The Toronto Blue Jays have already made one significant international signing this winter, but will they try for an encore?
This past November, the Toronto Blue Jays announced they had signed Cuban infield prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to a seven-year, $22 million deal. Improving the farm system has been a top priority for team president Mark Shapiro and his regime since joining the organization in 2015, so while the signing did seem to come out of nowhere, it should not have been surprising.
Guirrel, a client of Wasserman Media Group, waited until he turned 23 before signing with the team, in order to be exempt from international spending limits. That leads to the next Cuban prospect waiting until he turns 23 (March 5, 2017) to sign with a big league club, and who also happens to be represented by Wasserman – right-handed Cuban free agent Hector Mendoza.
Mendoza was ranked 12th in Baseball America’s ranking of the top 20 Cuban players in 2015. Despite spending most of his time internationally as a reliever (career 2.95 ERA, 149.2 innings, 88 walks, 110 strike outs) he comes with the repertoire of a starter according to Baseball America’s scouting report, throwing 90-94 mph with downhill plane and good fastball command to go along with a curve and change-up.
The soon-to-be 23-year old is not Major League ready yet by all accounts, so if signed he would likely start the season in the minors. It would be a signing with long-term implications, not necessarily an option that will help right away.
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With presumably a limited amount of payroll left to spend, the Blue Jays will have to allocate those remaining resources cautiously as well as effectively.
The team gave Guirrel a $22 million deal, but will only be paying him $600k in 2017 (along with a $3 million signing bonus, and then $1M in 2018, $1.5M in 2019, $2.5M in 2020, $3.5M in 2021, $4.5M in 2022, and $5.4M in 2023).
Structuring a contract for Mendoza would likely have to be done in a similar fashion to give the team enough money to still be able to fill big league holes. Going after a cheaper option like J.P. Howell (who just signed a one-year deal with the Jays on Tuesday) to fill a bullpen spot, is the type of move that might be able to give the club a bit more wiggle room to fit this type of player into the budget.
The ability to add wins via the 2017 free agent market appears to be dwindling, as players are starting to sign with other teams (most recently Brandon Moss with the Royals). There are still plenty of bullpen arms available, and a few outfield options as well, but it is unclear what the price of those players will be.
While the Jays wait out the market for more potential bargains, they also have an opportunity to add yet another piece to a slowly improving farm system. Mendoza might just be the more sensible route to take, instead of overpaying for marginal at best upgrades that will not move the needle short-term.