Jorge Soler is a 19-year-old Cuban outfield prospect making news. The Cubs were supposedly about to sign him. Then the scuttlebutt on Tuesday had to do with the Yankees still being interested. There's an active tug-of-war going on for Soler, who is widely believed to be a mighty fine prospect. Kevin Goldstein, for example, would rank him among baseball's top 40 prospects, and followed that up by writing …
(Soler has the) protypical RF package with plenty of athleticism and raw power. If he was an American high school kid entering the 2012 draft, he'd be a single-digit pick.
But Soler isn't in the news because he's a great prospect. He's in the news because it's February, and we're all sick of reading about Roy Oswalt. There isn't a lot of Hot Stove League left, and there certainly isn't any baseball to discuss. It's the dead zone, and filling it with news of a quality, up-for-grabs prospect will do just fine.
That's why you're reading about him, but here's why he's especially relevant: This should be the last time there's a bidding war for a young international free-agent. This is it. Starting in July, each team will have an allotment of cash for international free agents. If a team crosses that threshold, they have to pay all sorts of penalties, both financially and with their ability to sign future international free agents. From Baseball America:
Going over by up to 5 percent kicks in the 75 percent tax; 5-10 percent includes the same tax and a loss of the right to sign more than one player for a bonus of more than $500,000. Go over by 10-15 percent and a team incurs the 100 percent tax and can't sign any player for more than $500,000. Going over by more than 15 percent draws the 100 percent tax and prohibition to sign any player for more than $250,000.
After Selig takes the cash and future signings away, he still reserves the right to enforce additional penalties, such as taking fingers from members of the offending front office, or forcing teams to install Astroturf and think about what they've done. Yoenis Cespedes wasn't the last super free-agent (players older than 23 aren't subject to the international spending limitations), but Soler is the last entrant in the international-youngster genre.
This will almost act like a salary floor in a roundabout way. Before when a team like the Pirates did something foolish with their money -- such as assume the last $12 million or so of Matt Morris' contract -- the rallying cry was invariably something like "Think of all the high-school commitments that could have bought out in the draft, and think of how many international players that could have paid for!"
And it was a good point. If the Pirates didn't sign Morris, and if they went to Jurickson Profar and ten other international free agents, offering them duffel bags full of money that ended up going to Matt Morris, the organization would be much better off right now. Well, I guess they'd have to cancel Matt Morris Bobblehead Day this year, but everything else would be cool.
There's no way to know exactly what will happen. There will be teams who spread their money around. There will be teams who will blow their entire stack on one player. There will be situations like this:
Orioles: And as such, we hope you will choose our team over those other teams offering you the same money.
Dominican Prospect: I have to ask you about Adam Loewen first. His ghost visited me last night.
Orioles: Well, he's quite alive. Took a couple at-bats with the Blue Jays last …
Dominican Prospect: Look, the details aren't important. All I know is that Adam Loewen was in my room last night, rattling chains, and shouting "Bewaaaaaare" in a spooky-ass voice. Do you know what that's about?
The Yankees enter the room
Yankees: You're with me, fastball.
Dominican Prospect: /leaves on the arm of the Yankees
Oh, it might not always be the Yankees, but it'll be harder for teams with bad player-development reputations to dig out of that hole. A little extra money isn't going to do it anymore. Things have been "evened out." There are always unforeseen consequences with large changes like this, but the odds are good that it isn't going to do a lot for downtrodden teams.
As such, this is the last chance for everyone to get in on a highly regarded international free agent without worrying about how it will affect player development for the rest of the year. The Cubs have the lead. The Yankees might be closing the gap. And don't be surprised if the Pirates (to pick a random team) come out of nowhere to join the bidding.
Soler is the last player that teams can throw money at where the only consequence is the initial expense. He's the end of an era.