Yoan Moncada

Cuban Yoan Moncada gets $31 Million to Play for Boston. Could this be a New Type of Cuban Defection?

December of 1997, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez found himself stranded on a nameless rock in the middle of the sea. Fourteen years later, Yasiel Puig found himself in an anonymous hotel room, staring at a gun held by an alleged member of Los Zetas, a notorious Mexican drug cartel.

And then there’s Cuba’s latest great athletic export: Yoan Moncada, a 19-year old prospect who suddenly appeared in Guatemala, without a harrowing defector tale and seemingly with Cuban officials’ blessing, even though he had yet to swing a bat in any league outside of Cuba. The Boston Red Sox won a bidding war, lavishing the shortstop with a $31.5 million signing bonus.

For the past two decades, Cuban ballplayers have found various illegal and illicit means to arrive at the shining diamonds of America’s major league cities. It took 10 years for the first 30 Cuban ballplayers to leave Cuba. Now there are roughly another 75 Cuban players searching for contracts, according to MLB.com

Jesse Sanchez, all of whom presumably not only defected but, like El Duque, Puig and many others, were smuggled out of Cuba.

What started as a trickle is becoming a strong current of Cuban talent flowing along a pipeline that started with Rene Arocha’s defection in 1991. The stream of Cuban talent would be unremarkable except for the international set of circumstances in which Cuban ballplayers operate in order to pursue their craft outside of Cuba.

The world became aware of Moncada when he starred for Cuba’s national team at the U16 IBAF 2011 World Baseball Championships in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico, as the only Cuban named to the tournament’s All-Star team. Born in the Las Quinientas neighborhood of Abreus in the province of Cienfuegos, he led Cuba’s U16 national league in batting average (.500), OBP (.643), slugging (.918), home runs (8) and walks (37) while going 15-for-15 in stolen bases as a 15-year-old.

So how did Moncada manage to make such a routine exit from Cuba despite falling under MLB’s recent, somewhat confusing rules for signing international free agents?

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Its been two days since the announcement of the end of the bidding war for Cuban 19 year old prospect, Yoan Moncada. The Boston Red Sox won, the New York Yankees lost. Boston acquired the young infielder who is projected to be able to play three positions, second, third, or short. Though he hit only .277 last year, the Red Sox paid the most anyone has paid for an amateur international athlete, $63 million in total, 31.5 million in the form of a signing bonus alone.

The move is a preview of things to come as Cuban-U.S. relations improve, Cuba is being looked at as the next major source of new talent for MLB. Boston likes its Cubans as proven by their free agent signing last year of Rusney Castillo for $72 million over seven years.

The difference is that Moncada is unproven. But the pressure of recent Red Sox reverses which led them to spend lavishly on free agents Pablo Sandoval from the current World Champions, San Francisco Giants and Hanley Ramirez is an indication of what desperation will do to a franchise.

“He’s got a lot of ability and projects to be a quality player,”

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.

“I don’t think anybody disagrees with the ability. It just comes down to how much money you were willing to commit.”

The downside will be that the Red Sox cannot sign an international free agent for two years and the tax allotment which the Sox will have to dole out will be at 100%. But Boston seemed to have used the human touch as they employed former player, Luis Tiant, who ate and worked out with Yoan beforehand.

“From the get-go, Boston was there to offer any assistance, any advice,”

David Hastings, who represented Moncada said as much,

“Whether they were the eventual winner or not, they were concerned with Yoan as an individual as much as a potential superstar. Mentoring was a part of their commitment.”

Whether Moncada upside is worth the payout remains to be seen, but Boston is willing to roll the dice.