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Lazaro Armenteros And The Cubs' 2016 Amateur Spending Plans

As another premier Cuban hits the market, let's look at what the Cubs might do in 2016 to acquire some amateur talent.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images


In the United States, it is exceedingly rare to refer to an athlete by only a single name. In the two most prominent examples -- Shaq and LeBron -- it is still plenty common to hear the players referred to as "Shaquille O'Neal" and "LeBron James."

Obviously this isn't the case in other parts of the world, including nearby Latin America. 16-year-old Cuban prospect Lazaro Armenteros fits this bill, opting for the moniker "Lazarito." While such a moniker does not definitively tell us that Lazarito is destined for stardom, it does indicate that he comes onto the scene with a greater pedigree that vast majority of prospects.

And it's not difficult to see why. Lazarito is a 6-2, 205-pound outfielder with a plus arm, plus-plus speed, and more than enough raw offensive ability to see a plus regular with strong hitting skills and power down the road. Armenteros appears to be cut from the same cloth as recent Cubs Cuban signings Eddy Julio Martinez and Jorge Soler. Of course, by virtue of his being born in May 1999, Armenteros is years away from physical maturity with a very long developmental timeline ahead of him. He appeals to every team in the Majors, even if some scouts were underwhelmed by the current state of his swing. As this video shows, it is quite choppy. Nevertheless, he's a premium athlete with an extremely high ceiling who will be eligible to sign as part of the current 2015-16 international signing period, starting on February 10.

Which brings us to the Cubs. The Ricketts ownership era and the front office headed by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer has placed an emphasis on acquiring a voluminous cache of amateur talent by all available avenues: trade, the Rule 4 Draft, and international signings, primarily of amateurs. 2015 proved to be a banner year in this regard as the Cubs added their fifth straight top-ten draft choice in Ian Happ and six international amateur free agents with bonuses in excess of $1 million: outfielders Martinez, Yonathan Sierra Estiwal, and Kwang-Min Kwon; infielders Aramis Ademan and Yonathan Perlaza; and catcher Miguel Amaya. There are additional unconfirmed reports that the club added a seventh international amateur for more than $1 million in right-hander Wen Hua Sung, honored as the best pitcher in Chinese Taipei in 2014.

The Cubs love to gobble up amateur talent, a new reality that is sweet music to the ears of us fans.

However, their high-priced amateur talent acquisition efforts appear to be headed for a dry period for the foreseeable future. First, with regard to the Rule 4 Draft (the official name of the First-Year Player Draft), the Cubs don't figure to be drafting in the top 10 again for, well, perhaps the rest of time. It would be absolutely stunning to see the Cubs post a bottom-10 record at any point in the next five years. On top of that, in 2016, the Cubs don't figure to make their first selection until approximately the 70th pick, provided that Dexter Fowler signs with a non-Cubs team before June's Rule 4 Draft. The signings of Jason Heyward and John Lackey figure to help the Cubs this year and into the future, but they will result in the loss of the team's top two picks, their own first-round pick and the expected compensation pick for Fowler.

Second, with regard to trades, the Cubs are at a position on the win curve where dealing contributing, Major League talent for prospects simply doesn't make sense and doesn't figure to going forward.

Third, with regard to international amateurs, the Cubs have a double whammy facing them this summer with a cap on individual bonuses of $300,000 (for 2016 and 2017) as well as a tax bill of nearly $11 million that comes due as a result of the July 2015 signings.

To be fair, the Cubs still spent the ninth-most money on international amateurs in the 2014-15 signing period despite being limited to bonuses of $250,000 or less, putting together a broad class to infuse the system with depth. I'm sure that the Cubs will still be active this summer. They just can't, by rule, be active for the top 50 or so prospects, though the club is free to sign any international free agent who is at least 23 years old and has played at least five years in his country's top league as such players are available outside the bounds of the international signing bonus pool restrictions. Such players always come available, so the Cubs may choose to pursue this route.

Nonetheless, the last few paragraphs have highlighted the difficulty that the Cubs will face in terms of making a big amateur acquisition in 2016. Which brings us back to Lazarito. I won't pretend to know what type of bonus Lazarito will feasibly command, but taking a wild guess, I'd figure that his price tag will come in somewhere between $8 million and $12 million. After all, we're talking about a player who hit .462/.611/.962 at the 15U World Cup in 2014. That type of dominance in a player with his body always results in big dollars.

Will the Cubs pursue Lazarito, especially given that he allows the team to make a fiscal year 2016 expenditure that otherwise seemed impossible? I don't think so. The 40-man roster salaries have skyrocketed this winter thanks to a series of marquee additions and a looming massive extension for Jake Arrieta may render ownership a bit squeamish about another $10 million signing bonus, particularly considering the dollar-for-dollar tax that will accompany such bonus.

Still, this may be the one chance that the Cubs have to add a premium prospect in 2016.

What do you think? Should the Cubs make a big play for Lazarito? Or would you rather see the club spend $20 million on a trade deadline acquisition, Arrieta extension, or other Major League-related improvement?