More thoughts on the Concepcion signing

More thoughts on the Concepcion signing

The $7M MLB deal given to Gerardo Concepcion has drawn some criticism from some baseball analysts, saying it's too much for a back of the rotation starter, but that reasoning is oversimplified, in my opinion.  There's a lot in play here...

  • First off, "back of the rotation starter" isn't the unanimous opinion on Concepcion's ceiling.  There were teams that thought he could be more than that and the Cubs were almost certainly one of them.  The Cubs had quite a bit of competition for his services.
  • Quite simply, it's market value.  The Royals gave a similar 18 year old LHP Cuban prospect, Noel Arguelles, $7M for 5 years on an MLB deal just 2 years ago.  Arguelles immediately tore his labrum but came back strong and pitched in high Class A Wilmington last season, walking just 2.08 hitters per 9 IP and finishing with a 3.20 ERA.  The good news for the Royals is that his stuff isn't even back yet and the good news for the Cubs is that his stuff likely rates below Concepcion's at this point.
  • The Cubs also signed a smaller (5'11, 170 lb) and older (21) LHP pitcher out of Cuba last year with lesser stuff, less polish, and no possibility for projection and paid $800K. The pitcher, Frank Del Valle, didn't even rank as a top 30 prospect for the Cubs so he's not the same caliber of pitcher.  Concepcion is expected to rank among the top 10 and possibly as the Cubs 3rd best starting pitching prospect overall.  You have to think Concepcion is worth substantially more than Del Valle, probably not $6M more, but the Cubs are buying more than just a pitching prospect here, in my opinion, but more on that later.
  • The Cubs lack LH rotation prospects and Concepcion immediately becomes their top prospect in that category.  Remember that the Cubs have no SPs in the top 30.  Getting a lefty who potentially ranks in your top ten is a nice pick-up.  The Cubs had a huge need here.
  • This is the last year that under-23 international free agents will be on the open market.  The Cubs knew this was their last chance to flex their financial muscle before the international pool system starts next season.  That pool will allot money based on team performance, so the worse you do, the more money you get to spend.  It's possible a player like Concepcion would not have been available for the Cubs under those rules.
  • The Cubs have made a large investment in the Latin American market, including a brand new state of the art facility.  They need to improve the quality of prospects.  They've made a foray into Venezuela and the Dominican Republic in the past two years with Jeimer Candelario, Carlos Penalver, Marck Malave and Luis Acosta, among others, but Concepcion is their first big prospect out of Cuba.  It helps establish their presence there and perhaps paves the way for the Cubs to sign Yoenis Cespedes and/or Jorge Soler.  While some may argue that he's a back of the rotation starter, in Cuba he is a rising star, a rookie of the year at age 18, and his signing is sure to draw plenty of attention there.
  • An article on Fangraphs does it's best to look at both sides and brings up another good point, saying, "The lofty price tag does not mean the Chicago Cubs made a poor signing, though. Concepcion may not have a high ceiling, but he is an extremely polished young pitcher and is considered a safe bet to reach the big leagues in some capacity. Any big league talent that will be under team control for at least six seasons provides substantial value for a rebuilding club, like the Cubs..."
  • Concepcion's MLB contract means he will be on the roster and has 3 options, meaning it will require that he be on the active roster in 3 years.  It's a similar situation to Matt Szczur, who's also on a fast track because of his contract.  At first, I speculated that Concepcion would start in Peoria, but the Chief's rotation should be loaded (Dillon Maples, Ben Wells, Jose Rosario, Yao-Lin Wang, Hayden Simpson), so he may start as high as high Class A Daytona, putting him (conveniently enough) 3 steps away from the big league team.  The Florida State League is considered a pitcher's league and would probably be a good place to start.  Some have considered Cuba to be similar to a high Class A league in competition, so he should be able to step right in since he had a successful year at Cuba's top level.  The weather won't hurt either.
  • The Cubs need to make another roster move to add Concepcion.  In a minor move that went under the radar, the Cubs signed Ryan Rowland-Smith on the same day. Adding more depth to the rotation could allow the Cubs to risk waiving Andy Sonnanstine as it's late in the game and it's questionable whether another team will want to use a roster spot for him.  The Cubs could conceivably bring him back as a non-roster spring training invitee as they did with RP Manny Corpas.  It's also possible that something like compensation or a minor deal could settle the matter.  There's also the chance the Cubs could release a bullpen arm, but my money is on Sonnanstine.  We'll see, I guess.
  • As for Smith, he is a big lefty who once showed some promise with the Seattle Mariners, going 5-3, 3.42 ERA in 2008 and 5-4 with a 3.72 ERA in 2009.  Since then he's had some injuries and the wheels have come off, but he's healthy now and the Cubs hope to catch lightning in a bottle here.  He likely adds LHP starting pitching depth along with Chris Rusin.

