If all goes according to plan, the bidding for two of the most mysterious free agents this offseason is going to perk up right around the middle of January.
No, we're not talking about Prince Fielder and Ryan Madson, the best free-agent slugger and closer still in search of a new team.
We're talking about Yoenis Cespedes and Jorge Soler, the latest Cubans to capture the imagination of Major League Baseball executives from coast to coast.
The Phillies are among the teams that have watched Cespedes and Soler work out in the Dominican Republic. In Cespedes' case, his work also has been on display during international competitions, including the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
There is also the YouTube video of his workout that is so freakishly impressive that NFL teams might line up to take him in the first round if they see it. Unfortunately, the video is no longer available. Cespedes, however, is, albeit at an astronomical price.
One baseball scout recently said he has heard that some teams might be willing to pay as much as $50 million for Cespedes, a 26-year-old centerfielder who will probably be playing in the big leagues during the 2012 season. The scout said he believes the paperwork for Cespedes and Soler should be in order by the middle of next month, which would allow teams to start bidding on both players shortly thereafter.
The bidding process works like this: Teams make an offer to the players' agents, and after the initial highest bid is revealed, those teams have a chance to sweeten their offers.
Although they have scouted Cespedes, it seems unlikely that the Phillies will get involved in the bidding. Given the recent history of Cuban players in the big leagues, it would probably be unwise if they did.
According to Baseball America, the largest contract ever signed by a Cuban player was the $30.25 million given to Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman in 2010. That record is almost certainly going to be broken.
There have been plenty of other million-dollar bids for Cuban players over the last decade, but very few have provided bang for the buck. That's especially true about Cuban position players.
It's easy to understand why the market is so expensive for these guys. It's all about supply and demand. Cuban players are only slightly more available than Cuban cigars, and the quality of baseball is considered to be equally good.
For whatever reason, however, the players who have reached the majors have rarely lived up to the hype.
That could be changing. Kendry Morales, signed by the Los Angeles Angels in 2004, appeared to finally be coming into his own before his devastating leg injury in 2010, and Leonys Martin, who signed a five-year, $15.5 million deal with Texas last year, made a quick ascent to the big leagues in his first season.
Still, it is going to be a great risk for whatever team signs Cespedes, especially if the total value of the deal is north of even $30 million.
The Phillies have always shied away from bidding on Cuban defectors, but a case could be made that they should make an exception for Soler, who is also a power-hitting centerfielder who some scouts believe will end up at a corner outfield position.
At 19, however, Soler fits better for the Phillies because their minor-league system needs replenishing, thanks to the many deals that have sent prospects to other places. The Phillies' system is especially lacking in position players, so a chance to get a guy who has first-round-pick talent and could make a quick ascent to the big leagues has to be seriously considered.
The problem? The bidding could become almost as outrageous for Soler as it will be for Cespedes. There have been estimates that Soler will receive in excess of $20 million. Any team that pays that price would be insane.
Bryce Harper, the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, received $9.9 million as part of a five-year contract with the Washington Nationals. Stephen Strasburg got $15.1 million in a four-year deal the year before.
It's difficult to believe that Soler will be better than those two.
A better use of team funds on the international market would be to spend upward of $500,000 on the best non-Cuban international players.
The Phillies took a step in that direction last summer when they signed 16-year-old Venezuelan Carlos Tocei for $759,000. That's more than the Phillies have typically paid for international players, but signing five players at that price is a better philosophy than putting all of your money into one player like Soler.
Tocei, for the record, did not disappoint this fall in the Venezuelan Parallel League, hitting .306 against competition much older than him. With Tocei and last year's first pick, Larry Greene, the Phillies' outfield prospects could be considerably better by the end of next summer.
If somehow they could also find a way to add Soler at a realistic price, it would not seem to matter much at all that they had to give up so many prospects to bring Cliff Lee (the first time), Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence here.