By Ryan Hatch
New York went on a spending spree of international players last winter and thereby are restricted to signing any similar amateurs this year to only contracts of $300,000 or less.
So when MLB.com’s Jessee Sanchez broke the news via Twitter on Monday that Cuban right-hander Yaisel Sierra had become a free agent and was open to bidding by major league teams, it might figure the Yankees would nod, and move along.
Not so fast.
Because Sierra is 24 years old, he is past the age requirement that would place him in the restricted pool. (It’s 23.) That means, of course, the Yankees could sign him to whatever deal they so well please without penalty. New York has maintained all winter they’re trying to shed payroll by not adding any free agents and that will probably hold steady. (The addition of Aroldis Chapman on Monday adds payroll, but it was, from a baseball standpoint, too good of a deal to pass up.)
But starting pitching is a rare commodity for any team and if the Yankees could sign him for his expected rate ($25-$30 million over several years), would it be such a bad deal?
Sierra has been throwing for scouts and executives all fall—in one case, 350 of them, Sanchez reported—and while it’s unconfirmed the Yankees were in attendance, one has to believe they were at least in some capacity.
Sierra has been projected by some scouts to be a middle of the rotation pitcher who could help a team immediately. That, perhaps, is his biggest value—time spent in the minors would likely be minimal.
Here’s what Baseball America wrote in April when he was rated as their No. 13 prospect on the island:
He vacillated between starting and relieving while pitching for Holguin in Serie Nacional, moving to the bullpen full-time in 2014-15, when he posted a 6.10 ERA with 55 strikeouts and 31 walks over 70 innings.
Across his entire professional career in Cuba he’s struck out 221 batters in 300.0 innings.
Signing him would be a bit of a gamble, but what international prospect isn’t? Here’s guessing the Yankees won’t make a bid for him. But don’t be shocked either if they’re on the shortlist of teams bidding for his services.