Red Sox sign Yoán Moncada to record international deal

The Boston Red Sox have signed Cuban phenom Yoán Moncada to a deal that includes a $31.5 million bonus, the most ever granted to an amateur player. The 19-year-old infielder will likely enter Boston's farm system at the lower levels before working his way up to the Major Leagues in the coming years.

A switch-hitter blessed with tremendous strength and athleticism, Moncada was pursued by a host of powerhouse franchises upon his defection from Cuba, where he starred for the Elefantes de Cienfuegos club between 2012-13.

Boston won the hotly-anticipated auction with a historic bid that, owing to tax rules on overspending in the international market, will ultimately cost the team $63.1 million. “Anytime you spend $50 or $60 or $100 million on a player, it is a risk,” team owner John W Henry told the Red Sox's official website. “But if your goal is to win championships, you have to be bold.”

Indeed, the Red Sox are taking a big gamble on Moncada, who has not appeared in a competitive game since December 2013 due to the lengthy defection process. This worrisome lay-off, coupled with an exorbitant signing bonus, has ignited debate throughout the baseball world, with many questions being asked of Moncada, the Red Sox, and a system that appears broken.

Let us examine some of the most pertinent concerns.

How good is Yoán Moncada?

Prior to signing with Boston, Moncada was courted by almost every team in Major League Baseball – the talented teenager holding private workouts with at least nine franchises, including the big-spending Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox.

Obviously, the sheer volume of teams expressing interest in the 19-year-old amateur speaks to his enormous talent and potential, which many evaluators believe will make Moncada one of the premier prospects in baseball.  

A lack of competitive experience against elite opposition, allied to his tender age, makes Moncada particularly difficult to read. Yet by most accounts, his ability to hit for power and play with electric agility in the field should allow the Cuban to become a future cornerstone around which the Red Sox can build an impressive team.

Why are the Red Sox willing to pay so much for Yoán Moncada?

Last year, Major League Baseball surpassed $9 billion in annual revenue, thanks largely to a surge in the value of regional television deals. The Red Sox, owned by the wealthy Fenway Sports Group and backed by one of the largest fanbases in America, helped spearhead this growth as one of the flagship organisations.

With annual revenues regularly exceeding $300 million, the Red Sox always have expendable resources. For instance, this offseason, Boston committed a combined $183 million to Hanley Ramírez and Pablo Sandoval, the top two position players available on the open market. However, in recent years, the team has taken a philosophical divergence, often exercising caution in the market for ageing players over 30, and electing instead to pump considerable funds into the procurement of elite young talent.

The Red Sox have traditionally performed well in the domestic MLB draft, developing stars like Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, but consistent success on the field means they routinely pick near the bottom of the pile, in compliance with baseball's reverse selection order designed to aid competitive balance. Accordingly, in Moncada, they saw a prime opportunity to add a player many believe would have been a number one overall pick had he been draft eligible.

Aged 19 and possessing prodigious skill, Moncada fits Boston's prototype like a glove – the Cuban standing out as an impact player yet to reach his prime. The opportunity to purchase such an asset does not come around very often. In this age of increased revenue-sharing, even small market teams like Tampa Bay and Minnesota are able to sign their best players to long-term contracts, depleting the free agent talent pool. Thus, the defection of Moncada, and his sudden availability, was a pleasant break from the norm, and the Red Sox, ever keen to add youthful talent, spared no expense in pursuing him.

Red Sox give Yoán Moncada the largest bonus ever awarded an international amateur

Moncada's $31.5 million bonus is the largest ever awarded to an international amateur, eclipsing the $16.25 million Aroldis Chapman received from the Cincinnati Reds in 2010, and the $8.27 million granted to fellow Cuban Yoan López by the Arizona Diamondbacks in January.

Under the controversial terms of baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams face far more stringent restrictions on their domestic spending, with caps placed on the bonuses they can offer to products of the MLB Draft. Since the new rules came into effect in 2012, the largest signing bonus given to a U.S amateur was the Chicago Cubs' $6.7 million offering to star third baseman Kris Bryant, drafted second overall in 2013. Prior to the new legislation, Stephen Strasburg signed a four-year, $15.1 million deal after being drafted by the Washington Nationals in 2009, far exceeding the previous record, set by Mark Prior and the Cubs, who agreed on a five-year, $10.5 million pact in 2001.

In recent years, several Cuban players have signed long-term Major League contracts, including José Abreu, who agreed a six-year, $68 million pact with the White Sox, and Yasiel Puig, who got seven years and $42 million from the Dodgers. Yet Moncada's bonus still represents the biggest one-off investment ever made in an international amateur. And the pressure will be ratcheted up as a result.

Projecting the potential of Yoán Moncada

Moncada still has a long way to go to justify his exorbitant price tag. The Cuban prospect does not turn 20 until May, meaning he still has a lot to learn, both on and off the field. The maturation process will be complicated by the assimilation to a new country and culture, and the fresh presence of money and fame in the youngster's life. In order to succeed, he will have to avoid all the added temptations that can swiftly derail a promising career.

Once Spring Training is complete, Moncada will likely report to a team low in the Red Sox’ farm system, where his journey as a professional player will begin. As yet, there is no definitive timetable for his Major League arrival, but with the finest coaching, instruction and guidance, there is no reason why Moncada cannot reach The Show within two or three years. 

Along the way, he will have to settle upon one position in the field and attempt to master it, while looking to hone his obvious skills into consistent, Major League-calibre weapons. Therefore, Moncada's will be a long and winding journey, either destined for infamy or superstardom. At this point, all we truly know is that his story had a record-setting genesis. Whether it has a similar conclusion will be solely determined by how hard the youngster works.

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