For myriad financial and rebuilding reasons, the Chicago Cubs of late have been … cautious with the use of their discretionary dollars. In general, the front office has eschewed traditional free agency in favor of amateur spending and the pursuit of younger free agents, some of whom are of the international variety. Yoenis Cespedes, for example, as a mid-20s outfielder, made a lot of sense for the Cubs. Hyun-Jin Ryu, as a mid-20s pitcher, made a lot of sense for the Cubs. Masahiro Tanaka, as a mid-20s pitcher, made a lot of sense for the Cubs.
The Cubs (and 28 other teams) didn’t land each of those players, but the pursuits were undeniable, as were the overlapping characteristics.
Given that, and the Cubs’ obvious needs in the near-term, if there was a big-time international free agent outfielder with a big bat in his mid-ish 20s, you’d think the Cubs would get all hot and bothered, yes?
Well, Ben Badler has a story to tell, and it’s one we should be following very closely.
In Badler’s piece, he recounts the story of 27-year-old Cuban outfielder Alfredo Despaigne (whose name you may already know – he’s big-time), who is currently playing in Mexico as part of Cuba’s recent process of allowing its star players to play internationally a bit more. We already knew about that, and the fact that Despaigne is outside of Cuba playing baseball really doesn’t impact his future vis a vis defection. For all intents and purposes, he is a non-defected Cuban player, who may or may not at some point defect, but we know what a harrowing process that can be. It might never happen, and that wouldn’t really be a surprise.
But here’s the crazy angle Badler is reporting: Despaigne’s passport in Mexico? It’s from the Dominican Republic.
It’s unclear whether this actually means anything, as the Mexican League, because of its loose relationship with Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball, prefers that its players from Cuba also have a passport from another, non-Cuban country. Despaigne apparently obtained his from the Dominican Republic last year before playing in Mexico (and, you’ll note, he didn’t defect last year).
The situation is quite complicated, and Badler is careful not to directly imply anything here with respect to a defection. However, he does note that, because Despaigne is already in Mexico and already has a DR passport, he could seek to receive MLB free agency at any time. Whether his Mexican League team would still control his rights at that point is yet another opaque issue. I strongly encourage you to read Badler’s piece, because the mere fact that he’s reporting this could be the start of something happening.
As for more on Despaigne, he’s a shorter, compact outfielder with huge power, and multiple MVP awards in Cuba. He turns 28 in June, and has posted huge numbers in Mexico in recent years, as you’d expect. For years, he’s been right there with Jose Abreu as one of the top hitters in Cuba’s highest professional league.
If he suddenly became a free agent midseason or later this year, it would be fair to expect the Cubs to have interest. Although at 28, he might be a couple years older than preferred, that’s still plenty young to capture value when the team is competitive (especially if their window opened as soon as 2015 – and a bat like Despaigne’s would help). As a corner outfielder, Despaigne’s presence is unlikely to immediately block any Cubs prospects who are knocking on the door (and, even if you consider Kris Bryant a sure corner outfielder and consider Jorge Soler knocking on the door, that’s a bridge you cross when you come to it). The Cubs have only a couple places that they could add a sure-fire long-term free agent bat, and corner outfield is one of them.
Further, having missed out on Tanaka, the Cubs have said they rolled over the funds that would have been spent there into future possible spending. Well, this could be future possible spending.
We’ll see where this goes, if it winds up going anywhere.