Yoan Moncada isn't officially a free agent yet, not until Major League Baseball says that's the case, but it seems as if he has all the paperwork he needs to get to that point now, and that's a major step up from his previous, vague status. The 19-year-old Cuban is one of 2015's top available prospects, but to this point it was unclear when he would even be available to sign with an MLB club. A letter from the US government to Moncada's agent -- one acquired by MLB.com -- states that Moncada has the government blessing he needs to sign, and now just needs MLB to recognize that.
There has been a process in place for Cuban baseball players who want to be eligible to sign in MLB. They needed to establish residency outside of Cuba -- but not in the United States -- and then apply for a specific license from the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to unblock them in MLB's eyes. Things have changed, though, with relations between the United States and Cuba improving in recent months, so the whole process might end up relatively relaxed. So, OFAC has stated that Moncada is good to go from their point of view, and with that the case, MLB has no reason to hold back his free agency any longer.
There is still a hurdle to be cleared for any team who wants to sign Moncada, however, but it has to do with money, not government regulation. Moncada is considered part of the July 2 international signing class, as he's just 19 years old: a player needs to be 23 or older with at least two years of professional experience to avoid that designation, as 26-year-old Rusney Castillo did for the Red Sox last August. Moncada is expected to sign for around $40 million, whereas the largest international signing budget for the current July 2 signing period is just over $5 million. No matter who signs Moncada, they will have to pay the penalty for going 100 percent over budget, and that's to pay a 100 percent tax on their international spending, while forfeiting the right to sign any international prospect to a bonus of more than $300,000 for the next two signing periods.
The Red Sox, Yankees, Angels, Rays, and Diamondbacks are already over budget for this signing period, which lasts until June 15, so all they need to worry about is if they don't mind writing MLB a penalty check that matches whatever they sign Moncada for. The Dodgers are considered one of the favorites for Moncada as well since they have the cash and then some, but their desire to rebuild their farm system might keep them from actually signing him. Yes, Moncada would be a huge boost to the Dodgers' future -- the belief is he might be selected first in the 2015 draft were he eligible --but it might not be worth it to them to give up signing any major prospects on the international market for the next two periods, which go from July 2 of 2015 through mid-June of 2017.
If this is the case and the Dodgers are out, that gives teams like the Red Sox a leg up: Boston has the dollars to sign anyone they want, but the Dodgers have even more money than that, and possibly more desire to spend than even the Yankees do. Getting them out of the mix doesn't guarantee the Sox can sign Moncada, but it does improve their odds, especially while both the Rays and Diamondbacks cry poor.
Moncada is a shortstop, second baseman, and center fielder, and the Sox are set at all three of those positions at the moment. However, things could change by the time he is major-league ready, and even if they don't, a roster with Castillo, Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia, and Moncada on it is a good problem to have.