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11/07/11 11:30 PM EST
Free-agent pool ready for influx of Cuban talent
By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com
The free-agent market will receive a boost when a large group of players from Cuba become eligible to sign with Major League clubs before the end of the year. Outfielders Yoennis Cespedes, 26, and Jorge Soler, 19, along with right-handed pitcher Armando Rivero, 23, all participated in showcases last week in the Dominican Republic and highlight a list of Cuban players that could show up on big league rosters next season. It's uncertain when they will become free agents, because they are in the process of becoming eligible to play in the United States. What's certain is that, for the third consecutive year, several players from Cuba are creating a buzz in the industry. Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman is arguably the most recognizable name among the new crop of players from the island, and the Reds made a splash when they signed the hard-throwing left-hander to a six-year $30.25 million deal in January 2010. But Chapman is only a small part of a large group of the recently signed Cubans. Three months after Chapman, infielder Adeiny Hechavarria signed a four-year, $10 million deal with the Blue Jays. Pitcher Yunesky Maya signed a four-year, $8 million deal with the Nationals that July. Before the start of the 2009 season, Dayan Viciedo signed a four-year, $10 million deal with the White Sox, and shortstop Jose Iglesias signed a four-year, $8.25 million contract with the Red Sox near the end of the season.
Last May, the Rangers signed outfielder Leonys Martin to a five-year, 15.5 million deal, including a $5 million signing bonus.Only Hechavarria, who finished last season at Triple-A for Toronto, has not appeared in the big leagues, but he appears on track to make his debut in 2012. "The players are seeing the success their fellow countrymen are having, and they're enticed to test themselves in this market," said agent Bart Hernandez, who represents several Cuban players, including Martin, Hechavarria and Maya. "Players in Cuba are judging themselves right now and realizing they have comparable or equal skills to the guys signing, and they are deciding to take their chances." It's too early to tell what type of contracts Cespedes, Soler and Rivero will command, but there's no denying the interest by Major League clubs. Cespedes, who is represented by agent Adam Katz, wowed scouts during his showcase in Santiago and is scheduled for a workout with the Marlins this week. According to Yahoo.com, Washington, Oakland, Cleveland, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the New York Yankees had representatives at Cespedes' showcase. Boston, Texas and Toronto are also reportedly interested in the five-tool outfielder who many believe is Major League-ready. Cespedes played for Cuba during the 2009 World Baseball Classic. As for Soler, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound corner outfielder, showed off his power and speed in front of several scouts in a separate showcase with Rivero at the Yankees' complex in Boca Chica last week. Rivero, who is 6-foot-3, features a slider, split-finger fastball, sinker and changeup in his repertoire. He reached 98 mph with his fastball in the showcase. Outfielders Henry Urrutia, 24, Gerald Sanchez, 26, and left-handed pitcher Omar Luis, 19, all from Cuba, also took part in the showcase in Boca Chica. "The talent has always been in Cuba, but obviously the political climate had an impact on the number of players playing in the Major Leagues," Hernandez said. "Most of the Latin players in the Major Leagues used to be Cuban and teams used to send their players to Cuba for Winter League. The history is there and I think you are starting to see the future."