Nine days after the Kansas City Royals wrapped up the 2015 World Series, I mentioned that the Cincinnati Reds were heading into an offseason under a set of circumstances that could, should they choose, allow them to be as bold as they wanted to be in the free agent market. Their dismal 2015 meant they held the #2 overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, a protected pick that wouldn't be sacrificed if they opted to sign a big ticket free agent that had declined a Qualifying Offer. And, on top of that, they owned the highest Compensation Round pick of any team in the league, a league mandated add-in specifically given to small market, small revenue teams like the Reds to help prompt them to add assets when given the chance.
Those parameters mirrored what was the single deepest, most talented free agent class in memory, and gave them a chance to hasten their obvious rebuild without punting the best way to build a farm system - high draft picks. Rather predictably, however, the Reds opted against jumping into the deepest pool in the free agent waters, instead inking only Blake Wood despite a porous outfield and zero healthy veteran pitchers. A hypercompetitive division, tight finances, and roster turnover moved the Reds away from free agent investments, and instead they opted to hold on to what will end up being the 35th, 36th, 37th, or 38th overall pick in the upcoming draft.
On Monday morning, news broke that the current free agent class picked up another pair of star-studded names, both of whom figure to rub salt in the Reds' wound in similar fashion as the rest of their classmates. Brothers Yulieski and Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. reportedly defected while in the Dominican Republic as members of the Cuban National Team, and both have intentions to seek deals to play in Major League Baseball, according to MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez. It's a major boon to what's left of the previously deep class (albeit one that may further damage Ian Desmond's hope of a long term contract), yet it's one that will likely have the Reds simply watching from the sidelines yet again.
Yulieski, now 31, has long been on the radar of scouts and baseball execs alike, as he possesses the kind of star caliber talent that has had him ranked as the best player in Cuba year after year. He was the focal point of the 2013 Cuban World Baseball Classic squad that was in Arizona with us three years ago on a roster that included now big leaguers like Jose Abreu, Rusney Castillo, Yasmany Tomas, and current Red Raisel Iglesias, among others, and he'll bring a middle of the order bat and plus 3B defense to whichever team manages to sign him. For the Reds, his age and contract demands will surely be turnoffs, and once Yulieski establishes residency somewhere outside of Cuba and becomes MLB eligible at some point early in the 2016 season, odds are he ends up with the Angels, the Marlins, or somewhere far removed from Cincinnati.
Keep in mind that we'll watch that happen while Eugenio Suarez - the player projected as the Reds starting 3B - has never started a big league game at 3B (and hasn't started a game at 3B at any level since rookie ball in the Tigers system in 2010).
As frustrating as missing out on Yulieski will be given that scenario, watching the courting of his brother Lourdes may end up being even worse for Reds fans. His case is also much trickier given that he's just 22 years old and will turn 23 in October, so work with me here for a minute. Given the way international signings work for players under the age of 23 with limited professional experience, the Reds may have already shot themselves in the foot even if they had sincere interest in signing Lourdes. The team was given an international bonus pool allotment of roughly $3 million for the 2015-2016 window, yet they already reportedly blew by that number to sign Alfredo Rodriguez - also a Cuban SS like Lourdes - for $6 million, and the 100% tax on the overage of that deal means they will have already committed $12 million in this window before even beginning negotiations with Lourdes. Considering the team's tight budget and the largess of the contracts given to other Cubans similar in age to Lourdes over the last two years, envisioning the Reds taking that kind of financial risk with further 100% penalty is hard enough to fathom, with the positional overlap with Rodriguez and the rest of the top Reds infield prospects just one more roadblock.
That scenario only kicks in if Lourdes is declared eligible soon enough to qualify for the 2015-2016 window, though, and there's no guarantee that will happen as that closes mid-summer. If he's declared eligible for the 2016-2017 window (and if the Reds signing of Rodriguez becomes official), the Reds won't be able to sign any international free agent of Lourdes' age for more than $300,000, which means they'll have no chance of signing him at all. If that ends up happening, however, Lourdes will almost assuredly wait another few months until he turns 23 in October, at which point he'll be old enough to simply sign as a free agent with zero restrictions - and that will bring big market teams who wouldn't have been able to sign him due to bonus pool restrictions (like the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Yankees) back into the bidding process.
The Gurriel family has been a baseball royalty in Cuba for generations, much in the same way the Reds have consistently had incredibly strong ties to Cuban players over the course of their existence. In Yulieski and Lourdes, Jr., MLB will be adding a pair of extremely talented players in the coming months, yet the Reds once again don't appear to be in position to benefit.