The Misguided Cuban Rush
How Cuban Players Have Cashed-In on Desperate Ownership
Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig shocked the baseball world with their defections and domination of Major League Baseball in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Both players finished in the top 15 in MVP votes and second for Rookie of the Year in their debuts. At the time, both players signed life-changing deals for themselves, as Cespedes signed with Oakland for four years and $36 million, while Puig signed a seven-year, $42 million deal with the Dodgers. However, despite Cespedes receiving $110 million over the next four years this winter, he was forced into a deal with an opt-out to prove himself worthy of such a deal, while Puig faces an uphill battle to reclaim value after two down seasons, potentially sharing time with Andre Ethier in right field for Los Angeles.
Why do these things matter? Because MLB teams have sunk millions of dollars into contracts for unproven Cuban-born players, seeking the “lightning-in-a-bottle” that Cespedes, Puig’s rookie season, and Aroldis Chapman‘s left arm have provided for their teams. The only problem with all of these sunken costs is that teams don’t appear willing to dump such drastic amounts of money into any other international market, despite the significant failures of recent Cuban signings, such as:
Yasmany Tomas: six years, $68.5 million
Alex Guerrero: four years, $28 million
Yoan Lopez: $8.25 million signing bonus
Erisbel Arruebarrena: five years, $25 million
Hector Olivera: six years, $62.5 million
Rusney Castillo: seven years, $72.5 million
While teams seem willing to outbid each other for these players, they seem unwilling to make the same commitment to Korean and Japanese League players. Certainly, MLB clubs don’t have to worry about posting fees for players from Cuba, but the guaranteed money in baseball contracts that several of the aforementioned players received outweighed those fees for any players this side of Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Are there any real reasons why clubs are so willing to shell out millions of dollars in gambles, or, better yet, why MLB allows clubs to spend so freely on these types of signings, while being so strict on signing bonuses for young players from the Dominican Republic, creating a pool for international signings for many of the 16 and 17-year-old kids from Latin America?
Obviously, there have been more signings and appearances of Cuban-born players than those who have bombed, as Livan Hernandez, Orlando Hernandez, Jose Contreras, and, more recently, White Sox 1B Jose Abreu, have had success, as well; however, the investments in players like Yoan Moncada, who cost the Boston Red Sox $63 million (due to the 100% penalty for going over their international pool allotment after signing him with a $31.5 million signing bonus), just to see him dealt for Chris Sale this winter, seems confusing when Boston could lock-up players who are proven commodities. Imagine if the club had $130 million in the bank to lock-up Mookie Betts to a long-time deal to continue his career in Boston…
The gamble seems downright absurd.
Major League Baseball has a lot of money in the game. While Rob Manfred spends his time trying to find ways to speed up the game, it continues to bank on its digital media platform and the rich revenues that allow owners to throw money away in the millions. Unfortunately, it is time that the commissioner finds ways to speed up common sense in front offices. It is dangerous to have so many millions of dollars in dead money, leaving teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks handcuffed by the idiotic contract that Dave Stewart and Tony LaRussa tied them down with by signing Tomas.
No, baseball doesn’t need to go the route of non-guaranteed contracts like the NFL, but they should consider finding ways for clubs to have a level playing field when it comes to signing these highly-coveted international players, as the recent failures in this international signing lottery has so clearly demonstrated.
The failures of the league in controlling the overspending in Cuba cries for the league to develop an international draft. Major League Baseball has a level of parity when you see a team like Cleveland in the World Series, but the super contracts that teams are giving to unqualified players is not good for the game.
Baseball teams don’t need to be desperate to be great. Baseball needs to save the teams from themselves and end the insanity of massive contracts going to unproven players. Not all of the Cuban-born players are as good as the cigars.