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Oscar Colas Declared Free Agent By Major League Baseball

Major League Baseball has declared outfielder/pitcher Oscar Colas a free agent, reports’s Jesse Sanchez (via Twitter). The 22-year-old was recently declared a free agent by Japan’s SoftBank Hawks after an ugly dispute between player and team. Colas and his family publicly alleged that he was deceived when signing his original contract — a deal he believed to be three years in length but one that held several club option years. Jim Allen outlined the saga in a thorough piece for the Kyodo News earlier this summer, and fans unfamiliar with Colas and his story will want to read Allen’s story for full context on the situation.

Turning to the future for Colas, he’ll now be eligible to sign with a team beginning on Jan. 15, 2021. That’s the official kickoff date for the 2020-21 international signing period — a date that was pushed back from its typical July 2 commencement as teams placed their focus and resources elsewhere while seeking to ramp up for shortened 2020 season.

Given his age and lack of professional experience, Colas is restricted to signing a minor league contract and is subject to international bonus pools. A team cannot exceed its league-allotted bonus pool in order to sign Colas, and teams aren’t allowed to trade international pool space for the 2020-21 period (another concept agreed to as the league sorted out return-to-play conditions prior to the season).

That, as Baseball America’s Ben Badler explained yesterday, leads to a tricky situation for Colas. Using the White Sox as an example, Badler writes that between outfielder Yoelki Cespedes, who recently agreed to sign with the Sox once the signing period officially begins, and prior agreements with righty Norge Vera and others, most of the ChiSox’ pool is already used up. Most teams throughout the league are in a similar spot, per Badler.

That’s not uncommon, as most deals for international amateurs are agreed to months or even years in advance. But it’s also not a good thing for Colas, who is only now becoming a free agent at a time when most teams have committed the bulk of their signing pools to other players. Badler suggests that Colas could consider waiting all the way until the 2021-22 signing period to agree to terms with a deal, although it’s likely that some clubs will try to sway him to sign sooner than that.

There’s a good bit of hype surrounding Colas, some of which stems from the dubious “Cuban Ohtani” moniker associated with him. That seems an unfair and frankly misleading nickname to place on a player who, despite reportedly possessing a fastball that can touch 95 mph, has pitched just 3 1/3 professional innings, all of which came as a 19-year-old during the 2018-19 Cuban National Series. Colas didn’t pitch during his time with the Hawks. Ohtani, meanwhile, had 543 innings of 2.52 ERA ball with 624 strikeouts in NPB by the time he jumped to the Majors as a 23-year-old.

Colas spent the bulk of his time in Japan with the Hawks’ minor league club in the Japan Western League, which is certainly sensible given that he was just 18 upon reporting to the Hawks for his first season. He struggled in his first Western League campaign but raked at a .302/.350/.516 clip in 2019, earning a promotion to the Hawks’ big league roster as a 20-year-old. Colas homered in his first plate appearance after the promotion and went 5-for-18 with that homer, a walk and six strikeouts in 21 trips to the plate. During his first two years with the Hawks, he’d also suit up during the winter for his pro team in Cuba. Overall, in parts of three seasons in Cuba’s top league, Colas is a .305/.381/.487 hitter.

FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen doesn’t have Colas near the top of his international prospect rankings, writing that he’s a “more stable prospect as a lefty first base/designated hitter/right field type” than as a pitcher. That’s not to say that a team won’t try to develop him on the mound, but comparisons to Ohtani simply don’t seem appropriate.

For all the intrigue surrounding the 22-year-old Colas, there’s also considerable uncertainty, both as to when he might actually sign and whether clubs will view him as a legitimate two-way option or prefer to focus on developing his abilities as a hitter and outfielder.

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