Robert to sign before June 15, those teams that have already gone over are the most likely to sign Robert.
That assessment was before Robert’s status became official, but MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez says it’s still the same a couple days later.
Dan Hayes wrote about the White Sox and Robert, although his use of the passive voice suggests that he’s relying more on these reports rather than anything he’s heard himself:
Though the White Sox have made no official comments, its believed the team intends to make a strong push for Robert’s services.
Like I said on Thursday in our South Side Sox LIVE! episode, I wouldn’t place a bet on the White Sox against the field. Against any individual team, though? Maybe. It does require the belief that the White Sox will spend in an unprecedented fashion, but for a few reasons, the White Sox are in an unprecedented situation themselves.
No. 1: Their MLB payroll is considerably smaller, and shrinking.
Their opening day payroll dropped $17 million from 2016 to 2017. The $27 million between Melky Cabrera and Todd Frazier should be off the books and replaced by smaller sums, and the same can be said if the White Sox trade David Robertson. Robert will likely cost a team double the amount of his bonus because of the overage tax, but the White Sox have the space, at least from the outside. Besides...
No. 2: There are fewer ways to spend money.
When the new CBA sets in, the international market will join the June draft in being severely regulated. Likewise, free agency has been kneecapped by early extensions and a better sense of aging curves. Latin America was one of the few places teams could sensibly throw tens of millions of dollars. Once this door closes, an era will have passed without the White Sox taking advantage of penalties most other teams considered a nuisance.
No. 3: The White Sox are rebuilding, and he addresses a need.
Rebuilding advocates have been hoping a Jose Quintana trade could fetch position players the White Sox are lacking thus far. Well, what if the White Sox learned one neat trick that could allow them to acquire a top-tier outfielder without needing another team to cooperate? That’d be cool.
A talented 19-year-old outfielder fits well within the White Sox timeline. They’d be paying him a ton while they shed payroll up top, and if he made the majors in a reasonable time frame, they’d be paying him the minimum during their return to free agency.
Of course, this assumes that Robert is as good as the reports say he is, but that’s how it is with every amateur assessment. Assuming the White Sox’ reservations are only mild, they really have every reason go after Robert full-throttle. It would’ve been nice if the White Sox exceeded their bonus pool beforehand so they could really savor the bad-boy lifestyle before the cops close in, but it’s like watching Chris Sale post a 0.91 ERA in his first four starts with Boston. The present is always going to be less enjoyable if you keep beating yourself up over past decisions.