Phillies Could Sign Cuban Pitcher But Probably Won’t
By John Stolnis
HR Derby winner Yoenis Cespedes would have been a better signing than Jonathan Papelbon and Ty Wigginton. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
The Phillies are apparently among a number of teams vying to sign highly sought after Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.
This makes sense because lately, Cuban baseball players are all the rage.
The Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig almost made the All-Star team after just a month in the big leagues. Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes, despite having a down year, won the Home Run Derby and is the talk of the baseball world. Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman made the All-Star squad and is one of the best closers in the game. Miami’s Jose Fernandez is a 20-year-old phenom who is being compared to a young Dwight Gooden (hopefully without the drugs and alcohol, though). And last year’s big Cuban prize, Jorge Soler, is playing well in high-A ball for the Chicago Cubs.
Four of those five Cuban defectors were signed as expensive free agents (only Fernandez was drafted by his team), and in the past, the Phils have been on the periphery of a couple of those players. Chapman, Cespedes, Puig and Soler were all available to be signed by the highest bidder at one time.
Of course, there is a high risk of failure when it comes to spending big money on players who have only played baseball in a communist country against limited competition. There is a huge cultural barrier that has to be bridged. And the Phillies have been reluctant to dive into that murky pool and commit big money to players that are relatively unproven.
However, perhaps the success of those five Cubans have the Phils re-thinking their strategy.
MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez says the while the Phillies are among the teams in on the next supposed Cuban sensation, the market is extensive for the right-hander.
"The Cubs, Dodgers, Rangers and Red Sox are among the teams that have expressed serious interest in signing the 26-year-old. The Phillies, Blue Jays and Braves are also in the hunt to acquire him.Scouts believe Gonzalez needs only a few Minor League starts before he pitches in the big leagues and his addition would be similar to acquiring a top pitcher before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline."
So how much would it cost to sign him and is it really worth the risk?
CBS Sports’ Danny Knobler says the rumor in the scouting world is that Gonzalez could fetch a five year, $60 million deal. That is a whole lot of money to pay a pitcher who has never pitched a game in America. However, the recent success of Chapman, Puig, and Cespedes as well as the positive signs from Soler in the minors, might have changed the Phillies’ thinking a bit.
The Phils were in on Jorge Soler for a little while last year. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
It sure would be an easy way to get some young talent into a farm system that desperately needs it.
But it’s also a big risk, one that the Phillies organization typically doesn’t take, especially on players who are unknown entities. Not only that, there will certainly be a bidding war for Gonzalez, which could push his price up even higher.
However, with the Major League free agent market less than impressive, Gonzalez could be better than anyone that will be on the market in the off-season and, if the reports are true, may even help a contender this year.
Is that worth a potential $60 million risk?
It’s likely another team is going to out-bid the Phils for Gonzalez, and that would be understandable. It’s a big risk. But I’ll bet the Phillies would have rather spent their money on Cespedes than Jonathan Papelbon and Ty Wigginton after the 2011 season.
One thing that might influence Ruben Amaro and the front office is that, because Gonzalez is older than 23 and has played at least three seasons in a professional league like Cuba’s, the team that signs him will not have to do it with their international signing money. That’s a big deal when you consider the Phillies are also one of the front-runners to sign one of the top Latin power hitters, Luis Encarnacion, when he turns 16.
If the Phillies were to sign Gonzalez, it would be a huge surprise. Don’t expect it to happen. If it does, it would signal a change in the team’s organizational philosophy to one that is willing to take a little more risk.
However, given the free agent market and the Phils’ need to add talent to the roster, maybe the time to change is now.