SEATTLE — Saturday is the first day 19-year-old Cuban free agent Luis Robert can sign, and the White Sox are one of the top contenders for the talented center fielder.
The Cardinals are also right there, according to Baseball America, “and I still think there are three or four other teams lurking that will make a run,’’ a veteran scout said Friday. “The Padres and Astros come to mind immediately.’’
Sox general manager Rick Hahn, who, along with vice president Ken Williams, scouted Robert at a private workout in the Dominican Republic, said last week the bidding for Robert would be “extremely robust.’’
The Sox, whose approximate $100 million payroll will be reduced thanks to the expiring contracts of Melky Cabrera ($15 million) and Todd Frazier ($12 million) after the season and possible trades of David Robertson (owed $13 million in 2018) and Jose Quintana ($8.85 million), have the wherewithal to sign the fast, powerful 6-2 prospect.
“This will be fun to watch unfold,’’ the scout said. “You can slowly feel the price climbing out of control.’’
Robert, who is expected to sign for at least $20 million and also would cost his new team a luxury tax matching the amount he signs for, will be the last top international talent to sign under the old collective-bargaining agreement. The Cubs are among the teams who can’t sign him because they exceeded their international spending pool in 2015-16.
The Sox have a long history of Cuban players, including Minnie Minoso, Jose Contreras, Alexei Ramirez and Jose Abreu, who signed a six-year, $68 million contract in October 2013 at age 26. Because of their age difference, Abreu hasn’t played with Robert.
“But I’ve seen him play, and I’ve seen some videos of him and he looks like a very good ballplayer,’’ Abreu said through an interpreter.
Abreu said Robert will face challenges on numerous fronts no matter where he signs when he begins his career in the U.S.
“It’s a very tough process,’’ he said. “Just because you are talented and have a gift doesn’t mean you will have success. Especially for us, it’s different and probably harder because we have to move to this country, and that’s another process that is probably as challenging as the process to play baseball. You have to find the right people to have around you, people who can advise and help you.’’
The Sox also have prized Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada, 21, at Class AAA Charlotte.
Jones throws again
Right-hander Nate Jones (elbow neuritis) threw about 25 pitches, all fastballs and sliders, in his second bullpen session Friday since going on the disabled list.
“After today’s [session], I felt pretty good, so I would think maybe just one or two more and I could be ready for a [simulated] game or whatever they have for me to do,’’ he said.
Leury Garcia out
Leury Garcia, who left the game in the fifth inning Thursday after getting hit by a pitch on the right (throwing) elbow, was out of the lineup Friday but hoped to play Saturday.
Willy Garcia played center field in place of Leury, who is batting .298.
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