The Flood of Cuban Players

I just read a good article on espn.com about one of the side effects of the flood of Cuban baseball players into the international market since the beginning of 2014: huge numbers of Cuban professionals are stuck in the Dominican Republic unable to play baseball professionally because they aren’t quite good enough to sign lucrative contracts with MLB organizations.  The article reports that 349 Cuban ballplayers have left Cuba since the start of 2014.

I’ve written about the flood of Cuban players several times in recent years (see this article for example), mainly as it effects the major leagues.  The espn.com article reflects one obvious effect of the ginormous contracts that the very best Cuban players have signed in recent years.

The problems for the perhaps several hundred Cuban players stuck in the Dominican Republic are fairly obvious.  Most of them were good but not great Serie Nacional regulars who are past age 28, who simply do not have a reasonable chance of making the major leagues going forward, and thus cannot get offers from mlb organizations that the buscones, who fronted the money to smuggle the players out of Cuba and who typically get about 30% of the player’s first post-Cuba professional contract, are hoping to get.

The last three-plus years have already begun to show that the early bargains (by MLB standards) for players like Aroldis Chapman and Jose Abreu resulted in irrational exuberance on the part of many MLB organizations who signed a number of Cubans players for too much money and got burned.  For example, the Dodgers and Red Sox have committed a grand total of $193 million to Hector Olivera, Rusney Castillo, Alex Guerrero and Yaisel Sierra in deals which now look like wild overpays (Sierra may yet be a capable major league reliever, but I’m doubtful he’ll prove to be worth the $30 million the Dodgers will be paying him through 2021).

In short, we have probably reached a point now where mlb organizations will still pony up eight figure contracts for the very best Cuban defectors, some of whom will pan out and some of whom will not, but organizations aren’t going to throw even low six figure amounts at players who don’t have a reasonable chance of playing in the majors going forward.  Japanese NPB teams will offer signing bonuses between $100,000 and $1M for a handful of these players, but that still leaves the vast majority with few prospects.

After the major leagues, there are plenty of places for these second-tier Cubans to play professionally, including Mexico, the Independent-A Leagues and the Carribbean Winter Leagues, but none of those will offer the kinds of signing bonuses the buscones are looking for just to cover their initial investments in bringing the players in from Cuba and supporting the players in the D.R. for up to a year.  Meanwhile, many players end up sitting around in the Dominican Republic for years, their skills rapidly atrophying, often without proper papers and unable to play professionally anywhere.

One thing that some of the recent over-pays for Cuban players also shows is that the value of baseball talent to MLB organizations is just enormous.  The MLB Draft and the International bonus pools artificially decrease the monies teams pay for amateur talent subject to these regimes substantially.  As a result, any player who can escape these regimes, such as MLB free agents or foreign veteran professionals from Cuba, tend in a mature market to be overpaid as a result of the fact that mlb organizations have a surplus of money freed up to throw at these players who are operating in much closer to a free market environment.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Baseball Abroad, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers

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