The trickle of baseball players escaping from Communist Cuba has suddenly become a torrent. There are various reasons being attributed to this trend, but the overall reason is clear: it’s about money, plain and simple. But that aside, the Atlanta Braves have been linked to interest in a number of these recent refugees, and today we have another one to profile: Aledmys Diaz.
Multiple sources have the Braves interested in him: this tweet from David O’Brien sums it up fairly well:
#Braves scouted 23-yr-old Cuban INF Aledmys Diaz multiple times, like him at right $. Yanks, Giants, Cards, Phils could push price too high.
— David O’Brien (@ajcbraves) February 23, 2014
A Brief History of Diaz
[Editor's Note: Matt Diaz has forever screwed me up on the pronunciation of the "Diaz" surname - if this kid actually gets into the organization, it's going to take quite a while to get me to say his name as "DEE-az" rather than the Caveman's preferred "DIE-az". Okay... got that out of the way... carry on... ]
Aledmys Diaz is probably 23 years old. I say “probably” because he’s already been caught lying about his age once, which is why he isn’t already signed by a major league club. The penalty was a delay in eligibility until last week. He had been a member – not a star – of the Cuban National team from 2007-2012. He bats right, throws right, and by all accounts has a decent future as a hitter. Defense is a bit spotty, which was fairly important, given that he is a shortstop. He got into 1 Mexican winter league game in 2013, striking out twice in 3 plate appearances for the Tomateros de Culiacan club.
Wait a second. Didn’t we just sign the best shortstop in the galaxy for the next 7 years?
Yes… yes we did. So… why the interest?
As suggested above, price will be a factor (I’ll get to that in a bit), though there’s one thing about Diaz that is certain: he will not play shortstop at the major league level – at least not for Atlanta. Scouting reports are a bit mixed on him (Yoenis Cespedes called him a ‘great’ shortstop, though error counts tend to suggest otherwise). I have seen some questions about his range and footwork, though his arm seems very good – at least judging from the video here. He seems to have some power potential, plus he has hit for average, though that in a “high-offensive environment”.
So What Could He Do For Atlanta?
The short answer is “either second or third base.” The longer answer involves the personnel currently stationed at those respective positions.
- Third Base/Chris Johnson. Chris will be 30 years old in October. He just had a career year with the bat, too. While I’m among those who think that he will continue to hit very well during 2014, there is a definite regression risk with him. Furthermore, Chris just agreed to a $4.75m deal with Atlanta to settle his second – of four - arbitration years. He is a Super-2 guy. He has not been offered a long-term extension (note last week’s observation that all extensions given last week – except for Freeman’s – expire prior to age 30).
In other words, Chris Johnson’s days with Atlanta are likely numbered. If there is no better available option, he could remain for 2015, for his bat is certainly useful, though his glove… well, he does use one.
- What about other third basemen in the system? For now, Edward Salcedo is the next in line, though his defense has not shown much improvement for his entire minor league career. He regularly leads his teams in errors. His bat has also been slow to come around. He has been highly ranked as a prospect virtually since signing with Atlanta in 2010. Yet he’s never hit over .250 in a full season… and he’ll be 23 this Summer. Another prospect, 2013 draftee Victor Caratini is too far away from the majors as yet, but looked good in his pro debut last summer.
- Second base/Dan Uggla. The ‘cautious optimism’ expressed by the coaches on Dan’s progress since last Fall is good, but that’s also not a ringing endorsement, either. Regardless, you’ve got to think that the first decent/palatable offer for Dan will get him a plane ticket to a new home. But even without one, I would have to think that another down year could get him an outright release by next off-season… even with the $13.2 million severance check. So while Dan still has 2 years technically under contract, I do not see a (realistic) scenario in which he remains a Brave beyond this year. [dreams in which he slashes .280/.380/.550 with 35 homers are not considered 'realistic.']
- What about other second basemen in the system? Yes, like Tommy La Stella. Because Dan is still here, Tommy gets to hone his skills at Gwinnett this year… ready to go at a moment’s notice. Given what Tommy does and what Diaz can do, I believe that the 2nd base position has to be La Stella’s to lose starting next year, and that Atlanta cannot be looking at Diaz to fill that spot.
Ergo, it is my opinion that Diaz could be looked upon as an option for the hot corner, starting perhaps in 2015. This also seems to fit with the scouting reports suggesting he could use a season of AAA before coming to the majors. There’s just not many other scenarios I can concoct that would make sense with the Braves showing such interest.
So What About the Price and Such?
That’s the rub here. And I have to believe there’s two things (at least) driving this bus:
- Interest from other teams – around 8 of them. The Cardinals had been most closely linked as ‘interested’ and ‘needy’.
- The age deception thing – which has no other intention except to try and get around the rules for International signings that limits the potential contract dollars available.
However – and this is a big one - the Yankees held a private workout with Diaz over the weekend. This didn’t help him. I quote from MLBTR:
- One club official who watched Cuban infielder Aledmys Diaz‘s last workout told Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com that Diaz profiles as a utility infielder and may struggle at shortstop in the Majors (Twitter link). The Yankees have reportedly passed on Diaz, but multiple other clubs still have interest.
They also reported that the Yankees saw him up close and personal… and will decline to offer him a contract. Wow. Even our sister site Redbird Rants is now calling Diaz “over-hyped”, begging the Cardinals to pass on him.
All of this could play into the hands of the Braves.
All that written above about how Diaz might need some minor league time? Well, his plan to join the Majors immediately could come all unraveled with this weekend’s news. That will certainly lower his price… and maybe even his timing goals. The Braves could certainly use the year to find out what Diaz can really do, and then opt to use him in 2015… or not, if he’s not ready. Either way, this will not be a $20-$30 million signing as many were originally projecting.
Other teams are still involved, for sure, but news like that gets around fast, and will definitely throw cold water on the proceedings.
So stay tuned… this has a chance of working out for the kind of timing that I believe Atlanta would prefer.