The Arizona Diamondbacks have spent a hefty sum of money to bring aboard a young Cuban talent with lots of upside.

No, this is not a delayed reaction to their signing of right-handed slugger Yasmany Tomas. The Diamondbacks have bagged another one: Yoan Lopez.

Ben Badler of Baseball America was the first to report Arizona’s agreement with the 21-year-old right-hander. According to’s Jesse Sanchez, the deal is for an $8.27 million bonus:

Maybe that doesn’t sound like a “hefty sum,” but it is for this particular type of transaction.

As a player under 23 years old and with fewer than five years of professional experience, Lopez wasn’t free to sign a major league free-agent contract like other recent Cuban defectors. He qualified only as an international amateur, and his $8.27 million agreement is a record-sized bonus under the current rules (more on those later).

To boot, Lopez could have gotten more money. As Sanchez noted, he turned down a $9 million offer to sign with Arizona. Indications are that he did so because the Diamondbacks lured him with an opportunity to get on a fast track to the big leagues.

Here’s what Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart told Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic“We feel that he’s capable of competing right now for a spot in our rotation.”

The Diamondbacks are going to put this belief to the test in the near future, as Lopez will be present at their major league camp when spring training opens next month. If Lopez blows everyone away this spring, maybe he will open 2015 in Arizona’s rotation.

Such is the optimistic projection for what lies ahead, anyway. According to Badler, a more realistic expectation for Lopez’s immediate future involves him starting out at Single-A in 2015.

Going off of what is known about Lopez, however, Arizona’s optimism wouldn’t seem to be misplaced.

At 6’4″ and 195 pounds, Lopez at least has the frame of a major league starting pitcher. And at 21 with three seasons in the Cuban National Series under his belt, he’s far more experienced than your typical international amateur.

As for Lopez’s stuff, word is it was already good and is getting better.

When Lopez was pitching in Cuba, Badler says he sat in the low 90s with his heat. But since defecting last year, he’s added some strength and can now throw harder.

A lot harder, according to Sanchez. As he wrote last month, Lopez has been clocked as high as triple digits:

Lopez throws a cut-fastball, a change, a curve and a slider, but he is best known for a fastball that hovers in the 93-to-95 mph range. His fastball has been clocked at 100 mph three times since he began working out for teams. 

Here’s presuming the Diamondbacks are thrilled about this and what it could mean going forward.

If Lopez could see an improvement in his velocity after only a couple of months since his defection, perhaps there’s a next step to be taken as he begins his pro career proper. Maybe it won’t be long before he’s sitting comfortably in the mid-90s and touching 100 with regularity.

Even if Lopez doesn’t make that leap, a fastball that hovers in the 93-95 mph range is plenty good enough. That Lopez also has some diversity in his repertoire is a bonus, and a GIF prepared by Badler makes Lopez’s slider look like it could be a legit out pitch against major league hitters.

Where things become a bit more gray is exactly how good of a feel Lopez has for pitching. And since that’s a gray area, it’s a good guess that’s where he needs work. And if you need work there, you’re probably not ready for the big leagues just yet.

The reality that Lopez may be a long shot to crack the majors out of the gate in 2015, however, is not the biggest downside of his deal with the Diamondbacks. That would be how they’re now going to be at a disadvantage signing international talent in the future.

The system that’s been in place the past couple of years allows for teams to have allotted pools of money they can spend on bonuses for international amateurs. Any team that goes over their spending limit is hit with penalties, most notably taxes and restrictions on future signings.

For the 2014-2015 signing window, Arizona only had a bonus pool of $2.3 million. Signing Lopez took them way over that limit, so the Diamondbacks must pay a 100 percent tax on the overage and will be barred from signing any amateur for more than $300,000 in the next two signing windows.

Because of the tax, their $8.27 million deal with Lopez is more like a $16.5 million deal. Because of the future spending restrictions, they won’t have a shot at signing any similarly talented players who might hit the international market in the near future. FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron sees that as quite the gamble:

Because of their poor Major League performances, the Diamondbacks were in a position to be able to make some significant international signings over the next two years, but they’ve decided that signing Lopez now will provide a better return than the chance to sign impact talents over the next two signing periods.

And yet, there are defenses to be made here.

Even a price tag of $16.5 million for Lopez doesn’t sound too bad. Because he comes with projectability and a certain amount of major league readiness, he’s a safer bet than your typical international amateur. We also have plenty of examples that say top talents from Cuba can cut it in the majors.

As for the other penalty coming Arizona’s way, it’s a silver lining that the Diamondbacks will have the No. 1 pick in the 2015 MLB draft, not to mention the extra bonus money that comes with it. So though they won’t be able to spend much on international talent, they’ll still be able to go wild in the draft.

Besides which, the Diamondbacks will still have a bonus pool of $5.4 million to spend on next year’s international market. They may not be able to buy much quality with that, but they’ll be able to buy a ton of quantity. 

Lastly, the Diamondbacks going over their 2014-2015 bonus pool could be their excuse to pursue an even bigger fish than Lopez: Yoan Moncada.

He’s a 19-year-old switch-hitting infielder from Cuba who projects as a potential franchise cornerstone. And though he’s also subject to international bonus rules, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports projects him to get a bonus in the $30-40 million range.

A bonus like that would obviously take any team way, way over their spending limit for the 2014-15 window. So for many teams interested in Moncada, one question is whether signing him is worth walking into the penalties that would bar them from handing out big bonuses in future signing windows.

Not the Diamondbacks. After signing Lopez, that penalty is already coming their way. So if they decide they want Moncada, all they’ll have to decide is if he’s worth his price.

If signing Lopez has a hand in leading the Diamondbacks to Moncada, they’ll find themselves sitting on the most impressive collection of Cuban talent anywhere in the big leagues. If not, oh well.

With Tomas and now Lopez, Arizona has made two costly but worthwhile investments on two players with very real upside. And with Tomas joining a core group of hitters that includes Paul Goldschmidt and the underrated A.J. Pollock and Lopez joining an outstanding collection of pitching prospects, Arizona’s odds of arising as a power in the NL West have been improved.

After going .500 in 2012 and 2013 and losing 98 games in 2014, progress like that is all anyone could have asked of the Diamondbacks.


Note: Stats courtesy of unless otherwise noted/linked.  

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