FORT MYERS, Fla. — Before he agreed to a record-setting $31.5 million signing bonus with the Red Sox this week, 19-year-old Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada was free to negotiate with all 30 teams. There was no restriction on the amount he could sign for.
The Sox signed Moncada knowing they would further pay a $31.5 million penalty to Major League Baseball for exceeding their international spending limits. They factored that into his value.
Michael Chavis was an 18-year-old high school infielder from Georgia when the Red Sox selected him with the 26th overall pick of the 2014 draft last June. The Sox were the only team he could negotiate with and there was a hard cap on what the team could offer. He accepted a bonus of $1,870,500 with little recourse.
Scouts surely would be unanimous in saying Moncada is a better prospect than Chavis. But is he worth $61.13 million more?
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Drew Smyly raised the point on Twitter after Moncada signed.
“It’s not right that a Cuban 19-year-old gets paid [$31.5 million] and the best 19-year-old in the entire USA gets probably 1/6 of that,” he wrote. “Everyone should have to go through the same process.”
Smyly emphasized that he didn’t begrudge Moncada the money.
“I only meant that every amateur should have the same opportunities and guidelines to play MLB regardless of where they are from,” he wrote.
Smyly is not alone. Commissioner Rob Manfred has said he favors the creation of a worldwide draft, what he terms a “single point of entry” into the game for amateur players. It was a point he made again Friday at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
That change cannot be made until the collective bargaining agreement expires in 2016. Based on his comments, Manfred plans to make it a priority when negotiations start.
For MLB, a world draft would control costs. An international player would be restricted to the same degree a player from the United States and Canada is.
“There are a lot of strong feelings on that subject within the game,” said Red Sox president Larry Lucchino. “Some people favor an international draft to level the playing field.
“We’ll play by whatever rules there are and try to take advantage of whatever we can on behalf of the Red Sox. There’s a lot of sensitivity to that issue.”
Within the Red Sox clubhouse, there were mixed feelings, not necessarily defined by nationality, about a world draft.
“I know the Cuban guys are pretty good,” said Xander Bogaerts, an Aruban who signed with the Sox for $510,000. “I played against them a lot growing up in tournaments. But it seems like they’re getting a lot.
“I don’t know how an international draft would work. But it would put everybody on the same level. It’s a hard question to answer. You can look at that in a lot of ways.”
Jackie Bradley Jr., who was a supplemental first-round pick, turned the question around. He wondered if all amateurs should be free agents.
“I would have loved to be a free agent in college and made the best deal I could,” he said. “Maybe I should have moved out of the country. If everybody was a free agent, you’d get what your real value is. But that’s never going to happen.”
Lefthanded reliever Craig Breslow, who is actively involved in the MLB Players Association, has given the issue plenty of thought.
“If some team out there wants to write a check to a player for $30 million or $100 million or $1 billion, that’s great,” he said. “The Players Association doesn’t have a problem with that.
“If owners believe money should be equitably distributed among foreign and domestic players, they can do that. If they don’t want to spend $30 million in the international pool, then don’t.”
Amateur players will have little voice when the CBA is negotiated. The Players Association, which represents active major league players, might concede a world draft in return for something its present members value more.
“I don’t know if that would be a good idea,” said Hanley Ramirez, who was 16 when the Red Sox signed him out of the Dominican Republic. “It would change everything. The system now, it works for Dominicans and players from Latin America.”
As Breslow pointed out, if the Red Sox had not signed Moncada, it’s highly unlikely they would have used the $31.5 million elsewhere.
“He was a unique player,” said Breslow. “Every owner who is writing a check has to make a choice prioritizing players and establishing a value. If the player accepts, you have a deal.
“I don’t know that we need to limit international signings. When players make a lot of money, it’s good for players regardless of where they come from.”
Shortstop prospect Deven Marrero, a first-round pick in 2012, had no problem with Moncada’s bonus.
“Good for him,” said Marrero. “I know guys from Cuba have to go through a lot to get to play baseball here. I have respect for them because they have to work a lot harder than we do to get to the major leagues.
“To get to this country, to escape, they risk their lives sometimes. That money is well-deserved, in my mind.”