For the second time this summer a Cuban player has defected. In July 26-year old pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne defected while the team was en route to the Netherlands for the World Port Tournament. While that made a small blip on the baseball radar, another Cuban player has now defected and it could be huge.
First base slugger Jose Abreu has reportedly left Cuba and is currently in an undisclosed Caribbean nation in order to defect. First reported by the el Nuevo Herald and then confirmed by other sources including Ben Badler at Baseball America, Abreu will begin the bureaucratic process in the coming days in order to establish residency in another country.
Having played professionally in Cuba, once he establishes residency and is cleared to sign by both MLB and the U.S. Government Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), Abreu will be a free agent and exempt from the international signing bonus pools.
Abreu is a 26-year old slugger who won the MVP of the 2010-2011 season in the Serie Nacional when he posted one of the greatest seasons in the history of the league. That season, despite missing 23 games, Abreu posted a line of .453/.597/.986. He hit 33 home runs, walked 58 times, and struck out only 32 times.
He followed that season up with a 35 home run season and has shown serious power even on the international stage. In the 2013 World Baseball Classic, he hit .360/.385/.760 and tied for the tournament lead with three home runs.
At 6’3″ and 250 lbs, Abreu is an imposing figure at the plate. He shows power to all fields and should fill in as a nice power bat in the middle of a lineup sometime in the near future.
Following the recent sensation of Yasiel Puig, Abreu will probably command a huge salary on the open market. The fact that the first base free agent market will also be pretty slim this coming off-season, Abreu couldn’t have picked a better time to defect.
While Abreu doesn’t have the athleticism that recent MLB Cuban stars Puig and Cespedes have, he does have a big enough bat to fit in nicely in a lineup perhaps as early as the 2014 season, and he will surely command a large contract. However,he will be expected to show big power to back up that big contract he is expected to sign.
The off-season just got a little bit more interesting.
Editor’s Note: Most early reports suggest that Abreu’s path towards being named an MLB free agent will likely take until sometime this offseason, at which point he’s expected to receive one of the most lucrative international free agent deals in history – topping the amounts that both Puig and Cespedes received when they first signed to play in the Major Leagues.