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Yoan Moncada: The Next Great Cuban Defector?

Since it has become socially acceptable to speculate on which Cuban great will be the next to play in the Major Leagues, allow me to throw in my two cents: Yoan Moncada. Unlike Alfredo Despaigne’s case, there’s good reason to think it could happen soon.

Yoan Manuel Moncada is a switch-hitting second-basemen who played for Cienfuegos alongside Jose Abreu and Erisbel Arruebarrena. He has long been heralded as the next great Cuban player, and has put up promising numbers during his short time in Serie Nacional. Back in January, a report out of Cuba stated that Moncada and third baseman Pavel Quesada met with the provincial baseball commission and were granted leave from the Cienfuegos team. According to that report, both players sought to leave the country legally to play baseball elsewhere, but the final decision on that matter would be up to the National Baseball Commission.

If all you know about Cuban baseball is the story of Yasiel Puig’s defection, the possibility that Cuba would allow a great player to emigrate of his own free will must sound ridiculous on it’s face, and up until recently, that’s been true. Last year, though, Cuba as a country started allowing citizens to emigrate more freely, and baseball has followed suit, at least to some degree. Party official Reinaldo Taladrid said that Cuba must learn to respect the privacy of individuals, and that they had no problem with players who wish to emigrate in a “legal and orderly manner through the airport” following the emigration of Irait Chirino last fall.

At best that’s a half-truth. Of course Cuba would rather keep their best players in the country, and unlike other nations, the government has historically had the power to do just that. As their power has diminished, though, what Cuba really wants is the ability to at least bring back their best players for international competitions. Antonio Castro- son of Fidel, phyisician for the national team, and vice-president of the International Baseball Federation- has been stumping hard for that outcome in the press. If players are leaving despite their best efforts, the government seems to have taken the position that at least they shouldn’t offend them on the way out the door.

In addition to Chirino, Yenier Bello was also granted exit from the country. Moncada had good reason to think that his request would be granted.

It is not clear what has happened, though. In the four months since the request was made public, there hasn’t been a word on his story from any of the Cuban baseball sources. The most likely scenario is that either his request was denied or has yet to be acted upon. That’s also probably the best hope for Moncada. A good number of players who want to leave eventually do so, even if they are thwarted several times in the process. The scarier scenario is that Moncada left the country some time ago, legally or illegally, and hasn’t been heard from since, which could be problematic.

If Moncada does make it to the States, every team would be likely be interested, but only a few figure to be serious suitors. Moncada turns 19 next week, which means that his signing bonus will count against July 2nd spending limits. With teams like the Red Sox and Yankees already committed to going past those limits in 2014, it’s hard to imagine smaller market teams being able to compete. The Cubs and Rangers will have virtually no shot, as neither team is allowed to spend more than $250,000 on a single player in the upcoming period.

It’s tempting as a Cubs fan to hope that Moncada doesn’t attempt to sign until the 2015 period, but as a baseball fan, that’s hard to justify. Players at that age can’t afford any long layoffs for the sake of their development. I suspect that Aledmys Diaz’s poor plate approach to date is a consequence of just how much time he missed. Moncada needs to be getting regular at-bats somewhere, and at this point, it’s hard to see that happening in Cuba.

I’ll post more on Moncada’s Cuban numbers a little later. (Updated: They can be found here)

Other Cuban News

  • Daniel Carbonell, whose defection was first reported here at Obstructed View,* has been cleared to sign and is reportedly weighing offers from five teams. The Cubs have not been mentioned; that doesn’t bother me.

*In English, at least.

  • The Dodgers have called up Erisbel Arruebarrena, who dropped a “u” in his name when he came to the US, with Juan Uribe hitting the DL. His offensive numbers at AA left much to be desired.
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