According to Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Reds are unlikely to land Cuban outfielder Luis Robert when he becomes eligible to sign with a major league team on Saturday. Comments from Reds’ GM Dick Williams suggest that Robert could command a price far above what the club is able to pay. Not only will the 19-year-old outfielder’s speed and power attract a sizable contract, but any interested team that previously exceeded their international spending limit will be forced to kick in a 100% penalty on whatever bonus Robert receives. That includes the Reds, who blew past their limit last year after inking shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez to a $7 million deal and paid the 100% penalty when they signed right-hander Vladimir Gutierrez several months later.
Robert has garnered substantial interest around the league and appears to be in line for a heftier contract than those of fellow Cuban stars Rodriguez and Gutierrez. Recent reports from Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, among others, list the Astros, Athletics and Padres as other potential suitors, with the White Sox and Cardinals looking like notable frontrunners. Passan cites unnamed sources who claim Robert has already chosen a landing spot and is just biding his time until the deal becomes official on Saturday.
With the increasingly restrictive measures of the collective bargaining agreement curtailing the amount teams can spend on international talent, Robert figures to rake in the last significant payday for Cuban players. That makes things difficult for the Reds, who would have had to drop something like $20 million upfront just to see whether Robert’s elite tools survive the transition to the majors. Per Buchanan:
We saw a player we liked and were willing to go to a certain amount for him if we can get him,” Williams said. “There’s a certain amount beyond which a franchise in our market just can’t afford.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.