Perhaps if you're Tampa Bay or a similar team that needs to spend their money strictly according to player value, $7M is too much.  But the Cubs have the money, they have a need, and they've invested a lot of money and time to become a player in the Latin American market, particularly Cuba where the top two players have yet to sign.  This was the last year the Cubs could make a statement before the new CBA limits their ability to use their vast resources.  There's a lot more at stake for them than just acquiring a pitcher.  Yet, inevitably, there will all be analysts who insist on evaluating these deals in a vacuum while almost completely ignoring the bigger real world picture.  Is it too much for a LHP that many project as a "back end guy"?  Maybe, even that isn't a certainty as pointed out by the Fangraphs article.  But that's not the question here. The question that should be asked is this: it too much for the Cubs given their market, needs, and goals?

That isn't as easy to answer, but obviously if you ask Ricketts and the Cubs front office, they'll tell you it was well worth the investment for their team and situation.


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  • I have no issues with the deal. So it's 7 million instead of 4 million? Who cares. Soriano makes that in week (just kidding).

    For a guy with potential to be a 3/4 starter, the money is fine with me. We had to overpay, but I'm glad we did. This is the kind of move the Cubs need to make while the can.

    Next up: Soler.

  • In reply to bwenger:

    Exactly! In the grand scheme of things what's $3M or so when you're trying to make a big statement and any thought that it would be $2M or less is naive.

    Next up Cespedes...and then Soler! Get them all if you can!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I wouldn't mind seeing all 3 as well. However, I do have 2 questions:

    1) If we sign both OF, and both are major league deals (valid assumption), who goes off the 40 man? Not a huge issue, but other than Sonnanstine, I don't see a bunch of guys that should go (and he is probably gone already).

    2) Does signing Cespedes hurt our future financial flexibilty? It shouldn't, but if he gets a 6 year deal around 40-60 million, the backend of that contract would be loaded (> 10 million a year). That concerns me.

    Neither of the above issues are huge issues, and if we can get both of them, we should. Just something to chew on.

  • Hi John:

    Thanks for your detailed write-up on Concepcion. I don't really care about the money; it's the options clause of the contract that is worrying. I'm not exactly clear how that works. So Conception will burn an option each year he is in the fram system, meaning he must be added to the 40-man or 25-man roster after his options are out, or must be put on waivers? If he must be on the 25-man roster in 3 years, that's a tall order for the young man, especially if he doesn't have overpowering stuff. He seems like he would come into his prime around 26-27 years old, and not 23-24.

  • In reply to MarkOlberding:

    You're welcome, Mark. The MLB contract was the part I liked least as well. We still don't know the details of the deal but that assessment in general is correct. However, it's more likely it ends up being like the Samardzija contract. He had a 5 year deal and signed in 2007, but last year was the first year it was a make or break year with him. I'll wait until the details come out before assessing that part of the deal.

    Even if it's worst case scenario and he has to make it in 3 years, the positive side is that he's already advanced as far as his feel for pitching. He just needs consistency with his breaking pitch and change -- and it's reasonable to assume he can do that in 3 years.

    If we say Cuba is at the high A ball level, then it's reasonable to assume he starts the year in Daytona with a chance to finish in AA Tennessee. That would put him right on track. Not saying that will happen. Just that that would be an ideal scenario. I think if he does as expected he'll start next year at AA.

  • Really? You think Andy Sonnanstine will be waived.

