Earlier this week, 2017 international free agency officially began. Many teams (and most top prospects) have already had verbal deals in place for months, a process that is technically against the rules, but that the MLB lets slide.
The Cubs, major players on the international market (11 of their top 30 prospects, as ranked by MLB Pipeline, are from outside the U.S.A.), are being forced to deal with a $300,000 limit per player, a cap that has them focused on our neighbors to the south in Mexico (I’ll explain that in a moment). This set maximum was incurred as punishment for completely ignoring and entirely overblowing their 2013-14 spending cap, a year in which they signed top prospects Gleyber Torres (now with the Yankees), Eloy Jimenez (now the team’s overall top minor leaguer), and Jen-Ho Tseng.
This discipline hasn’t held the Cubs’ front office back, as they’ve continued to attack international free agency with the exact same tenacity as they did when they could spend (almost) whatever they wanted. The only difference is that, instead of finding the best players worldwide, the organization has been focused on one country in particular – Mexico.
The reason behind this is that the number that the Cubs can’t surpass paying an individual ($300,000) applies only to the amount of money given directly to that specific player. In Mexico, the players themselves only get about 25% of the money that an MLB team pays (the rest goes to the player’s Mexican team as compensation for allowing their guy to leave), so the Cubs can, in reality, spend up to about $1.2 million on any prospect from down south.
In the past, the Cubs have found a few gems hiding in the relatively unnoticed Mexican baseball leagues, including hard throwing righty Jose Albertos and infielders Carlos Sepulveda and Isaac Paredes.
Since the international market opened for 2017, the Cubs have already signed two respectable names out of Mexico.
Luis Verdugo, 16-year-old shortstop, is known as his native country’s best position player, and is ranked as the 30th best international prospect by MLB Pipeline and 47th by Baseball America. His defense is the highlight of his résumé, with a well above average arm and impressive footwork at a tough position. His offense is decent and projectable, but he’ll need to put in some work to make it truly impactful.
Florencio Serrano is a 17-year-old right hander, ranked the 29th best international prospect by Baseball America (not in MLB Pipeline’s top 30), with two potential plus pitches. His fastball has reached the mid-90’s, and his curve development has shown promise. He also owns a 6’1″ frame that he’s sure to mature into successfully with help from coaching.
If the Cubs’ track record with international signings is any indication, Verdugo and Serrano could be impact players in a few years. For now, though, they’ll join the team’s academy in the Dominican Republic to begin their long trek through the minor leagues.