About a month ago, Major League Baseball declared 19-year old Cuban phenom, Luis Robert (pronounced as it looks, not as Roe-bear) to be a free agent. For fans that keep tabs on international players, the fact that he was declared prior to June 15th was delightful news. This meant that the Cardinals could be players for him as he would be available during the current international signing period. Any later and he would have been under the umbrella of the new signing period which begins in July and the Cardinals, facing penalty due to overspending their international pool in the past calendar year, would be financially restricted and out of the running.
However, that ended up not being the case and they can still spend as freely as they like, despite facing a dollar-for-dollar tax on any signing. Enter Luis Robert and a marketplace with relatively few suitors. Some big spenders, the Cubs and Dodgers being two examples, are already under penalty for overspending in previous years (as the Cardinals will be starting in July). The limited number of teams in the mix immediately makes St. Louis a front runner. But will they be able to reel him in? The day of reckoning is upon us as he is free to sign as of May 20th.
Last month Kyle Reis laid the situation out for you with this article. To avoid being redundant I won’t rehash everything he offered, but here are some basics. Robert is a phenomenal 5-tool talent with the upside of a franchise cornerstone. The Cardinals have plenty of money to match any offer made to him – the question is whether they believe he’s worth it – and they have more cash on the way with a huge TV deal starting in 2018. The Cardinals should, by all means, go above and beyond to get a player of this ilk.
Additionally, due to signing Dexter Fowler and the hacking penalties, they have no early round draft picks this year. Consensus is that Robert would be a Top 5, if not the #1 overall pick as a part of this year’s draft class. Signing him would be a major talent compensation for the lack of top picks in the draft.
It is also believed that the presence of recently sign Jose Adolis Garcia, a friend and mentor of Robert’s, would be an added draw to the Cardinals. Of course, I’m sure the White Sox are saying the same thing about Yoan Moncada and Jose Abreu, two fellow Cuban players. Financially speaking and given their pending international and draft situations, this seems like the right player at the right time for St. Louis. A great fit for which the stars have aligned.
But hold on, why did you mention the White Sox?
They appear to be the chief competition – if not front runner – in this sweepstakes. Word on the street is that they will stop at nothing to get this player. On Monday, John Heyman told 670 The Score in Chicago that he “would almost be surprised if he went somewhere else.” On Tuesday with The Fast Lane on 101 ESPN, he said he has heard some things that say maybe the White Sox don’t land him. Differing statements that maybe were aimed to please the home audience, but he has not been alone in supporting the White Sox rumors. Which brings me to this question – one which I hope doesn’t actually have to be answered: What if Luis Robert chooses to sign elsewhere?
What will happen if, you know, that happens?
Well, first of all, tears will be shed. Cardinals Twitter will explode into a frenzy of lament and anger for a day and a half. Someone may even reprise the old “DeWallet” nickname, as the frugal Cardinals strike again. But what will the Cardinals do? Well nothing immediately. They will be disappointed, for sure. Make no mistake that they are very seriously pursuing Robert. It has been reported that John Mozeliak has been very personally involved with this process. However, the outfield is one part of their system that holds a good quantity of talented players. Do any have the upside of Robert? No, but it is not as though the team will be devoid of outfield talent over the next 5-6 years. Currently on the MLB roster alone are OF’s under team control through 2020 (Grichuk), 2021 (Fowler), and 2023 (Piscotty).
We are currently seeing a preview of Magneuris Sierra, who – pending full development of his hitting – will likely push Fowler from CF within the next 2-3 years. At AAA is scrapper Harrison Bader, who’s low end projection is as a solid MLB 4th OF with potential to be starting caliber. Then there is Robert’s mentor Adolis Garcia. He has impressed the organization early on and, being 24 years old, will likely be making a push for MLB AB’s starting in 2018. Robert could be a franchise altering get, but without him the organization will continue to pump out starting caliber players. It’s not as though they will be forced to trade for a Larry Bigbie-type in 2019 because they don’t get Robert in 2017.
A penny saved is a penny earned.
Allow me to stir the pot a little. Throw some gas on the fire. (Insert cliche here), for a moment. The Internet tells me it will probably take between $20-25 million to sign Robert. With the 100% tax, that would be a $50+ Million signing for the Cardinals. If (tragically) they don’t get Robert, that’s a large chunk of change to go towards future roster moves. Perhaps a Lance Lynn extension, a few more years of Seung-Hwan Oh, or – wait for it – a Manny Machado signing following the 2018 season.
I choose to live in the real world, and Machado is going to command huge, huge dollars. The chances of the Cardinals actually paying out upwards of $300 million for a single player are low. However, I mention it here because it is relevant with the Robert conversation. For a few years Mo has expressed a desire to bring in a true “core”, franchise cornerstone player. Robert has that potential, but should they not get him it may serve as even greater motivation to go all-in on Manny Machado. The $50-60 million saved from not getting Robert would certainly not hurt in that pursuit.
The Cardinals have shown the ability to keep trucking on, and this situation would be no different. Would it be a HUGE letdown, disappointment, and near crime against humanity not to pull in Robert? Yes. But, he also has to choose to come here. I have faith that the Cardinals will be, financially, right there with whoever places the winning bid, but again it is the player’s decision. If Luis Robert chooses to go elsewhere, the Cardinals will carry on. Just as they did when Albert Pujols moved on, Jason Heyward went north, and David Price took the money and ran at the 11th hour. They will not suddenly become cellar dwellers in light of the setback. That being said, PLEASE PAY THE MAN WHATEVER IT TAKES!
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