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2018 international signing period begins: Part 1

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Here are some thoughts on who the Cubs might sign when the international signing period begins on Monday.

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

I’m doing two separate postings for the July 2 signing period. One will be today. It will cover the basics. Which is what most people want. Who are the major names? Who will the Cubs sign? Will the Cubs add the biggest mystery name on the board (No.) and why not? Tomorrow I get a bit more theoretical and creative. However, here are the basics.

With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement came hard caps on international signings. Gone are the days when teams could spend “anything they wanted” internationally, and either not be punished, or sit in the penalty box for a year or two. Teams are specifically limited to one figure. They can add another 75 percent through trades.

The Cubs “low number” this time around is a bit under $5 million this cycle. The $4,983,500 number can be increased to $8,721,125 by trades. That number will be discussed more tomorrow in Part 2.

On Friday, Fangraphs came out with their listing of the Top 35 international prospects, complete with possible signing figure numbers. The Cubs are the expected destinations for three of the players, and are in the lead on a fourth just off the list.

Richard Gallardo is a 6-3 RHP from Venezuela. An apparent bargain at a projected $800,000, Gallardo is a “repertoire righty” in that he has a curve and change that both project as reasonable quality, with the change better than the curve. That said, his fastball has been clocked at 93.

If you have to select a favorite out of an international class (you aren’t required to), Gallardo is the guy. It’s a coin-flip on him pitching in the Dominican Summer League in May, or if he’ll jump straight to the Arizona League. These types of scenarios are learning experiences for me, as well.

The top bat for the Cubs is likely Jose Lopez from the Dominican Republic. Unsurprisingly a center fielder, he has a bit of a loopy swing that will need some ironing out. Lopez, as well as Gallardo, will likely see the Mesa site in November in the Instructional League portion of the calendar. How well they perform there (and in spring training in March and/or April will key their initial placement. Look for Lopez to sign for in the range of $1.5 million.

The third name on the list is lefty hurler Joel Machado. From Venezuela, his projected signing bonus is in the $400,000 range. Machado represents a three-pitch repertoire, as well. His curve lags his fastball and change, which sound about equal.

Rafael Morel is the smaller, more center-of the field brother of current Cubs prospect Christopher Morel, who is starting currently at third base or shortstop for the Eugene Emeralds. Not on “the list,” Morel would be another nice addition to the field.

Quick back-of-the-envelope math indicates the Cubs might be in the $2.7 million range over the top three names, before Morel’s signing bonus. Rather quickly, they could be under the $2 million mark in money left to spend.

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Which is part of why they are unlikely to sign big name Victor Victor Mesa. Mesa, who has escaped Cuba with his brother Victor Mesa, Junior, looks to be the big fish. He isn’t eligible to be signed yet, because of signing rules. When his name clears, he figures to be in the “highest bidder” category.

Which is the disincentive for teams with well-organized spending organizations. Teams with a plethora of scouts internationally, working in harmony, are building relationships 24/7. They marinate around the baseball in their areas, and put together a list of players that intrigue them.

Many teams have numerous players from multiple countries they are trying to recruit. They have a general idea of how much money they can spend, and attempt to put together a reasonably balanced portfolio field every season.

Therefore, the teams working hard overseas are putting together lengthy lists of players for their (usually) two teams in the Dominican League. However, some teams are less diligent. Signings are more happenstance.

“We have $6 million to spend. Offer him $2.3 to see if he’ll bite.”

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The Dominican League has 44 teams. One is split between Cleveland and Milwaukee. The other teams have one or two sides. Some teams really don’t prioritize international spending. Which is, to an extent, how the White Sox added Luis Robert.

He became eligible. The White Sox had money to spend. Easy-peasy.

The teams have already done their homework on the international field, and not just 30 or 40 players deep. The top 160 talents have probably been rather aggressively courted. They’ve likely received some reasonable offers, and some less reasonable. Once the agreement is made, the player becomes “off limits”, and his team reduces their “candy thermometer” of available cash as such.

Mesa won’t be able to go to quite a few teams. Eight are limited to $300,000 or less per player this time around. The Orioles are the Orioles, and won’t. The Cubs likely have their money leveraged. Mesa will likely choose the team that, when he is made available, can offer him the most up-front. The really wise teams didn’t wait.

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One before I hang up for today. The “Tequila Magic” that the Cubs have enjoyed in Mexico recently has dried up by Rob Manfred’s fiat. The Cubs Dominican League and Arizona League teams have Mexican talent obtained by the Cubs purchasing talent directly from Mexican teams. The talent creeps into the full-season squads, and Mexican addition Isaac Paredes went to Detroit in the Alex Avila/Justin Wilson swap. The Cubs were only assessed one-quarter of the signing bonus against their cap level, which was very handy when $300,000 was the cap.

That is unavailable now. Whether a different version is made available soon is unclear. However, it appears the front office may have to pivot to maximize their international funds this cycle.

More on the cycle, and why I consider it vastly underplayed, tomorrow.