The Cubs made things officially official with Jen-Ho Tseng on Monday, in a move that was originally reported three weeks ago. The team is a friend of Taiwan, having now employed seven Taiwanese players in their history, a figure that is second only to the Indians.* Tseng will receive a $1.625 million bonus as well as college tuition and some sort of allowance for his family to travel to the US. For their part, the Taiwanese media has moved on in their search for the next Catfish.
*In case you are wondering, current Taiwanese players in the system are Yao-Lin Wang and Pin-Chieh Chen. Former players include Hung-Chih Kuo, Hung-Wen Chen, Chih-Hsiang Wen, and Tzu-An Wang. Taiwan Easterling is not eligible for inclusion.
International Free Agents in Action
As 16-year olds, most of the Cub signees are currently ineligible to participate in DSL/VSL play.* The exceptions are the 19-year old Tseng, who is heading to Australia to participate in MLB's Australian Academy before making his way to the US in September, and Jefferson Mejia, who has made a single appearance to date in the Dominican Summer League.
*I'm not completely clear on the rules here. For some reason, 16-year old Julio Urias is eligible and has been pitching most of the season in A-ball. My understanding is that since he came from the Mexican League, different rules apply. As an aside, a sixteen-year old holding his own in the Midwest League? Pretty good.
Luis Encarnacion to the Phils
Dominican third baseman Luis Encarnacion, the fourth ranked prospect in BA's top 30, signed with the Phillies last Friday. My sense in perusing other Cubs blogs is that quite a few people thought the Cubs had a chance with Encarnacion, who signed immediately after turning 16. This despite those in the know predicting he would sign with the Phils for months now. As far as I can tell, all the speculation stemmed from a Phil Rogers report that Leonardo Molina and Encarnacion were next on the Cubs' list as part of their plans to spend wildly on IFAs. At about the same time, Gordon Wittenmeyer had a similar report, without speculating on any names. It seems like Phil simply went down BA's top 30 list, found the ones who were unsigned, and reported them as Cubs targets. Quite frankly, he should have known better. Phil does some work for BA and presumably could have emailed someone who could fill him in on what was really happening, namely that these particular players were unsigned only because they were not yet 16; agreements were in place. The lesson here? Never bet against Badler.
There are several still-unsigned players that have been highly regarded by one talent evaluator or another at some point. These include Yimmelvyn Alonzo, Wladimir Galindo, Wasner Peguero, and Angelo Serrano. At this point, there are no reported issues preventing these players from signing, so I expect that if they were on the Cubs' radar, they would already be in the fold. Shortstop Obispo Aybar-Lara is another name to keep in mind, as he will be ineligible to sign until April 2014. Other names could emerge in the meantime, but I think it's safe to say that there are no impending deals.
Overall, it's a little disappointing to those of us who hoped that going over meant going way over, but not unexpected given the predetermined nature of these agreements. Of the bigger names that appear not to have had an agreement on July 2nd, the Cubs successfully signed Tseng, but showed no interest in Cuban defector Leandro Linares.
Cubs IFA Strategy
With the benefit of hindsight, we can bring some clarity to the Cubs' plan. My guess is that the club worked in the weeks prior to July 2nd to acquire additional spending pool space such that they wouldn't have to go into the penalty. I suspect that the deal they made with Houston, sending Ronald Torreyes for space, was agreed upon well before they realized that they wouldn't be able to acquire enough. I think that by July 2nd, the opening of the current period, the Cubs had a pretty good idea that it wasn't going to happen, and thus agreed to the trade that sent pool space along with Carlos Marmol to the Dodgers. Not wanting to close the door completely in the midst of trading season, however, they held off on signing Jimenez as well as their Plan B until later. What was that Plan B? It's looking like it was simply to sign Jen-Ho Tseng.
For their part, the front office seems to be sticking with their story that the original plan played out precisely as expected; I am thoroughly unconvinced. This line stood out to me in particular:
Because the Cubs had the second-most pool money, which was determined by how the team finished in 2012, they wanted to take advantage of being in that position, Epstein said.
What the Cubs did was the opposite of taking advantage of their position. As the Rangers showed, pool space is irrelevant if you want to overspend on IFAs. Taking advantage of their position would have meant either trading space away (on net) and then going over anyway, or staying just within the penalty limits. If saving a million or two on taxes this year while incurring spending limits next year is their definition of "taking of advantage of that position," then the coffers are pretty bare (and I don't think that they are). Love your work, Brett, but I'm just going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there.