Cubs International Free Agency Success

Cubs International Free Agency Success
Jen-Ho Tseng pitching 6/9/14 (Photo Courtesy: Cameron Kmen)

Just this past week, we as Cub fans were discussing which of our players we wanted to trade away, but more importantly we wanted to know who the Cubs were receiving in return. Thursday came and went and so did Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell, but we as Cub fans weren’t phased because we are focused on The Plan. President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein has been stockpiling young talent for just over three years now in three major ways.

First, like I previously mentioned, the Cubs have acquired young talent through trades to the likes of: Kyle Hendricks, CJ Edwards, and Addison Russell. Second, because the Cubs have been rather poor in recent years they have gotten higher draft picks. These past four years drafts have produced four of the top seven prospects in the Cubs system as we discussed in our recent mid-season top 20 prospect listKris Bryant, Javier Baez, Albert Almora, and Kyle Schwarber.

Third and most likely the biggest crap shoot is International Free Agency. International Free Agency should be split into two categories, Cuban signings and others. Since 2012 the Cubs have signed two Cuban free agents: Jorge Soler and Gerardo Concepcion.

In 2012, the Cubs signed both Concepcion and Soler to deals. Concepcion’s deal spans 5 years, worth 6 million dollars guaranteed. Soler’s deal extends 9 years, worth a total of 30 million dollars. Concepcion was recently promoted to the Daytona Cubs where he currently pitches out of the bullpen. In Class A Kane County, Concepcion sported a 3.89 ERA and an 8.2 SO/9.

Jorge Soler obviously is the headline name of this article. Since signing with the Cubs in 2012, Soler has been nothing short of incredible on the field. But that has been his problem, staying on the field. Soler has injured both hamstrings and missed extensive time because of them. Also, he had the whole bat incident, but Soler has moved on from these incidents impressively. In 46 games this season, Soler is slashing .377/.473/.783 with a 1.256 OPS.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in 2012 changed how International Free Agency works. Soler was signed only two days before the CBA made it impossible to sign a player under the age of 23 not from the United States, Canada, or Puerto Rico for over 2.9 million dollars. Under the new CBA each team gets an allotment of money that they can use to sign international amateurs. This allotment is dependent on the team’s record the past season. The better a team’s record is the less money they get to spend on international free agents.

The Cubs in the past two years under the new CBA have had close to the most money of any team in International Amateur Free Agency. They used that to their advantage in 2013. In 2013, the Cubs had the second biggest allotment of money and after various trades involving slot money, their pool stood at $5,520,200. After signing Eloy Jimenez, Gleyber Torres, Jen-Ho Tseng, Erling Moreno, Jefferson Mejia, and Yohan Matos the Cubs were over their pool by about 2.3 million dollars.

Because of their overages the Cubs faced the strictest penalties this year for International Free Agency; a 100% tax on the overage and they couldn’t sign any players for more than $250,000 this year, but they still signed four players: SS Yeiler Peguero, 3B Tony Rijo, LHP Wander Cabrera, and RHP Emilio Ferrebus. This seems to be the strategy the Cubs' FO is taking; go all out one year and accept the penalties the next.

The Cubs 2013 International Free Agent class has experienced some success at their respective levels. Tseng(10) and Jimenez(14) both appeared on our top 20 prospect list, while Torres made the honorable mentions. Mejia appeared on the MLB's top prospect list for the Cubs at number 20 before Victor Caratini bumped him out.

Tseng, 19, has had the most success at the highest level for the 2013 IFA class. In 87.1 IP Tseng wields a 2.47 ERA, an impressive 0.9 WHIP, and a 7.5 SO/9.

Both Torres and Jimenez, only 17 years old, have had success in the Arizona League. Torres has impressed many of the Cubs faithful with a .284/.375/.397 slash line; Jimenez sits at .253/.299/.394. Both have strike out rates under 20%.

Jefferson Mejia, a 20 year old 6'7" RHP, is currently pitching well in the Arizona League with an impressive 9.9 SO/9. Matos and Moreno are both currently playing in the DSL. Matos sports a healthy .873 OPS and .199 ISO. Moreno, on the other hand, hasn't pitched since July 23rd for the DSL Cubs, but does have a 1.08 ERA in a small sample size.

Although we don't have enough data to show what percentage of International Free Agents make it to the big league level under the new CBA, we can conclude that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have put a big pile of their chips into this relatively new process. Personally, I love what the Cubs are doing. International Free Agency is one of the three major ways to acquire young talent, if the Cubs weren't taking as big of a part in it as they are, then I would be worried. The next couple of years should be interesting as to see how these young international players turn out as professional ball players. Players such as Tseng, Torres, and Jimenez are pioneers for this new process, and we as Cub fans should be excited and enjoy the ride.

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