International free agents have become attractive to many MLB clubs. The New York Mets, however, continue to shy away from markets like Cuba and Korea.
By Gregg Cambareri
The New York Mets finally have a legitimate payroll again. They have shown that their financial restraints are no more (for now) and look ready to contend for the foreseeable future.
If the front office is willing to investing in the team, then why do they continue to ignore the top international free agents?
Cuba, Korea, and Japan, amongst others, have produced many successful players over the past few years (Yasiel Puig, Masahiro Tanaka, Jung Ho Kang, etc.). Most of these international free agents also cost far less than the current domestic market.
For example, Kang signed a 4 year, $11 million dollar deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates last winter, and produced a 4.0 WAR in 126 games. The Pirates now look like geniuses for their significant return on their modestly priced Korean investment.
Now back to the Mets, who, have previously expressed an interest exploring the international free agent waters. In December of 2014, GM Sandy Alderson stated, “We haven’t been in that category, but I expect we will be in that category soon.”
It’s now February of 2016, and the Mets have not been connected to any of the major IFAs. Last season, the team faced criticism for not having the financial flexibility to pursue Yoan Moncada, who eventually signed with the Boston Red Sox and is regarded as one the game’s better prospects.
It wasn’t just Moncada who the Mets have failed to pursue. The Cuban market in particular has yielded Yasmany Tomas, Aroldis Chapman, Jose Abreu, and Jorge Soler–just to name a few talented Cubans now enjoying life in the bigs. The Mets never seriously pursued any of them, but probably because of financial constraints. It doesn’t look like change is on the horizon, even with the Mets new found payroll flexibility.
Rewind to a few months ago–righty Yaisel Sierra signed a 6 year $30 million dollar pact with the Dodgers earlier this offseason. The 24 year old was regarded as one of the top Cuban prospects when he signed.
Obviously, the Mets are loaded with pitching talent. However, Sierra is likely to begin his career in the upper levels of the minors, per Ben Badler of Baseball America. A high upside arm could give the Mets a good problem to have, and provide the team with depth in case of injury. Sierra could also feature from the bullpen if he fails as a starter, something the Mets could easily use. Paying $5 million per season for a 24 year old with a high ceiling doesn’t seem like a bad gamble; the Mets were never seriously connected to acquiring Sierra’s services, though.
This brings us to the current market. Three highly touted Cubans are close to calling an MLB franchise home. Brothers Yulieski and Lourdes Gurriel have recently defected from Cuba, and will seek major league deals once they establish residency, per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. Yulieski, 31, is regarded as the top offensive player in Cuba, while his younger brother Lourdes is not yet major league ready, but an intriguing shortstop prospect (per Ben Badler, Baseball America).
Yulieski profiles as third basemen, which obviously isn’t a need for the Mets with David Wright under contract for 5 more seasons. Lourdes on the other hand, makes much more sense.
While the Mets do have several highly touted shortstop prospects (Amed Rosario, Gavin Cecchini, Milton Ramos) building depth in the farm system is never a bad play. Worst case scenario–the Mets have a highly valued asset should they decide to make a trade. When the Gurriel brothers establish residency, Sandy Alderson and company would be wise to monitor their market closely.
The Mets have also shown little to no interest in Lazaro Armenteros, better known as “Lazzarito.” The talented 16 year old could make a decision as early as Wednesday, with the Braves, Phillies, Padres, Dodgers, and Cubs in the mix for the outfield prospect. Again, a player this young and highly touted should be on the Mets radar, but the team has not been connected to him.
Consider this: the Mets best player was once an international free agent from Cuba, (does Yoenis Cespedes ring a bell?). Alderson previously expressed an interest in exploring other markets, but has not done so, even with improved financials.
Alderson has constructed a team that should contend for World Series this season, so he gets a pass here. However, it would be nice to see the Mets compete with other clubs who have reaped the rewards of international free agency.