Even though the Cubs are limited by how much they can spend on a per player basis overseas, the Cubs will still figure to be active in the international free-agent process starting on (or around) July 2. I remember the day before, last time around, baseball writers finally got around to noting when "July 2" really was. I can't remeber if it was 5 p.m., or 9 a.m., or something similar. But your favorite in the field will start talking about it in earnest. On July 1 -- that's tomorrow. And at that noted time, there will be transactions announced. Many of which will have been predicted by industry experts,
Why do I think the Cubs will be active? They have the fourth-most loot to legally invest. Some of that will be spent on international players. Some of it will be traded. Depending on how well the team has scouted, and how little other teams value their IFA wedges, the Cubs may trade for more. They did it last year.
Most of the activity has already been decided upon. That third baseman from (insert country here) with pedigree? Writers agree where he's going. The team will deny it. Until they sign him. For the reported price. Teams do their scouting, as can be done, and come to secret agreements. The secrets are generally poorly concealed.
Why does it happen so early? The Cubs last year were an intriguing case as to why.
The Cubs planned to stay under the limit. As time went on, they realized they had too much talent incoming, and wouldn't be able to keep under said limit. After piling Eloy Jimenez, Gleyber Torres, Jen-Ho Tseng, Erling Moreno, and a few others on their stack, they realized they wouldn't be able to stay under. And other teams weren't willing to cough up wedges to equalize things. Eventually, perhaps, they realized that they going to be swamped with overage fees, and decided to move Ronald Torreyes, who had become odd man out in the pipeline. That limited (somewhat) the fees they would pay. But, they were over the top.
With an IFA class that was envied.
This time, they will have an easy out regarding international signings. "Will you sign for $250,000?" If not, then wish them well, and head to the next game.
i have a degree of confidence that, as disjointed as international scouting gets, the Cubs will add some obscure-ish talent. Foreign pitchers are signed at 16. As you might guess, predicting with any accuracy a 15-year-old's pitch velocity when they will be 22 is a bit of a.... well... I doubt I'd be any good at doing it accurately. Some scout will find a diamond-in-the-rough, offer him $250,000, and get an agreement. Of course, that likely happened in February.
The Cubs can spend just under $4 million internationally. With a maximum of $250,000 per, they could still sign fifteen players at the team's maximum. They won't. Many of the signings will be for far less money, as the two international teams (Dominican League and Venezuelan League) have some inexpensive roster-filler types, as is needed for any team down to a good Little League squad.
The teams also have roster limits of 35 players, and many current members of the two rosters figure to return in 2015.
Where will the other unneeded iFA wedges go?
One curious thought I see playing out is Jason Hammel getting paired up with one. Some teams (Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, and Brewers, possibly, among others) might blow their caps, like the Cubs and Rangers did last season. Other teams might want to spend a bit more than permitted, but not get the "dunce cap" treatment -- which this time will last two years.
As not many people are reporting serious Hammel rumors, I have a sneaking suspicion the deal might be done. For instance, Hammel and the second wedge. Each team has four wedges, worth a specific value. The wedges can be traded, but only in whole. They are referred to by their "Round value", from first to fourth, with the first being the most valued. Sending Hammel off that way to, say, Toronto, gives the Blue Jays far more international flexibility, which they value. It would also give the Cubs a better prospect return. The fly in that ointment is: Why do the Jays keep scouting Samardzija so much, when they claim to value a rental like Hammel more?
(By the way, I'm buying the "bring Hammel back" idea. If he can be signed reasonably for three years, he is less of a mystery next time around. Hopefully he doesn't break down, and the Cubs won't need to surrender a draft pick for him. And, "on the cheap" might not be as important next time around.)
I fully expect a lefty pitcher to be flipped, possibly with an IFA wedge, for a prospect. Or, a wedge might be sent (here's a novel idea) for a player to put on the Cubs roster. Yeah, I know. crazy talk. Either way, look for the wedges, and signings, to happen in a bit of a hurry. The contracts are as good as signed, the trades as good as agreed to, so the teams might as well pull the trigger on them. Look for quite a bit of activity by July 10, which is well after the purported date that Hammel will have been traded.
Be mindful of any names on the DFA wire around the first of July. They would make for good acquisitions in the IFA wedge market. After all, it beats hiding Steve Clevenger in a hotel room in Iowa, as happened last time around.
One final thought (as if it's possible for me to have one final thought): Any time it's reported a team goes "over the limit," feel free to pop the cork on an adult beverage. That will be two years they can't compete with the Cubs on talent the next times around. Each time makes the potential suitors for the "high-end options" smaller.
The Cubs, sadly, will have one of the bigger amounts in the 2015 IFA season. Any team that faces sanction trims the number of viable competition for each of the big names. And if the Tampa Bay Rays blow through their limit (which sounds likely), you can pop the expensive stuff. Why?
They look to be a team with a huge pool next time around. They've been bad this season, and David Price could be dealt. The Rays will be in the Cubs' 2014 situation next year. I wonder if the Cubs might be interested in making a trade with Tampa Bay next season. Around, maybe, July 2. Offering a spare part on the roster for another cool million to spend on the next Eloy Jimenez. Or Gleyber Torres. Or Jen-Ho Tseng. Or.....