In the midst of all the other Padres happenings Sunday, there was an odd bit of news released late in the evening: Andrew Cashner would be scratched from his Monday start, and he would be replaced by Cuban RHP Odrisamer Despaigne, making his major league debut. The first question was why had Cashner been scrubbed? He had just been used as a pinch-runner on Friday during the team’s comeback victory over the Dodgers.
Had Cashner been traded? Is he injured? As of right now, the reports say that neither is true, just that the team is being conservative with Cashner, who has a history of arm trouble and has never pitched a full season in his career as a starter.
Update: Andrew Cashner is headed to the disabled list with right shoulder soreness.
So with that out of the way, who is this Cuban fellow with the strange name?
The Padres officially signed the 27 year old Despaigne (pronounced des-pan-YAY, I believe) in early May to a minor league deal with a $1 million signing bonus, and sent him to AA. He impressed in his early outings, showing stronger stuff than was expected. His high 80’s fastball had turned out to be a low 90’s fastball, and his ability to change arm angles a la traditional Cuban right-handers like Orlando Hernandez allowed him to record strikeouts at a high rate.
He quickly moved up to AAA, and things have been a lot more difficult there. He’s given up 36 hits in 23 2/3 innings for the Chihuahua’s, for an ERA of 7.61 in 5 starts. The PCL is notoriously tough on pitchers though, and he’s still maintained a high strikeout rate since the promotion.
I don’t really know what to expect from Despaigne tonight, other than that he wears his hats crooked so he’ll be fun to talk about on Twitter. What I do know is that Despaigne represents the Padres dipping their toes in the Cuban defector market, and it’s a market I think they should dive into head first.
It seems like there’s a new Cuban player defecting from their home country to play in the majors every other week these days. The latest who will soon hit the market is Yasmani Tomas, a power-hitting corner outfielder who, while just 23 years old, won’t be subjected to MLB’s new international signing bonus structure. That means Tomas, once he’s jumped through all the required hoops, will be an unrestricted free agent.
You know how that has gone lately. Yasiel Puig signed a 7 year, $42 million contract with the Dodgers in 2012. At just 24 years old, Puig is a rising star in the league. Many were shocked by the size of his deal at the time, but it’s turned out to be one of the best bargains in baseball. Jose Abreu defected last August, signed a 6 year, $68 million deal with the White Sox, and all he’s done is slugged at a .604 rate with 21 home runs in his rookie season at 27 years old.
These days, for that kind of production, teams will pay more than twice what Puig and Abreu are making. ESPN Insider Keith Law believes that teams will now start overpaying for Cuban free agents like Tomas, due to the recent successes and because teams can’t help themselves when offered an opportunity to spend wildly without restriction. We haven’t seen that yet, and if Odrisamer Despaigne can become even a back of the rotation starter, he’ll be a huge bargain at $1 million plus league minimum.
Tomas is not expected to reach the same heights as Puig or Abreu, but he doesn’t have to be to be worth $30-40 million over 5-6 years. If he has the 25-30 home run potential he’s said to, he should be well worth it, even if he eventually has to move to first base.
Another Cuban to keep an eye on is Alfredo Despaigne, no relation to Odrisamer. According to Ben Badler of Baseball America, the 28 year old is the only player left in Cuba who has more raw power than Tomas. He was recently on loan to Mexico, but was caught playing with a Dominican passport, was sent back to Cuba, and has been banned for life from the Mexican league for using a fraudulent passport.
Alfredo Despaigne’s future is very much up in the air, but it appears he may be looking for a way to get to America. More and more Cuban players are taking this very difficult and dangerous step of defecting, and as long as they continue to outperform expectations, they will represent a great value to the teams who are willing to take the risk of signing them.
As the Padres enter a new era with a new regime as yet to be determined, my hope is that they’ll continue to seek out value in the Cuban market. For now, here’s hoping for success for Odrisamer Despaigne tonight, and that he’ll be known as more than just a defector.
The Vocal Minority posts on Mondays. Sometimes even three times in one day. Follow me on Twitter.