Cardinals splurge in Latin America

Cardinals-splurge-in-Latin-AmericaIn one of their most active and expensive days ever in the international market, the Cardinals landed teens from four different Latin American countries, including Cuba, while obliterating their spending limit and inviting penalties.

And they’re not done yet.

The Cardinals agreed to contracts with Cuban pitcher Johan Oviedo, 18, and Venezuelan outfielder Victor Garcia, 16, that individually included bonuses as large as the team has ever awarded. Oviedo, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound righthander received a bonus of $1.9 million, and slugger Garcia followed with $1.5 million, the same bonus Carlos Martinez received as a teen six years ago. The team also announced deals for 11 other international amateurs. Nine of the 13 signed were position players, an area where the Cardinals have not usually spent as freely.

The Cardinals also have an agreement in place with another outfielder, Cuba’s Jonatan Machado, though the deal is expected to be finalized later in the yearlong signing period, which opened Saturday.

“The group is heavier on position players with offensive upside,” wrote Moises Rodriguez in an email. Rodriguez, the Cardinals’ director of international operations, was traveling back from Venezuela on Sunday. “We emphasized that category throughout the evaluation process. The group is physical and athletic. We’re thrilled with the present hitting ability of guys like Carlos Soto (of Mexico) and Victor Garcia and the ceiling of kids like (Carlos) Soler.”

Soler, a 16-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic, received a bonus of $600,000, according to a source. He has one of the best outfield arms in the class and is considered a project offensively. According to Baseball America, he’s the 35th-best prospect available during this signing period.

Garcia was ranked No. 10 by the magazine.

The Venezuelan outfielder has the best power of the class, according to scouts, and the Cardinals have been scouting him and his peers for several years. A year ago, the Cardinals signed pitcher Alvaro Seijas out of Venezuela at a $762,500 bonus.

That has been the sweet spot for the Cardinals when it comes to international spending. The Cardinals signed Oscar Taveras ($145,000), Edmundo Sosa ($425,000), Alex Reyes ($950,000), and a handful of other top or recent prospects for less than a million. Meanwhile, big-bonus additions like Roberto De La Cruz ($1.1 million) and Wagner Mateo ($3.1 million) never reached the same status, and Mateo had his contract voided before putting on cleats.

The Cardinals entered this market with a $2,027,300 bonus limit. Major League Baseball sets the limit based on the standings, and the Cardinals had the smallest limit in the game. But the Cardinals eyed this July 2 class and the coming year as the time to be “very aggressive” with their spending because of at least two factors. First, a handful of teams — like the Cubs, Giants, and Dodgers — had their spending curtailed this summer by past bonuses, and that reduced the number of high-bidders.

Second, the new labor agreement being negotiated now could alter the rules for international spending.

The known bonuses for Oviedo, Garcia, Soler and Soto ($400,000) added up to $5.25 million already. The Cardinals will pay a dollar-for-dollar tax on the $3.2 million overage. They have exceeded the 15 percent penalty, meaning that their future spending could be limited to $300,000 bonuses or less in the next two summers, unless the rules change. The Cardinals have an agreement with Machado for a bonus around $2 million. MLB.com reported that its expected value is $2.3 million.

That will cost the Cardinals an additional $2.3 million in tax.

Machado, 16, is considered an elite runner and a contact-type hitter whose potential would be as a leadoff hitter from the left side. He’s 5-foot-9, nine inches shorter than his countryman the Cardinals also signed, Oviedo. The lanky righthander has a fastball that sits in the 92-94 mph range and can reach the upper registers, at 96 mph. He’s got a developing curve that needs to be tightened and some tutelage to improve his mechanics and thus consistency.

“Oviedo is someone we felt strongly about as a group and wanted to be aggressive with,” Rodriguez said. “At only 18, he’s physically impressive and moves well for his size. … (He) should quickly benefit from our pitching coaches. He has a chance to be an impact starter at the major-league level.”

Oviedo, catcher Soto, righthanded pitcher Enmaneul Solano (Dominican), and outfielder Diomedes Del Rio have been assigned to the Cardinals’ Dominican Summer League team. The other 10 players signed Saturday have been signed to 2017 minor-league deals.

This amateur signing period continues through next June.

BUCS PLUCK FRYER

Less than a week after playing for the Cardinals, catcher Eric Fryer will be playing against them Monday. The Pittsburgh Pirates, in need of help at the position because of injuries, claimed Fryer off waivers Sunday and added him to their active roster on the eve of visiting Busch Stadium for a four-game series. Fryer, 30, hit .368 with a .421 slugging percentage in 24 games for the Cardinals, though as Yadier Molina’s backup he made only eight starts.

The Cardinals had to place Fryer on waivers to make room on the active roster for veteran Brayan Pena. The team hoped that Fryer would slip through this weekend and play for Class AAA Memphis. The Cardinals’ de facto third catcher is the Redbirds’ Michael McKenry. In 21 games with the Triple-A affiliate, McKenry is batting .338.

EXTRA BASES

Leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter returned to the lineup Sunday after taking a day to attend to a death in his family. … The Cardinals finalized a contract with 15th-round pick J.R. Davis, an infielder from Oklahoma State. Davis had to wait until the Cowboys were eliminated from the College World Series before he could sign. The Cardinals’ top 18 picks are under contract, leaving UC-Riverside pitcher Matt Ellis (17th round) as the highest pick not yet signed. … Cardinals reliever and Naval Academy grad Mitch Harris, who is out for this season after elbow surgery, attended Sunday’s historic appearance by Major League Baseball at Fort Bragg. The scheduled game, part of baseball’s July Fourth festivities, was the first regular-season contest ever at a military base.

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