[Update 2/23] The Red Sox are no longer just one of the favorites for Yoan Moncada, as they have reportedly signed him for a deal valued around $30 million.
Yoan Moncada is finally a free agent, and the Red Sox are one of the favorites to sign him. It's going to take money to get him to come to Boston, not just in the form of a contract that will likely reach $40 million, but also for the equally lofty penalty that will have to be paid to MLB for signing him: Moncada qualifies as an international free agent, so whoever inks him needs to pay a 100 percent penalty on his salary for going over budget. Every team in baseball could afford that if their owner chose to, but choosing not to afford it is going to be the popular option.
So, it's worth thinking about where Moncada actually fits in to Boston's plans, considering he'll be an $80 million investment with half of that paid upfront, a la Daisuke Matsuzaka and his $51 million posting fee from 2007. Moncada is 19 years old and not like Rusney Castillo, another Cuban-born player whom the Red Sox signed last August for seven years and $72 million. Moncada will head to the minors not to shake off the rust as Castillo did, but to continue his development. It could take a couple months before he shows he's major-league ready, or it could (more likely) take a couple of years: you never quite know with prospects, especially one like Moncada who is 19 and has never been exposed to this level of competition over a full season. Where he'll end up on the diamond is a question, too, as he's a shortstop who has also played second base and center field, and there are plenty who believe he won't stick at short.
Betts and Castillo have two-thirds of the outfield on lockdown. (Photo credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
The Red Sox already have players entrenched at every position that Moncada could play. Dustin Pedroia has seven years and $97.5 million left on his team-friendly extension, and is still a valuable force at the keystone even during a down year. Mookie Betts or Rusney Castillo is the center fielder of the future, and the other is the right fielder of the future. Hanley Ramirez just signed a four-year, $88 million deal with a vesting option for a fifth. Xander Bogaerts is the team's shortstop, and presumably will be for at least a few more years considering Pablo Sandoval signed a five-year, $95 million deal with a club option for a sixth year just a few months back.
The counterpoint to a lineup core that's in place for the next four years, though, is "Who cares?" Moncada would likely be the first overall pick in the draft were he available this June, and teams don't draft for need -- they draft the best available talents. If the Sox like Moncada -- and all indications are that they do -- and they have the resources and opportunity, then he is someone they should acquire. Bogaerts should be a Boston institution, but he's not yet. The same goes for Betts, who has incredible minor-league numbers, a great swing and approach, and a couple months of success in the bigs, but he wouldn't be the first to have all the pieces but fail to put them together. This is not the same as saying these things are likely to occur, by the way, but it's baseball: these things happen even when they logically should not.
Yoan Moncada officially declared a free agent
The race for Yoan Moncada is on. Will the Red Sox come out on top?
Maybe Pedroia suffers an injury that he can't just play through, one that limits his value from here on out. Maybe Bogaerts starts to mash, but never does get the hang of fielding shortstop effectively, and he ends up being Boston's first baseman because hey, he has the bat and first basemen are hard to come by. Maybe the worst fears are realized and Sandoval's body doesn't hold up at third for as long as Boston wants, and suddenly the hot corner is open. Again, these aren't your likeliest outcome, but they are ones that Moncada would be insurance for. Moncada doesn't have a set position, but everyone expects him to be a valuable force in a big-league lineup someday: you acquire that kind of player and sort out the details when pressed, not before.
Eventually, there would be some kind of roster logjam when Moncada is big-league ready. You worry about that when it happens, though, and fix the situation by either moving one of the players already in the majors, or by dealing Moncada himself. Yes, that will sound like setting $40 million in cash to some, but consider that money an investment in whatever major piece a prospect of Moncada's caliber would bring back once he's big-league ready. There are options here, whether they are for Moncada to play in Boston in place of someone who's currently on the roster, or for him to be flipped for a major piece that the Sox' farm can't fill without a phone call.
The Sox don't seem worried about having to spend around $40 million in penalties just to get Moncada into their system -- their interest and place as one of the favorites says as much. They have already lost their ability to sign international players to a bonus exceeding $300,000 for the next two years as of this July 2, too, so they might as well go all in on that route and add Moncada to this signing period's prospects while they can. There could be an obvious open spot for Moncada in a year or two years in the lineup that we just don't know of yet, or hey, maybe there will be nothing and the Sox will have to think hard about what to do with him. They shouldn't give it any thought until that time, though, because Moncada -- like any other prospect -- is an asset but also a lottery ticket, and you don't need to worry about what to do with your lottery winnings until you've actually won them.