Baseball's next young Cuban stars are now free to sign with MLB teams.
According to MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez, outfielder Victor Victor Mesa and his younger brother Victor Mesa Jr. have completed the standard procedure of being cleared by MLB and unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets control, allowing them to become free agents. They can now sign with any team.
Victor Victor and Victor Jr. are the sons of Victor Mesa, one of the greatest players and managers in Cuban baseball history. The duo defected in May and have spent the last several months training in the Dominican Republic while waiting to be declared free agents.
The 22-year-old Victor Victor is the more highly regarded prospect of the two Mesa brothers and is expected to generate a fierce bidding war. Baseball America ranked him as the top international prospect on the market this summer and compared him to Nationals prospect Victor Robles. Here's what Sanchez wrote about the duo back in July:
Here's what we know: Victor Victor Mesa, 22, is considered an outstanding outfield defender with a strong arm. He's a plus runner and scouts like athleticism and pedigree. He made his debut for Matanzas in Cuba's Serie Nacional, the island's top league, at 16. He had three hits, including two doubles, in seven at-bats for Cuba during last year's World Baseball Classic.
Victor Jr., 16, was a star for Cuba's 18U national team and is a switch-hitting outfielder with hitting potential and a decent arm. Their father played almost two decades in Cuba's Serie Nacional starting in the late 1970's, and was a star outfielder for the Cuban national team. He managed in Cuba, Mexico and the 2017 World Baseball Classic team.
Victor Victor hit .275/.334/.378 with 10 home runs and 74 stolen bases in 312 career games in Cuba before defecting. Victor Jr., now 17, did not play in the Cuba's highest league before defecting only because he's still so young. Here is some video a recent Victor Victor workout:
It's unclear whether the Mesa brothers will look to sign as a package deal with one team, or split up and sign with separate teams. I suppose it depends on the offers.
Also, because both are under 23, the Mesas are subject to MLB's international hard cap, so this is not a true free agency. Teams can only offer whatever is left in their international budget, and, in some cases, teams have already maxed out their cap space on other players. The Yankees, for example, have spent all their international money already.
The international signing period opens on July 2 each year and MLB's bonus pools are based on market size, with small market teams getting the most money and large market teams getting the least. Sanchez reports the Orioles have the most money to offer the Mesa brothers at the moment.
The Orioles have $6.5 million in bonus pool money to spend on international prospects, the most money in baseball. The Marlins are next, with $4.3 million, followed by the Rays at $3.6 million and the Dodgers at $2.78 million. The brothers are expected to participate in a showcase for all 30 teams, possibly this month or next.
The O's ignored the international market in recent years, but as part of their rebuild, the team has renewed their focus on Latin America. They've already signed several international prospects this year and they've aggressively traded for international bonus money. (Teams can acquire as additional 75 percent of their hard cap space.) That puts them in position to make a big splash with Victor Victor and/or Victor Jr.
With the regular season nearly complete, the Mesa brothers can take their time showcasing themselves and fielding offers. They're not going to miss any games over the winter. Wherever he signs, Victor Victor is expected to begin his pro career in high Class-A or Double-A. Victor Jr. will begin in the lower levels of the minors.