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cubaAs we discussed last week, there’s a fascinating story brewing in Mexico involving star Cuban outfielder Alfredo Despaigne, who had been playing in Mexico with permission from Cuba. Baseball America’s Ben Badler reported that Despaigne was playing in Mexico on a passport from the Dominican Republic. The implications for a Cuban plan with a Dominican passport playing in Mexico should be obvious: does that mean he’s on his way to MLB? Is he defecting?

Well, as Badler reports in a couple recent updates, it’s considerably more complicated than that.

The short version: there’s a chance that the Dominican passport could be fraudulent, and, if it is, it’s unknown what Despaigne’s role was in getting the passport (i.e., he may have thought it was legit). The Mexican League has temporarily suspended Despaigne, pending a decision on what should happen long-term. That decision could come as soon as today.

What might the decision be, and what are the implications? Well, as Badler lays out in greater detail, he could be suspended by the Mexican League for a number of years (up to seven), and, because of the Mexican League’s relationship with Minor League Baseball, he would during that suspension also be prohibited from playing in Major League Baseball. A long suspension, then, would probably mean we don’t see him in MLB any time soon.

Alternatively, the Mexican League could simply declare Despaigne ineligible for the league. From there, Despaigne could decide to head back to Cuba. But, because he’s already in Mexico on a visa, he could also decide to apply for residency there, and defect from Cuba. If that happens, Despaigne could wind up eligible to sign with an MLB team by mid-season.

Imagine adding that storyline to a the trade season: a 27-year-old outfielder with a huge power bat, suddenly available for nothing more than money.

The timing of Despaigne’s free agency – assuming, for the sake of argument, that that’s where this goes – could be a key component of how the bidding would shake out. There’s no argument that the Cubs would be interested in someone like Despaigne, assuming their internal scouting liked him. He’s young enough to be a core piece, there’s a clear need in the outfield and in the lineup, and he costs only money – something the Cubs have currently rolled over for situations just like this.

The question on timing, though, is this: because the Cubs are not going to be competing for a playoff spot in 2014, Despaigne’s value to them would be less in, say, July than it would be for a playoff contender. Yes, we’re talking about a five, or six-year contract here, so the Cubs would still want him. But if you’re a team in contention, the value of getting him for July/August/September of this season is actually really, really significant. So much so, that it could tack on another $10 or $15 million in relative value over a team like the Cubs, for whom Despaigne would hold far less value in July/August/September*.

I am kind of waiting with bated breath for a decision on Despaigne.

*(Though query what adding a star international player in the current environment could do for ticket sales. “Come see OUR Jose Abreu!”)

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