Trickle of Cuban Players into MLB Becoming a Flood

Most of the recent news in MLB, aside obviously from the play-offs and the Alex Rodriguez arbitration hearing, has been the signings of Cuban players who have defected at one time or another from Cuba.  Aside from the Chicago White Sox signing Jose Dariel Abreu for a record six years and $68 million this week, the Los Angeles Dodgers just signed soon-to-be 27 year old infielder Alex Guerrero for four years and $28 million, and a few days earlier the Boston Red Sox signed 27 year old righted-handed pitcher Dalier Hinojosa to a $4.25 million deal.

Up next is another right-hander of about the same age as Guerrero, Odrisamer Despaigne, who defected some time ago but has not yet been cleared for signing by the U.S. federal government.

Actually, Cuban ballplayers have been defecting for some time now and the rate of increase in their numbers has been fairly gradual over the last ten or so years.  Some have made it in the Show, and some haven’t, ending up in the Mexican League or in Japan’s NPB.

What seems to have changed more than anything else is the amount Cuban defectors are now signing for following the break-out success of Yasiel Puig this year and Yoenis Cespedes last year.  With each Cuban that signs and succeeds, the value of those more recently defected jumps.

I’m getting the sneaking suspicion that the Cuban government isn’t working anywhere near as hard as it once did to prevent its elite baseball players from defecting.  Yes, I’m sure players who try to defect and fail get punished, as are those who are suspected of planning to defect.

However, the Cuban government is now letting some players play abroad in Mexico or Japan during the summer in order to let those players make some money to reduce their likelihood of defecting.  Slugger Alfredo Despaigne, who played in Mexico this summer for a time, is an example.  At the same time, letting players play abroad makes it that much easier for these players to defect to the U.S. and MLB’s much larger salaries, since you can’t watch a player 24/7 playing abroad for months at a time.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on yakyubaka.com, an English-language website covering Japan’s NPB in depth, stating that this year’s Pacific League home run leader Michel Abreu plans to donate some athletic equipment when he returns to Cuba in November.  What is interesting about this report is that this Abreu defected from Cuba in 2004.

Abreu was initially signed by the Red Sox, who then voided the deal because they believed Abreu had shaved several years off this real age (he may be four years older than his currently reported 34), and Abreu then signed with the Mets.  He wasn’t successful enough in the U.S. minor leagues to reach the majors, and he ended up going to Mexico to play.  He eventually hit so well south of the border, he signed on with the NPB’s Nippon Ham Fighters before the 2013 season and gave them a terrific season for a reported $200,000 salary, low for every-day players even by the NPB’s standards).

If he is really free to return to Cuba now without major consequences after having previously defected, it’s clear that other top Cuban baseball players aren’t going to feel much compunction to stay in Cuba playing for peanuts.  Needless to say, if Abreu can return to Cuba, he returns with pockets loaded with cash, at least by Cuban standards, which certainly benefits just about everyone in Cuba in one way or another.

This, of course, may be the real reason the Cuban government is no longer doing all it can to keep its baseball stars at home.  Cuban Americans can now send money and cargo to their relatives in Cuba, which they are doing in abundance, and this money and goods have been a huge boon to the Cuban economy and by extension the Castro regime, which has also liberalized the economy slightly in recent years, now allowing limited, very small scale free enterprise.

I’m beginning to wonder if the ongoing need for Cuban players to “defect” to the U.S. is really just a way for the Cuban and U.S. governments to save face and get around the mutual embargoes both countries have against the other.  At any rate, we’ll continue to see MLB franchises pay huge sums to Cuban defectors at least until there are some spectacular high-priced failures.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Baseball Abroad, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Oakland A's

One Comment on “Trickle of Cuban Players into MLB Becoming a Flood”


  1. The exodus of players is attributed to $20-a-month state-controlled salaries, contrasting sharply with the potential big money abroad.


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