  • In reply to lokeey:

    I do. He's 29, he's past his prime. He's been horrendous the past 2 years. Any team who takes him will have to keep him on their 40 man roster. At this stage of the year, that won't be easy. Even at best he was depth and even when he was pitching well, most saw him as a bottom of the rotation guy.

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    Hey John, I actually read the same article on fangraphs. I thought they did a really great job showing that this isn't a bad signing. $7 million is always a lot of money, especially for a young pitcher out of Cuba that has never pitched in an American system. It is a definite risk, but then again, so is signing any player with a high ceiling. You have to take some risks to get some rewards. The thing a lot of analysts aren't taking into account is that new agreement coming into effect this summer. This is the last chance for the Cubs, or any team for that matter, to go all out and spend as much as they want on international free agents. Next year there might be a few great players, but teams will be capped and the result will be a more fierce competition between teams to sign these players. This is the last chance to spend big, and while it might be a risk, the Cubs are taking advantage and going out strong. Spend big to win big, and that's what the Cubs want to do in the international market this off season. And really, 7 million for that many years of team control isn't a bad deal. I am thrilled with the signing, and will be even more thrilled if the Cubs can land Soler and/or Cespedes as well. Its better spending the money on these 3 guys than 10 years of Fielder/Pujols IMO.

  • In reply to Bill Newton:

    I think people like to analyze such things on as much objective criteria as possible, and that's fair. The tricky part is that it doesn't work that way in the real world. There's a lot of stuff at play that involves more than just the pitcher's perceived talent. It's a signing the Cubs had to make and if it leads to bigger and better things than it will be well worth it even if Concepcion doesn't pan out as expected.

  • In reply to Bill Newton:

    I am thrilled too! Also, when the playing field becomes leveled next year, the Cubs will have a leg up with moves like this & the new facilities. It's an investment in more ways than 1.

  • The new CBA may have forced the Cubs to overpay, but so what!
    Our scouts job is to find the talent, Theo/Jed is to sign them.
    Lets play by the new rules and signed as many talented international prospects as we can before the deadline.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Exactly....short and to the point!

  • All good points, John. I would add that anyone who is labeling him a "back of the rotation" starter is most likely completely speculating. I don't think you can look at an 18 year old and make that kind of label when we have such a limited window to view him. I agree with you that it is obvious the Cubs see more potential than that. Being a lefty, they are significantly more difficult to predict future performance than right handed starting pitchers.

  • In reply to jimmy mac1:

    Lefties seem harder to evaluate. Who'd have thought Mark Buehrle and his 5th starter stuff would do as well as he has? Of course for every Buehrle there's tons of guys who are bottom of the rotation guys or didn't make it at all -- but the point remains that all of these labels, like "5th starter" or "bottom of the rotation" type should be taken with a grain of salt.

  • Great article & info! Super excited to be following a franchise now that actually follows a plan. And it's the last chance to stock up on assets like this- i say pay whatever it takes to sign soler, somebody else to have locked up at a young age- and go as high as is comfortable for cespedes. I do have a question for ya, john, maybe you can help. If we're bidding against, say, miami for cespedes- is it the type of negotiation where we would know if miami's offer is higher & have a chance to raise? Or do we just guess at what it will take to get him and offer it? Any idea? Keep up the awesome work! Please.

  • In reply to MikeyB:

    Thanks Mikey! Very true and, for an organization that had planned to build big in the international market, this is their last chance to do it without restrictions, so why not roll the dice?

    As far as knowing the other's teams offer, that's on the player's agent. Other teams certainly won't tell the Cubs and it's not public info, so you have to rely on the agent to say, "well, Miami's offering $50M..." Of course, agents have something to gain too, so you really have to be careful that they're not making it up-- or at least exaggerating. It's a combination of guess work and the info you get from the agent.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Ah, i see. So an agent CAN go back and forth saying "okay the cubs just went to $50M" - "miami just raised $51M" - "cubs up to $52M" - they CAN do that? I've never understood how it works- especially after i'd heard we gave soriano way more years AND money than anybody else offered. So it's just up to the agent on how and what he divulges.

