As part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams are allowed to spend only $2.9 million on international free agents per year, starting July 2 through June 15, 2013. That means teams are still able to spend as much as they see fit for this year’s crop of Dominican prospects – and the Nationals could be wading into those waters.
The Nationals, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, have held workouts for 16-year-old outfielder Gustavo Cabrera and 17-year-old shortstop Wendell Rijo, two of the top Dominican prospects eligible to sign before July 2.
MLB.com ranks Cabrera as the top Dominican prospect eligible to sign. He has been compared to Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton for his combination of power and speed, and at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds he has a solid frame to build on. Rijo, a rangy shortstop, is considered one of the five best eligible prospects.
In order to sign either player, the Nationals’ front office would need to convince an ownership still gun shy about signing players from the Dominican in the wake of the Smiley Gonzalez fiasco. (Now known as Carlos Alvarez – four years younger than his alter ego, who signed for $1.4 million in 2006 – he remains in the organization and is currently at extended spring training.)
With new limits on spending in the draft, and the likelihood of an international draft in 2014, this could be a final chance for the Nationals to use pure financial might to secure elite, young talent. Also, they could use funds that in recent years have been dedicated to the draft that they will no longer be spending.
Teams may not sign prospects from the Dominican Republic before they turn 17, but players who are 16 and will turn 17 before July 2 of the following year are eligible. Cabrera will turn 17 in January.
The Nationals have also kept tabs on Cuban defector Jorge Soler, an outfielder who experts believe will become one of the top prospects in baseball as soon as he signs. But the price – expected to reach somewhere around $20 million – is more than they are willing to pay.
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