Several sources are reporting today that top Cuban prospect Luis Robert is going to become a free agent, making him eligible to sign with MLB Clubs on May 20. The 6’3”, right-handed outfielder is considered by most to be the second best international prospect (behind Japan’s Shohei Otani). Robert, 19, has all five tools, and has drawn many comparisons to perhaps the most successful Cuban in the Majors, Yoenis Cespedes.
The fact that Robert will be free to sign on May 20 is incredibly significant for the St. Louis Cardinals, and for many other teams who would like to sign him. This year, and every other year on record, May 20th falls before June 15th. That is significant because June 15th marks the end of the 2016-2017 international signing period. This is hugely important, as the end of the signing period would mean the end of the Cardinals’ hopes of bringing this prospect on board.
Without being bogged down by detail, the Cardinals have spent a lot of money in the international prospect market this year. A lot. They have spent so much money, in fact, that they have spent past their bonus pool for this year, and have been assessed an overage tax payment. This means two things: that the Cardinals will have severely limited ability to sign international prospects in the upcoming years (meaning especially that they will be nowhere near able to sign top prospects), and that they have no reason not to go on a spending spree right now, having already surpassed all the penalty limits that the league enforces on these signings.
In my mind, this means that the mission is clear for the Cardinals: sign Luis Robert. This is not an idea that is original to me, as the Cardinals are considered a top contender to acquire Robert’s services. But I believe the Cardinals must make this their single top priority for the immediate future.
Why is that? Because the Cardinals are short on top end talent right now. Though the Redbirds have, as they always seem to, a fairly deep prospect pool, it is limited on game-breaking talent. Some of the biggest talents (Alex Reyes, Sandy Alcantara, and Luke Weaver) are pitchers, and our top offensive prospects are either blocked at the moment (in the case of Carson Kelly), not near ready for the Majors (Delvin Perez, Magneuris Sierra), or they are talents who are expected to be strong contributors, but not game changers (like Harrison Bader, Paul DeJong, and Patrick Wisdom).
Robert is a different caliber of prospect. Though he is also not ready for the Majors (scouts expect him to be assigned to A ball when he’s signed), Robert is the kind of five-tool, young prospect that immediately rockets to the top of a team’s prospect list. If he were available in this year’s draft, he would be drafted near the top, if not first overall. And with the Cardinals’ lack of a first (Dexter Fowler) or second (HackGate) round draft pick, the need for that kind of prospect is that much stronger.
So the Cardinals would be wise to go all out after Luis Robert. Many local analysts have opined, rightly, that one of the Birds’ biggest concerns right now is the lack of a terror bat in the lineup. St. Louis has many “good” hitters, but no “great” hitters whom the other team is afraid to pitch to. Robert could, in time, be that kind of bat, and that kind of bat is very hard to come by, which makes this signing the right signing for the Cardinals right now.