  • John,

    With the new CBA, are the Cubs wasting money with all the efforts in building a state-of-the-art facility in the Dominican? They can only spend so much money a year on free agents, yet the facilities that they are building will attract talent, who will be forced to sign elsewhere, because of the cap on spending.

  • In reply to supercapo:

    It's still an asset. It should help if it remains a pool similar to what it is now because, although the Cubs may not have much more to offer than other teams in terms of money, top facilities and a good program may sway the decision. If the Cubs cap money is $5M and say the Sox is $5.5, maybe those things make a difference.

    It's also going to be used as a training and development facility. In fact, that's it's main use. The recruiting angle is more of a side benefit.

  • In reply to supercapo:

    I would guess quite the opposite. With all things being equaed a bit more, something like that facility & players like Concepcion agreeing to come should help them stand out from the pack. They won't be able to sign mass quantities of these international guys, but they should get a couple of the top ones every year.

  • Slightly off topic, it seems Cespedes is locked up in red tape and can't sign quite yet.
    Where is Soler at in his quest for the big leagues?

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    As far as I know, Soler hasn't even achieved residency yet, much less free agent status.

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    Ben Badler of Baseball America recently said Concepcion would not make the Cubs top 10 list.
    Makes it harder to justify spending $7 million. But, if it helps recruit Soler or Cespedes, it's money well spent.

  • In reply to Matthew Whitaker:

    Thanks for getting that info. Goldstein rated him 6th, but it could also be because he's more down on guys like Lake, Vitters, etc.

    When I was going to make my own estimate, I was going to say around 15. Stuff wise he's behind guys like Wells (17), but he's more polished. Rhee (11) has better stuff and is every bit as polished, if not more (of course, he's older). I'd definitely put him ahead of Rosario (22), who throws harder, but is smaller, older, and not as advanced.

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    I think to a large extent the new even-footing policy starting next year for signing international free agents actually hurts smaller market teams. It's going to have the opposite effect of it's intention. Here's my theory: If all teams have the same amount of money to spend, or very close to the same amount, slightly adjusted based on won-loss record and perhaps money spent signing draftees, and I'm a prospect, am I really going to be interested to sign with a franchise who has struggled for years, or do I want to sign with a large market team that wins somewhat regularly? If the money is the same or almost the same I see international free agents still signing with large market teams with winning records instead of struggling franchises trying to rebuild. K.C. may be able to outbid the Yankees but the difference isn't going to be enough to overwhelm anyone.

    One could argue that signing with an organization that has little depth is a faster trip to the majors, but there are no guarantees. I'd personally rather go somewhere with good coaching and a winning organization if the money is the same.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    It's probably going to depend on the player and what he wants. Some may like having a nicer facility close to their offseason home. Some may like a better opportunity while others may want to play on a better team. Then, of course, some will take the larger paycheck no matter what the surrounding circumstances. I'm interested to see how it all works out.

    One thing to keep in mind is that scouting will play a huge role. One example is Marck Malave. I know of 3 teams that really, really liked him with the Cubs being one of them. There were a couple who weren't quite as high on him. I happen to know that the two teams that really liked him as much as the Cubs were better record-wise and would have had less money to spend. As long as the Cubs can spend more than the teams that like him as much as they do, they still have a chance to sign the guys they like.

  • The Cubs announced that they designated infielder Blake DeWitt for assignment. The move creates 40-man roster space for Adrian Cardenas, who the Cubs claimed from Oakland today -- MLBTR

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Well done! You beat me to it. So Ted Lilly was traded for who again?

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    That's the guy you were hoping they would get. Probably better than Blake DeWitt and nice that he's a lefty bat.

    I just posted a quick article on him.

  • Off topic, but just saw the Cubs signed Adrian Cardenas off waivers and designated Blake Dewitt for assignment.

  • Just posted guys! Nice signing...likely a reserve but can't rule him beating out Cardenas for a job. They obviously like him better than DeWitt.

  • John

    Even if Concepcion is a "back of the rotation guy", what's so bad about that? We could have used a couple more "back of the rotation guys" last year.

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