Whichever team signs Robert, the 19-year-old phenom likely won’t reach the big leagues until 2019 at the earliest. Yoan Moncada, another five-tool prospect who signed out of Cuba at age 19, was on an extremely fast track, making his Major League debut late last year, less than 18 months after signing with Boston.
Where will Robert land? Let’s take a look at the top candidates.
White Sox: The young and talented Robert appears to be the perfect type of player for a rebuilding team that doesn’t expect to contend until 2019. Chicago signed first baseman Jose Abreu out of Cuba in 2013 and traded for top Cuban outfield prospect Moncada in December, building a reputation as one of the most aggressive teams on the international market. Also, the White Sox are not in the penalty for exceeding their bonus pool amount during the current international signing period, which means it might have the millions it will take to sign a player like Robert at their disposal. Another thing to consider — Chicago has not been linked to any high-profile prospects for the next international signing period that starts July 2, which bodes well if the White Sox enter the maximum penalty and cannot sign players for more than $ 300,000 if they blow past their current pool amount by signing Robert.
Padres: San Diego is already on the hook for close to $ 80 million, including overage penalties, for 45 prospects signed during the current international signing period, and the Padres have shown a willingness to invest millions to help their future. The club has a recent history with Cubans, having already signed left-handed pitcher Adrian Morejon for $ 11 million, outfielder Jorge Ona ($ 7 million), right-handers Michel Baez ($ 3 million), left-hander Osvaldo Hernandez ($ 2.5 million), Ronald Bolanos ($ 2.25 million) and left-handed pitcher Ramon Perez ($ 400,000) during the current international period. Could Robert be next?
Cardinals: St. Louis has been busy on the international market, spending around $ 11 million during the current international signing period on 26 prospects, including Cuban players Jonatan Machado ($ 2.35 million), Randy Arozarena ($ 1.25 million) and pitcher Johan Oviedo ($ 1.9 million). And it’s no secret the Cardinals have been keeping their eyes on Robert for several months. His addition could provide an immediate boost to an organization in need of a talent infusion, especially when considering the Cards have limited draft picks in the 2017 Draft, and will be in the maximum penalty during the upcoming international signing period that starts July 2.
Reds: Cincinnati signed two Cuban players — shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez for $ 7 million and pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez for $ 4.75 million — during the current international signing period, and the Reds have emerged as one of the most active teams on the international market in recent years. Including penalties, the club has committed close to $ 20 million on more than 20 international prospects since July 2, and it has shown it will invest in what it believes is the right player for the organization. That said, Cincinnati knows Robert is a high-profile player and is not sure it would win a bidding war.
Astros: Houston spent close to $ 9 million on 27 international prospects since the signing period began last July, a list that includes Cuban pitcher Cionel Perez ($ 2.5 million) and Cuban shortstop Anibal Sierra ($ 1.5 million). The total commitment is already more than $ 15 million when overage penalties are included. Yes, the Astros were present at Robert’s open showcase and have watched him work out privately, but the price will have to be right for them to invest in another young outfielder. The club already has tons of outfield depth in the organization with players like Derek Fisher, Teoscar Hernandez and Preston Tucker at Triple-A Fresno and Drew Ferguson, Alejandro Garcia and Ramon Laurea at Double-A Corpus Christi. Houston’s system is also stacked with outfielders at the Class A levels.
The dark horse
A’s: Oakland spent $ 5.6 million on three prospects — Cuban outfielder Lazaro Armenteros, along with Dominican shortstops Yerdel Vargas and Marcos Brito — and committed more than $ 10 million on the international market since July 2, when the overage penalty for exceeding its bonus pool amount is included. The A’s have shown strong interest in Robert and could surprise the industry by signing the young outfielder. Remember, it was Oakland that shocked the baseball world by signing Yoenis Cespedes, at the time considered the most complete player to ever come out of Cuba, to a four-year, $ 36 million deal in 2012.
Out of the running
The Angels, Blue Jays, Cubs, D-backs, Dodgers, Rays, Red Sox, Royals and Yankees are limited to signing a player for $ 300,000 or less during the current signing period, putting those teams out of the running for Robert.
Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.