So far this offseason the Royals have signed three international free agents of note: Noel Arguelles, Cheslor Cuthbert, and Jin Ho Shin. But according to Dayton Moore there is another one on the way. Here is a quote from GM Dayton Moore's hot stove interview that was broadcast on 610 Sports Kansas City this past Thursday.
"The five best players internationally, regarded by most everybody you talk to. We've signed two of them and we're close to signing another one. Noel Arguelles obviously was made official today. Cheslor Cuthbert, the kid out of Nicaragua and then we're close to getting another one of these players within the next month or so."
Obviously when I heard this quote on Thursday night, I immediately fixated my thoughts on Aroldis Chapman. However, as we all know now Chapman signed the next day with the Cincinnati Reds for a deal in excess of 30 million dollars. Given that Chapman signed the next day it is fairly obvious that he was not the player that Moore was referring to. So I have conducted a little research and have found a list of the best available remaining international prospects. Here they are in order of their ranking according to one publication:
2. Wagner Mateo CF Dominican Republic
9. Daniel Sanchez RHP Venezuela
12. Jochi Ogando RHP Dominican Republic
13. Jacob Beltre C Dominican Republic
16. Luis Jolly CF Dominican Republic
17. Johendi Jiminian RHP Dominican Republic
19. Leonardo Perdomo RHP Dominican Republic
20. Rosel Herrera SS Dominican Republic
22. Santiago Nesi C Venezuela
24. Jairo Kelly SS Dominican Republic
Now just because the prospect isn't a top 5 guy according to this publication, doesn't mean that our front office doesn't consider him amongst the top 5 talents in this year's international crop. For this reason I have listed all of the remaining members of the top 25. However, if they are regarded top five by "most everybody you talk to" then they are probably at the top of this list, which leads me to believe that the player is either Daniel Sanchez the righty from the Dominican Republic, who many feel maybe the top pitcher in this year's Latin American group or it is centerfielder Wagner Mateo. I believe it is the latter and my fingers are crossed that I am right.
Months ago Mateo signed a $3.1 mill deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. The deal was to make Mateo the largest Latin American signing ever for the organization and at the time would have made him the highest paid Latin American hitter ever. However, when the Cardinals conducted his physical he did not achieve 20/20 vision in his right eye and the Cardinals concluded that he had a degenerative eye disease and so the contract was voided. Mateo's agent claimed that the failed eye exam was a result of infection that was caused by Mateo's contact lens.
Now there is always an amount of risk when developing prospects especially when they begin pro ball as a sixteen year old. But the amount of risk with a guy that has an eye problem could be large enough to scare away most bidders. This seems to be the case with Mateo who still remains unsigned months after his original deal was voided. Maybe he is fine and is holding out for a similar lump of money, or maybe so many teams have been scared off by the deal that he is unwilling to accept that he won't be able to get a similar sum. Either way he remains on the market.
Mateo was the winner of this year's Bo Jackson five tool challenge, a contest that has an eighteen year old age limit and includes players from several countries including the United States. He did not win any individual event but his composite was the best overall. Mateo is believed to be fully developed and he comes in at a height of 6-2 and 190 pounds. As a member of the RBI program he has displayed plus power while clobbering home runs to the opposite field, although many scouts project him to be more of a line drive guy. The only drawback other than his eye condition is that many scouts also feel that eventually he will have to make the move to left.
For months I have been hoping that the Royals take a chance on this guy. Yes the risks are there. They always are with these types of signings. But I believe that a team like the Royals would be much better served investing money into the farm than paying for one year unnecessary stop gaps. Consider that the Royals are going to pay Scott Podsednik nearly $1.5 mill this season. This is probably more than half of what Mateo's signing bonus would command. Would you rather pay a thirty-four year old $1.5 mill for one year? Or get a guy with superstar potential into the system for $2.5 mill? The answer is pretty obvious to me.
Dayton Moore stated that the Royals would add "another one of these players within the next month or so." I believe that if the Royals were going for Mateo they would want to make sure that he passed his physical before the deal was announced given his failure to do so with St. Louis. So given Moore's history of refusal to hint at deals that haven't yet been completed, I feel like this may be the case with Mateo. I think that a deal is already in place and so Moore feels comfortable mentioning it, but it will not be made official until the physical has been passed and the visa paperwork has been finalized. Don't forget how long this process took for the Arguelles signing, even though the deal had been made, it could not be finalized until the paperwork and physical had been completed.
It is more than possible that I have guessed wrong on this mystery prospect's identity. It could be a guy that we haven't heard of that the organization has discovered, but this would make Moore's statement of top five "regarded by most everybody you talk to," a false one. I am trying to connect the dots here and be ahead of the curve. To me Mateo fits the bill. He is a top five guy and it would make sense why the deal would take so long even to announce his identity. I just really hope that I am right.
*I should add that the source of this list comes from Sports Illustrated and the link can be found here: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/baseball/more/07/01/international.prospects/index.html