Cuban Contretemps in Mexico
Something weird is going on with Alfredo Despaigne‘s attempts to play in the Mexican League this season. Although Despaigne is a Cuban who has not defected, he’s reportedly playing in Mexico this season on a false Dominican passport.
First, some background. Despaigne is a Cuban slugger who in recent seasons has been comparable as a home run hitter to Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Abreu in Cuba’s Serie Nacional. Unlike Cespedes and Abreu, Despaigne has so far elected not to defect to the United States to make the big money.
Instead, under a relatively new program instituted by the Cuban government to prevent ballplayer defections, Despaigne was been allowed to play in Mexico for five or six weeks last season and has played in 18 Mexican League games this season. Mexico has no embargo on Cuban products or athletes. However, the Mexican League has a working agreement with MLB that apparently affects Cuban players playing in the Mexican League.
The espn.com article I read is pretty unclear as to why Despaigne would have a Dominican passport at all, but from what is sounds like, Cuba has a problem with the Mexican League’s working agreement with MLB, but Cuba still wants its stars to be able to play in the Mexican League so they can make some money and not defect to the U.S., so the fig leaf seems to be getting a passport for the ball player from a third country, in this case the Dominican Republic.
However, Dominican authorities are now saying that Despaigne’s passport has irregularities, the most important of which would be that Despaigne has never resided in or had any other connection with the Dominican Republic. The Mexican League says it will take some kind of action if the passport turns out to be illegitimate, although it has no rules for this situation since it has never come up before. If this all sounds rather confused, I would say that’s probably because it is.
Perhaps the more important piece of information is that Despaigne isn’t exactly lighting up the Mexican League this season any more than he did in his 33 game stint last year. He’s batting .333/.377/.611, which sounds great, but isn’t in the context of the Mexican League. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, his .988 OPS would rank 24th in the league.
Despaigne does, however, have the second best OPS on his team, the Campeche Pirates, just ahead of former major leaguer Matt Laporta, for what that’s worth. However, at age 28 Despaigne is not presently looking like major league material even if he should elect to defect in the near future.
In somewhat related news, another Cuban star who has not defected, 30 year old infielder Yulieski Gourriel, has just signed a contract to play for the DeNa Bay Stars of Japan’s NPB. The total package may be worth as much as $1 million. It’s unknown how much of this would have to be turned over by Gourriel to the Cuban government. After the recent success of Cuban defectors Michel Abreu (hurt this season, but led NPB’s Pacific League in HRs last year) and Leslie Anderson (he’s off to a hot start for the Yomiuri Giants this season), there’s a good chance Alfredo Despaigne will end up playing in NPB if his passport problems are not resolved favorably in Mexico.