Five months since Víctor Víctor Mesa and his brother, Víctor Mesa Jr., left Cuba to pursue major league contracts, and one month since MLB officially declared them eligible to sign as international amateur free agents, the Marlins are finally closing in.
Miami’s main competition for the 22-year-old Víctor Víctor is the Baltimore Orioles. An organization that’s long been idle on the international market announced their intentions to reverse course this summer. One particular trade with the Atlanta Braves in July padded their bonus pool by $2.5 million, creating separation from all other MLB teams.
Perhaps an indication that he’s nearing a decision, Víctor Víctor posted a Twitter poll Friday night with two options: American League or National League. The NL received significantly more votes.
— Victor Victor Mesa (@victorvmesa) October 12, 2018
In all seriousness, though, there’s growing optimism that the Marlins’ odds are better than a coin flip. According to Dan Connolly of The Athletic, the big financial advantage that the O’s used to have has all but disappeared with the signings of other international free agents. The widely reported $6.7 million estimate for Baltimore’s bonus pool is no longer accurate:
That number is too high.
Two different industry sources have told me the Orioles’ cap is in the $6 million range—and certainly not much more than that. If it remains as the highest pool in the majors, it’s not by much.
Meanwhile, the Marlins can spend approximately $6,069,500, based on mid-September calculations from MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez ($4,319,500) and adjusting for pool space added since then via the Kyle Barraclough ($1,000,000) and Ryan Lillie ($750,000) trades.
Connolly emphasizes that Víctor Víctor, Víctor Jr. and right-hander Sandy Gastón are not necessarily a package deal. It’s possible—even likely—that the Marlins are going all out for the big fish, understanding that the other two will be lured away by richer offers from elsewhere.
For what it’s worth, president of baseball operations Michael Hill hinted at adding “Cubans” (plural) on Thursday when addressing a select group of Marlins fans, per Andy Slater:
Marlins just finished holding an "exclusive virtual town-hall meeting."— Andy Slater (@AndySlater) October 11, 2018
Michael Hill on building team: Hopefully we'll be doing it soon by adding a few Cubans to the organization. #VictorVictorMesa pic.twitter.com/XHDXWd8WNn
MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro and EVTV’s Daniel Álvarez Montes both anticipate another Marlins trade, allowing them to take full command of the negotiations. While there are numerous possibilities involving either low-level prospects or expendable veterans, I’m seeing one obvious fit: Miguel Rojas to the New York Yankees.
The Yankees announced Friday that regular shortstop Didi Gregorius suffered a right elbow injury during the postseason, requiring Tommy John surgery. He’s guaranteed to miss a significant chunk of the 2019 regular season for a team in the midst of its “World Series or bust” window. Also consider that Gregorius is eligible for free agency next winter. They will need to add major league depth in case Gregorius suffers a setback that keeps him off the field for the full year.
The Marlins and Yankees have been frequent trade partners, including twice in 2017. Due to prospect graduations and deadline moves, New York’s farm system has dipped from elite to closer to the middle of the pack, so the club may prefer to secure their shortstop insurance in a creative way that doesn’t sacrifice more young talent.
Rojas slashed .252/.297/.346 last season—almost identical to his career averages—while setting a personal best with 11 home runs. Going by Defensive Runs Saved, his defense at first base, shortstop and third base rated as above average. Only five players topped his 10 DRS at short, all of whom benefited from heavier workloads. MLB Trade Rumors estimates a $2.6 million salary for the arbitration-eligible Rojas.
Keep in mind, the Marlins were initially assigned a $6,025,400 bonus pool for the 2018-19 international signing period. Teams are allowed to trade up for an additional 75 percent of their bonus pool allotment, which would be $4,519,050 in this case (h/t Baseball America’s Ben Badler). They already got $2 million of that in return for Barraclough, Lillie and Cameron Maybin.
That leaves another $2,519,050 to potentially add to the $6,069,500 estimate from earlier. Miami can max out at $8,588,550 to target the Mesas, Gastón and whatever else remains of the international free agent class.