The Mets look to have one of the best rotations in baseball heading into 2015, yet they are clearly at least one major offensive weapon away from being a serious playoff contender. They missed out on Cuban sluggers Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu, and Jorge Soler, whose contracts now look like bargains given their respective talent levels.
Yasmany Tomás, 24, is the latest Cuban star to become available following Rusney Castillo this summer. He held a showcase last weekend, where he surely impressed with his raw tools, and with the Mets in need of an impact player, many believe the team should target him in the offseason. Despite the apparent fit, the Mets should remain wary and not aggressively pursue him.
If the Mets were to go after Tomás, they would be entering the market for Cuban players at a time when their contract demands are skyrocketing. Cuban players used to be good values because of the uncertainty that accompanied them. As a result, many of the best talents from Cuba signed for contracts much lower in value than what the players were actually worth.
Now that those players have proven themselves in the major leagues, more teams have faith in players coming from Cuba, resulting in more competition over their services and larger contracts. Rusney Castillo, who just signed with the Red Sox, was a very good but unexceptional player in Cuba, while Jose Abreu was one of the two best players on the island (along with Alfredo Despaigne) at the time of his signing. Despite the fact that Abreu was much more accomplished at the time he signed, Castillo received more money because of front offices’ increasing faith in the Cuban market.
International Free Agent Profile: YasmanyTomas
Recently defected Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomás will eventually become a free agent that MLB teams can bid on. Would he be a boon to the Mets?
Cuban players have turned into great investments for the organizations that targeted them early; but now teams like the Mets that were cautious with respect to Cuban free agents will have to pay a hefty price to obtain a Cuban star. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe recently reported that Tomás could command a contract as large as $100 million.
Theoretically, the Mets could be able to offer such a contract, even with their harsh financial restrictions. By dumping Bartolo Colon’s and Daniel Murphy’s salaries, the Mets would—in an optimistic world—have the flexibility to add approximately $20-to-$30 million next season. It would be a defensible move because of the Mets' need for a high-ceiling bat and corner outfielder. However, because the Mets are run like a small-market team due to their farcical owners, the Mets should not invest that type of money in a player with almost no track record, despite the upside.
For fans, it is easy to see guys like Cespedes and Abreu dominate and think that Tomás could do the same because of his growing hype and the fact that he’s from Cuba. However, Tomás is not just risky because of the nation he hails from, but also because of his skill set and lack of production.
Last season in Cuba, Tomás hit .290/.346/.450 with six home runs, 21 walks, and 46 strikeouts in 257 plate appearances. While those numbers are solid, Jose Abreu in the same league hit .453/.597/.986 with 33 home runs in 212 at-bats. Yes, Tomás at 23 was younger, but one would still like to see much more production in an inferior league, especially if he commands a $100 million deal. Another concern is that, in 2005, Clay Davenport determined at Baseball Prospectus that the Cuban level of competition was equivalent to that in the New York Penn League. While the competition in Cuba has likely increased since then, Abreu’s numbers make much more sense in this context, while Tomás’ numbers should give MLB teams pause.
Much of a team's willingness to invest in Tomás would rest in its faith in his tools. As any fan of a team in need of an outfielder knows from his YouTube highlights, Tomás has huge raw power. But this power might not necessarily translate at the big league level. Seeing his six home runs compared to Abreu’s 33 in the same league is alarming, as well as the fact that some have questioned Tomás's pitch recognition skills. Last summer against Team USA, a squad composed of college players, American pitchers baffled Tomás with their offerings. Tomás went 3-for-18 with seven strikeouts, causing Baseball America’s Ben Badler to write:
"Tomas has plenty of power but he has an uppercut swing, is vulnerable against good velocity (especially high and tight) and was susceptible to swinging through offspeed pitches, both in the zone and chasing off the plate."
For hitting prospects, raw power is one of the easiest things to observe, but the question remains whether the player can hit major league pitching. The fact that Tomás struggled that mightily against college pitchers is a huge red flag regarding his future, and a sign that he might not be a quality major league hitter. Taking on the risk of a player who might not be able to hit high-level pitching could end in disaster.
Look at Cesar Puello, for example. If he were Cuban and had been playing there his whole life, his tools alone would make him a wildly valuable free agent despite his poor pitch recognition. Considering how he performed last season in Double-A, Puello would also likely have put up huge numbers playing in Cuban. Puello’s pitch recognition is a disaster—as Tomás's could potentially be—and while he still has his supporters, Puello has yet to prove he is a major leaguer.
While Tomás is almost definitely a better player than Puello, it is important to be wary of falling in love with tools without seeing production against quality opponents. In a different universe, Puello would own the Cuban free agent market, but because he has been exposed, his value is minimal. Not every Cuban will translate his tools into major league success, and giving Tomás a $100 million contract given his questionable pitch recognition is an incredible risk.
Despite all the negatives I’ve laid out, there’s a reason Tomás could garner a huge contract: He has the talent to become a star. However, the huge risk associated with Tomás makes much it more sensible for a team with a larger budget to sign him. As long as the Mets are run like a small-market team, they can’t afford the risk of Tomás becoming a bust. If Tomás doesn’t pan out, the Mets won’t have the financial flexibility to swallow the loss, meaning that they would be handicapped for years in terms of adding talent to their roster.
The Mets really should have been on the Cuban market earlier. They needed to find ways to add talent while not overspending in free agency; while hindsight is 20/20, it clearly would have made sense for them to target someone like Abreu. Now that many of the best Cuban players in the world are already in the majors—and because of their strong performance and the lack of information on Cuban baseball—MLB teams will begin to sign lesser players for greater sums of money. If a team signs Tomás to a $100 million contract or more, it is quite possible he lives up to it. However, his performance is unlikely to exceed his contract's value, and considering the downside, that isn’t an investment worth making for the Mets.
Yes, it is possible that Tomás is the final piece to the Mets' puzzle. It is frustrating as a fan to watch Cuban stars light up the league while the Mets miss out; but that doesn’t mean it’s smart to aggressively pursue the latest Cuban sensation. Tomás is intriguing but flawed, and the window for making a positive gain on a Cuban investment has likely closed.