Finally, one of the top remaining Cuban free agents from the current wave of defectors has landed on a team. Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz, who has been in the process of signing for the better part of a year and a half (thanks to some age shenanigans last year), has agreed to a four-year, big league deal with the Cardinals. The Cubs were connected to Diaz many moons ago, but haven’t been in about a year (but see the UPDATE below).
Diaz, 23, isn’t viewed as a game-changer, but is probably going to be a very capable reserve infielder for the Cardinals, who were rumored to be heavily in on him a few weeks ago. The terms of his deal haven’t been disclosed yet, but the expectation was that he’d be getting a deal in the $20 to $30 million range. It’s unclear whether Diaz got one of those “guaranteed free agency” deals, where he hits free agency when the contract is up, regardless of service time. If not, the Cards will have him for two more years after this deal, by way of arbitration.
Given that Diaz’s four-year deal overlaps with ostensible starting shortstop Jhonny Peralta’s own four-year deal, and given that Kolten Wong is among the best second base prospects out there, it’s an interesting signing, to be sure. Either Diaz accepted that he was going to be in a utility role with whatever team he chose, or he recognizes he’ll need some time in the minors before he’s ready. If it’s the latter, perhaps he believes – and perhaps the Cardinals are signaling – that Peralta will move off of shortstop in a year or two. The Cardinals payed him serious money because he’s become a good defensive shortstop with a decent bat. At another position, he’s probably not worth his salary.
The interesting thing about the signing: Diaz seems like the kind of guy the Cardinals develop easily from within (voodoo magic), not the kind of guy they go out and drop $25 million (or however much) on. That suggests they really like Diaz, or they don’t like their near-term infield picture at the upper levels of the minors. Also notable: the Yankees were interested in Diaz, watched him work out, and decided not to make an offer. And they’ve got lots of need and lots of money. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.
With Diaz locked up, we’ll see if some of the other currently-available Cuban players sign soon, including pitchers Raicel Iglesias and Odrisamer Despaigne, and outfielder/infielder Rusney Castillo. Those three seem to make more sense for the Cubs than another infielder who’s just about big league ready.
UPDATE: Well, maybe the Cubs were involved up until the end after all:
— Jesse Sanchez (@JesseSanchezMLB) March 9, 2014
For the Cubs, Diaz simply would have been a cash-only asset with his best years ahead of him. That’s a nice piece to have as you rebuild, but it’s less clear how they would have used him than it is for the Cardinals. Hey, maybe the Cubs simply did their part to drive up the price on the Cardinals.