Major League Baseball is being invaded, and our old nemesis Cuba and its’ baseball players are the culprit. The relatively small country of Cuba has been a big focus of baseball executives everywhere this off-season, and for good reason. The historically talent rich country’s players are beginning to find their way into major league organizations on a regular basis again. Before political tensions stemmed the flow of Cuban players to America, Cuba, at one time was the biggest provider of international talent. In fact, MLB used to have its winter ball roots in the country known for its’ cigars and its baseball.
If recent history continues, it looks like Cuban players are going to be playing a major role in MLB free agency once again.
The obvious prize of the 2011-12 Cuban free agency class is Yoennis Cespedes. Rarely has there been as much hype surrounding a Cuban import. Well, since Aroldis Chapman of a few years ago anyway. Cespedes has just recently obtained residency in the Dominican Republic and is now a free agent. Let the bidding begin. I know we have been in favor of it here at MCB. And while the focus from all of us has largely been on the freak of nature that is Yoennis, quietly a quality crop of Cuban players has been invading American baseball clubs for the past few years with relative frequency.
The two newest Cuban born players who recently signed, certainly don’t come with the same amount of fanfare as Cespedes, but do have some talent nonetheless. The Cubs just recently signed young lefty Gerardo Concepcion, who at the age of 19 possesses a potential plus 3 pitch mix. It was no surprise the Cubs got involved, Epstein and crew are familiar with the Cuban market from his Boston days. There, Epstein and company signed SS Jose Iglesias to an over 8M dollar deal a couple of years ago.
The Royals just signed 22 year old outfielder Roman Hernandez Jorrin to a deal as well. The Royals have been aggressive in general the past few years in the international market, and this isn’t their first deal with a Cuban player either. Last season, the Royals added OF Yem Prades to their robust minor league talent base. A couple years prior, it was young left-handed starter Noel Arguelles.
These two organizations aren’t the only two getting involved in the Cuban market the past couple of seasons. The Tigers division rival White Sox went out and got SS Alexei Ramirez and OF prospect Dayan Viciedo from Cuba. The Reds of course landed the aforementioned Aroldis Chapman before 2010. The Blue Jays added SS Adeiny Hechavarria for $10M a couple years ago, and finally, the Rangers added talented OF Leonys Martin to their mix for 15.5M dollars.
Most of that talent listed above is still unrealized fully, and kind of represents a change from when we used to see more veteran players making their way to big league rosters. That leads me to the current crop of Cuban players that look like they could be signing with major league clubs soon.
Besides Cespedes, there is potential for guys like Jorge Soler, Armando Rivero, and Omar Luis Rodriguez to sign as well. Relative “veterans” like outfielders Henry Urrutia and Gerald Sanchez could potentially be available soon as well. One thing in common is the relative youth of all these players. Sanchez is the oldest at 26, so for the most part, clubs can treat these signings as more advanced draft picks.
The exciting news is that the Tigers still appear to be in on Yoennis Cespedes, despite dropping a literal boatload of cash recently on Prince Fielder. Given the financial restraints coming this summer on these types of players, they may want to get their guys now.
I’ve pushed for the Tigers to get involved with Jorge Soler in particular before, as he projects as a prototypical RF with excellent raw power and a strong arm. I go more in depth on a scouting report here, and I still believe this would be a good move. Detroit adding talent to their system would certainly be a good thing, and it’s needed. More importantly for the Tigers, however, could be just showing Cuban players that they are friendly to signing deals with them. It would be a nice future marketing ploy for them in acquiring future players from Cuba. Having a couple Cuban players on their roster already could make the White Sox a dark horse in the race to acquire Cespedes.
It used to be years ago, Cuban players had to go all Mission Impossible just to shake free from the grasp of their National team. That might very well still be the case, however, it certainly seems like we are getting Cuban players a little more freely as of late. It certainly couldn’t be a better time for them personally to test the MLB free agency waters. Come July 2nd, MLB teams are going to be limited in what they can spend on international free agents, so maybe there is a correlation here. Time is running out for these talented players to cash in, and MLB executives seem to be more than happy to oblige. It’s just another avenue for them to add talent after all.
Whatever the reason we are seeing more Cuban players being signed the past couple of years, it could be a positive for baseball. While the political climate of the two countries hasn’t really changed, including Cuba in the World Baseball Classic was a good thing. Their rich history in the sport just shouldn’t be overlooked.
After all, baseball might be America’s National Pastime, but it is a decidedly international game.
And that’s how it should be.