About a year ago, the New York Yankees drew up a master plan to get their farm system in shape. Now, you’ll know they’ve completed it when they have a certain player in their clutches:

Yoan Moncada.

You should know that name by now. If not, the need-to-know information at this juncture is that he’s a 19-year-old super-prospect from Cuba who projects as a franchise cornerstone, and the bidding on him is finally open.

It’s taken a while for Moncada‘s free agency to become official, but Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reported Tuesday afternoon he’s finally been given the green light by Major League Baseball. In related news, Passan says the Yankees are still among a trio of heavy favorites to land Moncada:

That the Yankees are among the favorites for Moncada indeed isn’t exactly news. In fact, it was as recently as November Ben Badler of Baseball America pegged them as the favorites to sign him.

Now, this doesn’t mean the Yankees are a stone-cold lock to sign Moncada.

Because Moncada is an amateur free agent, he’s subject to a signing bonus rather than a major league contract. To this end, even the Yankees could balk at his price tag. Passan reported in November it could be in the $30-40 million range, which, due to MLB‘s international bonus pool rules, would actually be a $60-80 million investment after taxes.

Besides which, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman sounded skeptical of paying big bucks for Cuban talent in a December chat with MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez.

“[Scouting’s] more difficult, I think, because it’s a very pricy market for us and the tax associated with those types of commitments when it gets to a certain level,” Cashman said. “You don’t really have as good a feel on the makeup and the personal background, which is important in a bigger market. It makes those investments a little bit more risky.”

All this being said, the Yankees spending big on Moncada would be one of the least surprising baseball transactions in recent memory. It’s a move that would fit perfectly with their larger plan, and would also be the perfect exclamation mark for it.

If you’ve been following the Yankees in recent years, you’ll know their farm system has fallen on hard times. For perspective, B/R’s Jason Catania dug up their standing in Baseball America‘s organizational rankings since 2011, and saw it had fallen from No. 5 all the way to No. 18 by 2014.

To fix this, the Yankees decided on a plan of action. 

As Andrew Marchand and Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York reported in early February of 2014, word was the Yankees were planning on spending big bucks on the international market. Here’s why:

Unlike the amateur draft, in which a team like the Yankees is often victimized by its own success with a series of low draft picks, the Yankees’ dollar is still king in the world of buscones and 14-year-old kids running endless hitting and fielding drills on dusty ground in hopes of someday playing ball in the United States.

In other words: the Yankees were planning on spending big on the international market because it’s the one place on the prospect landscape where their financial might can make a difference. Spending big on the draft used to be possible, but was restricted by MLB’s most recent collective bargaining agreement.

Granted, spending on the international bonuses is also technically restricted. But since the penalties for a team going over its bonus pool limit are notoriously punchless, they’re not a deal-breaker if a team really likes what it sees on the international market.

And that brings us to how the Yankees made good on their master plan.

When the international signing period for 2014-15 opened on July 2, the Yankees had a $2.2 million bonus pool to work with. They immediately made it clear what they thought of that, as SB Nation’s Craig Goldstein counted 21 players signed for $12 million by the end of the first day of signing.

By the time the Yankees inked Colombian outfielder Bryan Emery in November, Dustin Palmateer of Baseball Prospectus noted the Yankees had snagged 10 of Baseball America’s top 30 international prospects. In all, their spending brushed up against $15 million.

It will be a while before we get the consensus from the prospect hound community on how all this spending has impacted the Yankees’ farm system, but we do have ESPN.com’s Keith Law’s thoughts:

The Yankees’ system still has more talent than production…but a very strong 2013 draft class and a blowout year on the international front have the system trending up again.

Law only ranked the Yankees’ system No. 20 overall, but the idea of the Yankees’ system “trending up” is definitely a change of pace from where it has been. So, their wild spending on the international market has already done some good.

If adding Moncada is their next move, however, the Yankees’ farm system won’t just be trending up. It will be careening up.

There’s always a sense of mystery when it comes to Cuban talent, but the consensus on Moncada is that he’s the real deal. When B/R’s Mike Rosenbaum compiled the available scouting reports on Moncada in November, the key takeaways were that Moncada is:

  • A switch-hitter with bat speed and power from both sides of the plate.
  • A plus-plus runner.
  • An infielder with an above-average arm.
  • Possibly athletic enough to play shortstop.
  • Is close to being MLB-ready.

In so many words, Moncada is pretty much everything you could ask for in a position player prospect. Hence why the scouting community is going nuts over him.

“He’s really, really good,” said MLB.com’s Jim Callis. “He’s not on the Top 100 Prospects list because he’s not signed yet. But were he to sign, I think he’d be in the top 10 somewhere — he’s that good.

According to Keith Law and, best I can tell, everyone else, the Yankees don’t have a top-10 prospect in their system. If they were to get one by signing Moncada, you could sit back and watch the general opinion of their farm system switch from “trending up” to “officially legit.”

Mind you, it would come at a cost.

By already going way over their bonus pool allotment, the Yankees are barred from signing an international prospect for more than $300,000 in the next two signing periods, and are also looking at a 100 percent tax on their overages for the current signing period. If they add Moncada to their haul, they could be paying taxes on as much as $50 million in overages.

In the long run, however, it could absolutely be worth it.

Thanks in part to performance-enhancing drug testing, today’s MLB is a place where older players are more volatile than they’ve been in some time. It’s also a place where even small-market teams have the money to extend their own stars, thus robbing the winter’s free-agent markets of top-notch talent.

This is to say today’s MLB is a place where the Yankees’ reliance on luring veteran players with big bucks is hardly the best way to build a winner. If they want to get back to being the juggernaut they were for many years, they’re going to need some new blood.

That’s what their year of wild spending on international talent has been all about, and it’s already made their farm system worthy of some optimism.

So just think if they add Moncada. Never mind optimism. Their farm system will be worthy of downright excitement.


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