SEATTLE — The White Sox mean business when it comes to this rebuilding project.
The organization put its investment dollars where its mouth is by coming to an agreement with prized Cuban prospect Luis Robert, a 19-year-old outfielder who likely will cost in the neighborhood of $50 million.
Considered the equivalent of a top-five draft pick, Robert became eligible to sign Saturday, and the Sox, using their history of Cuban players before him as a selling point, convinced Robert to choose the South Side over St. Louis.
A deal at slightly above $25 million, a major-league source confirmed, also had sway. It’s the second-highest bonus for an international amateur under the current signing guidelines after Yoan Moncada’s $31.5 million with the Red Sox. The Sox also will have to pay a luxury tax close to the equivalent amount to Major League Baseball in accordance with the signing guidelines.
The deal, which hasn’t been announced by the Sox, might not be made official till early next week.
The Sox embarked on the rebuild this past offseason when they traded Chris Sale for four Red Sox prospects and Adam Eaton for three highly rated Nationals minor-leaguers. Moncada, rated the No. 1 prospect by MLBPipeline.com, came in the Sale deal, and he and Robert could follow Minnie Minoso, Jose Contreras, Alexei Ramirez, Orlando Hernandez and Jose Abreu on the Sox’ distinguished all-time Cuban roster.
Abreu signed a six-year, $68 million contract, the largest in Sox history, in October 2013 at 26. As part of the Sox’ sales pitch, Abreu said he spoke to Robert in a video, which Moncada and bilingual manager Rick Renteria also took part in.
“I told him that the White Sox were a great organization, that this is an organization that will take care of the Cuban players and has a high respect for us, and that it would be very special to have him playing with us,’’ Abreu said.
The 6-3, 200-pound Robert is a swift, power-hitting five-tool player who projects in center field. He adds a premium offensive talent in the outfield, an area in which the organization is thin. While Moncada, 21, has major-league experience and is playing at Class AAA Charlotte, Robert likely would be assigned to low or perhaps high Class A.
Shortly after general manager Rick Hahn and vice president Ken Williams attended a private workout for Robert in the Dominican Republic this month, Hahn said Robert was “an extremely talented young man who is going to have an impact on whatever organization he winds up joining.’’
While the price for top Cuban prospects has been expensive, not all have made the impacts their organizations were banking on, including Erisbel Arruebarrena and Alex Guerrero with the Dodgers, Hector Olivera with the Braves and Rusney Castillo with the Red Sox. Dayan Viciedo was a miss for the Sox, and Jorge Soler didn’t click for the Cubs.
But many have, and the Sox, who were gaining traction in the Latin American market under international operations chief Marco Paddy before adding Moncada and Robert, will be projecting that talented young pair to lead them back to the postseason — foreign territory for the team since 2008.
Moncada, on the disabled list with a bruised thumb, is batting .331 at Charlotte and will join the Sox at some point this season.
The Sox were in a position to spend with their payroll of around $100 million shrinking 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), among others.
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