Late last week, there were reports that the Chicago Cubs were interested in Cuban defector Yenier Bello, a 28-year-old catcher. The Cubs really need some upper level catching depth, so their interest in Bello is not a surprise.
But Bello isn’t the only currently-available Cuban defector of possible interest to the Cubs. Righty Odrisamer Despaigne, 26, has now also been formally cleared to sign with a big league team after defecting last year. Despaigne has been pitching in Mexico for scouts in advance of his clearance, and makes for another interesting back-end-type pitching arm on the market (albeit one with youth on his side). He posted a 2.58 ERA in Cuba’s highest professional league last year, and has intrigued a number of big league teams. It’s unclear, however, if he’s being viewed as a legit plug-him-into-the-rotation type, or if he’s a mere flyer with possible bullpen upside. Ben Badler, for what it’s worth, suggests it’s the latter.
Even still, given the Cubs’ pitching needs, they may want to take a chance on Despaigne’s youth. Last year, the Red Sox took a chance on a similar Cuban pitcher – Dalier Hinojosa – for $4.25 million. All things considered, it’s a reasonable amount to risk in this market, especially for a team not needing to lean on acquired pitching for playoff contention.
There is another Cuban arm on the market, about whom we haven’t heard much lately (but I didn’t want to exclude him): Raicel Iglesias. The 23-year-old righty is viewed as a potential quality bullpen arm, but who might need some development time in the States. Since the original reports of his defection in November, there have been intermittent mentions of workouts in Mexico and teams being interested, but nothing significant. He may fly under the radar until he signs, and, if the scouts like what they see, I can’t imagine the Cubs won’t be involved.
On the positional side, the player to watch right now is Rusney Castillo, who just held a private workout for the Dodgers in the Dominican Republic. The 26-year-old Castillo can play center field, second base, and/or third base, and comes with a little pop. He’s put up great numbers in Cuba, but apparently not all teams are convinced he’s a future starter in the bigs. Still, that positional versatility is mighty attractive (the Dodgers have four starting outfielders, for crying out loud), and the Cubs aren’t as deep in the outfield – in the Majors or minors – as they’d probably like to be.
I’d add a word about shortstop Aledmys Diaz, the probably-23-year-old shortstop in whom the Cubs had interest last year, but, because of age-related shenanigans, he’s not eligible to sign until mid-February. I expect we’ll hear more about him at that time, though it’s questionable whether the Cubs will remain interested (relative to other teams with more immediately pressing infield needs). For that same reason, I’m not saying too much about 23-year-old shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena, who figures to sign with a team less loaded in the infield at the upper levels of the minors. Of course, in the international market, you never want to count the Cubs out, as they hunt for value. I just think a more infield-needy team is going to be willing to spend more than Arruebarruena is worth to the Cubs as a mere “asset.”
All in all, it’s been a disappointing offseason for Cubs fans, who’ve wanted to see the Cubs make a splash or two with their available dollars. But, given the long-term plan, keeping an eye on these kinds of pieces might be the best approach for the Cubs, particularly as they head into February having spent very little, while other teams around the game may have already expended their budgets.