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.

Explore posts in the same categories: Baseball Abroad

7 Comments on “Cuban Contretemps in Mexico”

  1. kabeiser Says:

    I liked gourriel when I saw him play last spring. He probably isn’t a star in the MLB (if he ever defected) but he would be good.

    • Burly Says:

      From what little I’ve read about Gourriel, it sounds like he’s already past his peak performance. Also, at age 30 this season, it’s hard to see him becoming a major league star even if he were available right now.

      That being said, NPB might be a perfect fit, if he can make the adjustments to Japanese baseball quickly. NPB teams generally don’t allow for a long learning curve, although they are beginning to stock-pile foreign players on their minor league teams, which gives foreign players at least some additional opportunity to adjust to the Japanese game.

  2. Burly Says:

    mlbtraderumors.com had a post on the Despaigne situation today. It says that MLB is the one who requested that the Mexican League require Cuban players to play under a third country passport. mlbtraderumors also suggests there would be substantial mlb interest in Despaigne were he to defect.

  3. Burly Says:

    The Mexican League has “temporarily” suspended Despaigne while it investigates his dubious Dominican passport. One has to feel pretty certain the passport is a fake, and this will be the end of Despaigne’s Mexican League career.

    So what’s next for Despaigne? He could got to Japan’s NPB like Gourriel, or, if he defected today, he could possibly be playing in the U.S. before the end of the 2014 season, based on the fact that Jose Abreu defected from Cuba in August 2013 and had signed with the White Sox in October.

  4. Burly Says:

    Another Cuban player who has not defected is playing in Japan’s NPB this season. Frederich Cepeda is playing for the Yomiuri Giants and hit his second home run today against the Seibu Lions.

  5. Burly Says:

    Yesterday Yulieski Gourriel became the sixth foreign player in Yokohama Bay Stars’ history to record a modasho (three hits in one game) in his first game. He went 0-for-4 today.

  6. Burly Says:

    The Mexican League has given Despaigne a lifetime ban making it more likely that Despaigne will play in Japan at some time in the future. In Japan, Despaigne could quite likely be the next Wladimir Balentien.


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