When the new CBA was released last year, the Yankees lost a ton of leverage in the international free agent market. In the past, when the team was restricted by low amateur draft picks, the front office pumped loads of money into international scouting and signings. Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano, Ivan Nova, Manny Banuelos, and Jesus Montero were all products of the international market. Now that the CBA has limited international spending to a $2.9 million cap, and the Yankees, in particular, can no longer flex their financial muscles.
There is one exception, 23 year old players who have three years or more of professional baseball experience. Unfortunately, at this point in their careers, it’s much harder to find talent in this group. The majority of the high upside international players been picked up before the age of 23. On top of that, you lose up to six years of team control and proper baseball training compared to the 16 year olds that you could sign a year ago.
Because of the CBA, we’re unlikely to see big name 23 year old players signing out of places like the Dominican Republic, however in restricted leagues like Japan and Cuba, circumstances disallow top level talent from becoming available to major league teams. There are burdens with Japan, a blind bidding system is hard to navigate, which makes Cuban players much more valuable. We’ve seen players like Yoenis Cespedes, Jorge Soler, and Yasiel Puig receive much bigger contracts than usual. The Cuban defector market is becoming more expensive, but it’s the perfect place for teams like the Cubs, a team with money looking to rebuild their system.
There are two big names at the moment, and the Yankees might have interest in both.
Dariel Alvarez (OF)
At 6’2″ and 190 lbs, the 24 year old Alvarez is an above average outfielder with a plus arm. He has the ability to play all three outfield positions, but profiles best at right or left field. He’s had five seasons in the Serie Nacional de Béisball in Cuba, and one in La Liga Invernal Veracruz in Mexico. The right-handed hitter’s best year was 2011, where he broke out with an incredible 20 home runs and 125 hits (a team record) over just 376 plate appearances. Though his age 23 season was strong, he regressed in 2012, where he hit just 11 home runs across 511 plate appearances in Cuba and Mexico. Despite the dropoff in power, Alvarez has shown an increased willingness to walk, and if his offense in 2011 was not a fluke, he may have some major league talent.
Though the Yankees already have three top outfield prospects, I wouldn’t say that any of them will be ready for the majors in 2014. With Curtis Granderson coming off the books next season, Alvarez may be major league ready before any of Slade Heathcott, Tyler Austin, or Mason Williams. Depending on what scouts see in his offense, he could be an option for 2014, and one that would come relatively cheaply. Alvarez has his own YouTube feed where you can see his swing, and I do think his bat speed is impressive.
Aledmis Diaz (SS)
Diaz is supposed to be the better of the two Cubans. The 6’1″ 185 lb right-handed hitter just turned 23 years old on Tuesday, and scouts already think he’s more Major League ready than Alvarez. Diaz’s glove and arm at short stop are considered to be a plus. Though you’d expect a short stop to have some speed, Diaz makes a living with his bat. He projects to hit for contact and draws a ton of walks. He also has a bit of pop, which is still somewhat projectable for a 23 year old.
With Derek Jeter turning 39 next season, and a player option in 2014, it’s always possible that the Yankees will need a short stop. The organization has very little depth on the left side of the infield, and it’s grown exceptionally hard to find these players on the free agent market. Diaz has the right approach at the plate and the glove, and the scouting reports make it sound like he could be Major League ready by 2014. Of course, Yankee scouts will know best, but the team seems overdue for a major international free agent signing like this.