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International Free Agency: A 'Plan B' For The Cubs

The Cubs are supposedly limited in their ability to spend in the IFA market this year, but they might have other ideas.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Among the worst kept secrets in the scouting community has been that the Cubs plan to blow by their international limit this time around. The plum of the impending July 2 (hereafter, "J2") class is Starling Heredia, who some Cubs fans had already been deciding which number he should wear when he gets to Wrigley. Everyone that's anyone, keyed by Heredia, would be a Cubs prospect. A funny thing seems to have happened on the way to the other 29 teams ceding Heredia and others to the Cubs. The Dodgers might have outspent the Cubs on him. Before you return to your liquor cabinet and drink yourself into oblivion, this scenario may have an upside.

Before I read a teaser tweet on the above article, I was still under the impression that everything was "full-speed ahead" on blowing through the IFA budget limits come July. That could still be the plan. I'd have very few worries about doing that. Missing out on Heredia due to the Dodgers outgunning the Cubs doesn't ruin the re-build. Or maybe I should call it a re-load. This is as good of a place as any to put a short Ben Badler piece on recruiting in Venezuela.

However, I have come up with an alternate reality that might be playing out. I wouldn't object one iota to this one. Before I hit the specifics, these are the official J2 spending limits for 2015, which starts in early July. The Cubs can spend $3.2 million and change initially, and can trade for another $1.6 million for a total just below $5 million. The key to the possible new reality is: That is a rather decent amount.

Nobody has any idea what will be the new reality of international spending once the calendar rolls to 2017, but "more clamping down on spending" seems a safe call. The owners don't like that the open market value on Yoan Moncada is above $60 million (including penalties). The players union would prefer that money get spent on players already in the union. Seeing as those are the two sides to vote on the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, don't look for the limits to remain where they are. Or rise. Starting in 2017, the concept will be an international draft, either in conjunction with, or separate from, the current early-June draft.

In other words, teams have one more bite at the apple. The Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Diamondbacks have about three months left. The other 26 clubs can sell out in 2015, 2016, or look like they aren't sincere internationally. Those are, effectively, the options.

Before I go ahead, I'm going to look back briefly. In 2013, the Cubs, eventually, blew up their cap limit. They had tried to stay under, but realized eventually that trade chips were going to be hard to come by. Therefore, they went over. Because of that, their 2014 class was not very special.

The 2013 class included Eloy Jimenez (the one Cubs prospect that makes Jorge Soler look like a normal-sized person), Gleyber Torres (currently ranked in some Top 10 lists for the Cubs), Jen-Ho Tseng (Cubs MiLB Pitcher of the year in 2014), Erling Moreno (who pitched some for both the DominiCubs and the Venezuela Cubs last season), and Jeferson Mejia (flipped as the main piece in the Miguel Montero trade). They had other pieces that did well, as well. Jimenez and Torres were the big-money options, but none were obscene by international standards. Most have performed well, so far.

The ballyhooed eligible players in 2015 will be split between the remaining 26 clubs, as the above-mentioned four will be out-of-play in the 2015 and 2016 classes. Those four, and anyone who goes over in 2015 (as noted in the article, there appear to be about five of those) will be off-limits in 2016.

Would it be a horrible thing if the Cubs don't blow their cap this season? If they can stay under $5 million this season, they would have only about 20 opponents for the prime options. The Diamondbacks, Yankees, and Red Sox will have cap space to trade. With the Diamondbacks included, none of the IFA wedges should command that much value. None would be the Yankees, Red Sox, or (presumably) the Dodgers. In the Kiley McDaniel article linked in the first paragraph above, the 2016 class has a few big names.

Not only have the Cubs been rather good at scouting recently, they tend to drive hard-but-fair deals with the players they sign. Many teams buy into the slot premise. Theo Epstein rarely signs anyone for slot value. Some are a bit more. Many are below slot, with a few being well-below. I think a decent IFA class can be had for $3.6 million, or $4.8 million-and change this time around.

In 2016, the Cubs figure to have a far lower cap value, internationally. They also figure to have far less competition. If you rule out the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rangers, and Diamondbacks (all likely to be on probation in 2016), the competition will be a bit more scant. This would include for any IFA limit-qualifying Cubans that happen along.

I was initially upset to hear the Dodgers had outbid the Cubs on Heredia. It still stings some, but the Dodgers' TV deal is more designed for the franchise to have money to invest than a 14-year-old in Burbank to watch his team play a game on television. As long as other teams are using the rules to their advantage, the Cubs ought to as well. Playing by the spending rules in 2015 might not be a flashy thing, but sending off the CBA with an international spending spree might be a sweet example of gratification deferred.

Or, the Cubs might be blowing the cap in 2015. The Dodgers might be able to outspend Team Theo, but I doubt they can out-develop the Cubs by much anymore. It's nice having a solid front office.