It would seem that Cuba is once again having serious problems in keeping its citizens on their island. In particular, baseball players seem to be leaking out in droves. Just yesterday, word came that pitcher Misael Silverio escaped from team control on Tuesday while attending an exhibition in Iowa (compared to most defectors, this was apparently an easy escape).
Last night, Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com posted a story about fellow Cuban Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who defected from Cuba early this year. On Monday, he was granted an “unblocking license” from the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (did you know such an agency existed? Or that it apparently matters in terms of signing foreign-born baseball players?). This – beyond being granted free agency by major league baseball itself – allows him to sign with a professional baseball club.
I’ll cut to the chase. The Braves are said to be interested in him.
He could be a little rusty. Cuba suspended the 26-year-old Gonzalez from the national team a couple of years ago since he got caught trying to escape. [ Yasiel Puig (you may have heard of him) was said to have attempted to leave Cuba close to 20 times before being successful... and there's a story that members of a Mexican drug cartel could have supplied him with the assistance needed to finally be successful. Clearly, these people want to get out of Cuba. And clearly, there are risky levels to which many will stoop to achieve that goal. ] But while he is old-ish for a pitching prospect, the reports indicate that he could be major league ready – very soon. Like “this season” soon.
What’s he got? According to Sanchez, he’s right-handed, has a mid-90′s fastball, changeup, forkball, and curve. He has already competed in high-level tournaments in Tokyo and in World Baseball Cup (not the ‘Classic’) games between 2009 and 2011. Reports are that a few minor league starts might be sufficient to get him into the majors.
Who Wants Him? Well, frankly, it’s probably anybody looking for starting pitching here at the trade deadline. Sanchez lists these teams as the Dodgers, Rangers, Red Sox for sure. He also specifically mentioned the Phillies, Blue Jays and Braves. Bleacher Report listed the Angels as well, which could make sense, though their payroll is bulging. The Cubs are also seriously in on him, though certainly not for help this year. Of these teams, the Dodgers already won the bidding for Puig, and the Cubs did for Jorge Soler.
Why So Much Interest? A couple of reasons: the ‘major-league ready’ thing is obviously important. The scouts seeing him in showcase events have obviously been impressed. For a pitcher, this also means that he’s more of a ‘sure thing’ than most prospects – of any age. That makes the money value more worth the risk. In addition, with the number of teams seeking pitching now, the demand certainly exceeds the supply (the Ricky Nolasco deal illustrates this for sure), so Gonzalez represents years of quality without having to yield key prospects.
Ah, the money… what about that? He’s not gonna be cheap. Gonzalez’ age means that he is in the ‘grandfather clause’ group, and is not subject to the monetary signing restrictions now placed on new International signees (the limit just broken by the Cubs in their own 2013 signing spree). So to give you some ballpark figures…
- Puig signed for seven years, $42 million. (Dodgers)
- Yoenis Cespedes signed for 4 years, $36 million (A’s)
- Jorge Soler signed for 9 years and $30 million (Cubs)
- Korean pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu signed with the Dodgers for 6 years, $36 million (plus a $23.7m posting fee)
I would not be surprised if Gonzalez goes for something in the range of 4-5 years and $40-$60 million.
Can the Braves afford that? Kinda. New money from the new national TV deals and restructured local deals help a bunch. Honestly, the idea of bringing in a possible ‘ace’ could provide sway to help get some of the youngsters (Freeman, Heyward, etc.) into longer term deals. Other contracts would have to come off the books for next year to help, though (McCann? Maholm? Hudson?). But let’s not worry about that unless this actually happens.
When Will This Happen? Could be very soon… before the trade deadline for sure. Once the bidding starts… and it’s now “on”, these internationals typically don’t wait very long before getting inked to a deal.
So what if we miss out on him? There are more coming. Jesse Sanchez also cites Dalier Hinojosa (27 years old) who has now also been cleared to sign with any team. Odrisamer Despaigne (26) has also defected and in in Barcelona (yes, Spain) while he is in the process of being cleared to sign. Further out are 19-year-old Leandro Linares (he would be cheaper since he’s subject to the international monetary restrictions on signing, but would not be major-league ready) and Silverio, mentioned above.
This would be a significant departure in form for Atlanta, though the were some rumblings of interest in some of the prior defectors available. Then again, we do have this Cuban-born manager…