Three Strikes: Classic Baseball, Free Agency, and Winter Leagues

Baseball doesn’t stop. While the Major League Baseball offseason is “on fire”, the Caribbean Leagues are closing their regular season. On the other hand, the making of rosters facing the World Classic is also filling headlines. With a few hours left to close 2022, we analyze in the latest installment of “Tres Strikes” the most important issues of the cuban baseball in this past year.

How have our guys fared in MLB free agency? How many players have left good results in the Winter Leagues? What happens to the players of the Big Show called by the Cuban Federation for the Classic? We will discuss the above questions below. Without further ado, we singplayball!

First Strike: Cubans in MLB free agency

The highest-impact signing was cemented before the Winter Meetings, when the Astros offered Jose Abreu a 3-year contract and $58.5 million dollars. As we wrote back then, that was an improvement for the lineup of the sidereals and it was also a great deal for the Cienfuegos.

MLB Trade Rumors projected to “Pito” a two-year agreement and 40 million, which would represent an annual average (AAV) of 20 million. However, Spotrac estimated that he would have a contract of 25.4 million for two seasons, which adds up to an AAV of 12.7. Finally, the real deal came close to the first prediction, adding another year and dropping $500K in AAV.

Big move: Astros sign “Pito” Abreu

The other important signing is that of Aledmys Díaz with the Oakland Athletics. The Coliseo team closed with the man from Villa Clara for two seasons and 14.5 million dollars. With a salary of 6.5 million for 2023, Díaz becomes the highest paid player on the team for the next contest.

Undoubtedly, Aledmys’ responsibility will grow on the West Coast, and that might work in his favor: More opportunity and more games can lead to better seasons. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he gets moved at the deadline if he pays well.

If we look at the other side of the coin, there are still three Cuban free agents on the market and all of them have played at least seven games in the Majors. I am referring to Yuli Gurriel, Aroldis Chapman and José Iglesias.

What teams may be interested in them?

The first thing we should highlight is the change of agency Yuli Gurriel, who left Wasserman to be represented by Diego Bentz. On the other hand, the market for first basemen cooled off after the most important players on the board left: Anthonny Rizzo (Yankees), Abreu (Houston) and Josh Bell (Cleveland). There are still some options like Brandon Belt, Luke Voit, Trey Mancini, Jesús Aguilar, Miguel Sanó and Yuli.

Aroldis Chapman and Yuli Gurriel: parallel realities in free agency

However, I think the best option for Yuli is to accept the substitute role and lower her AAV. If we are guided by that idea, then we can look for some teams that can ask for their services.

Astros: The franchise he’s played for since he came to the United States has shown interest in bringing him back, even after signing “Pito” Abreu. Sure, some things have changed, for example, the signing of Michael Brantley gives less opportunity to rotate at the DH turn. Brantley; he is a good hitter, but his defense is not top and his arm has diminished, therefore, the idea that Yordan Álvarez plays 70% of the time in the Left Field (LF) seems suitable. This will cause Dusty Baker to not be able to give you many turns of designated hitter (DH) to José Abreu.

Marlins: After they put in waivers Jesús Aguilar last year, first base was ready for Lewin Díaz, Garret Cooper and Charles Leblanc. Two months later, Díaz also left the organization in the same way. The clear option is Cooper, but Yuli can rotate with him.

Nationals: With Joey Meneses at first base (30 years old) and without any first basemen on the list of the 30 best prospects of MLB PipelineIt makes sense to look for someone to support the Mexican, who can even play in the corners of the outfield.

Yulieski Gurriel is looking for a team for the 2023 Major League season. Photo: Getty Images.

Giants: Brandon Belt, one of the faces of the franchise, was San Francisco’s first baseman for the past 10 years and hit free agency. The Giants project JD Davis at first base, according to Roster Resource, but Davis has only played 33 games at the position in six seasons. If the Giants don’t want to return to the Belt, they can look for a player to take turns with Davis, and Gurriel fits the bill.

Other teams like the Cubs and White Sox could also go after Yuli, who, in short, has a very difficult time playing starting first baseman, but if he agrees to change the role he will have a better chance of signing for the 2023 season.

Chapman’s Market, even though it comes from his worst season in MLBIt should get interesting. Sure, keep in mind that his value fell and even projections estimate a low AAV for him. However, let us remember that we are in the age of bullpen and not long ago Chapman was on every list of the best closers in the business. Let’s see the potential options of him.

Cubs: They only have one left-handed reliever and overall the collective metrics for the bullpen they were not good in the past contest. Chapman knows the organization, let’s remember that when the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, the man from Holguin was fundamental. Something extra: the Cubs gave a minor league contract to Roenis Elías, also from Antilles, with an invitation to Spring Training.

Cardinals: They only have a left-handed reliever and without great results (Genesis Cabrera), in addition, they need depth for their bullpen.

Toronto: They only have Tim Mayza as their lefty reliever and it would make sense for them to look for Chapman.

Three Strikes: Classic Baseball, Free Agency, and Winter Leagues
The return of Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs is an option to consider. Photo: Taken from ESPN.

In summary, Chapman continues to achieve an above-average strikeout percentage, that is, the ability to generate swing in the air remains, so the team that wants to give it the opportunity must work on its control.

Finally, “Candelita” Iglesias can be sold as a shortstop, although he also covers intermediate. Knowing the above, perhaps the White Sox are the most interested. The South Chicago organization didn’t draft Danny Mendick, so they’ll likely bet on prospects Romy Gonzalez or Lenyn Sosa at second base. In the same way, they can look for an experienced second baseman to help them fill the position in case the youngsters respond to us, and Josh Harrison and “Candelita” fit that profile.

Either way, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Iglesias out of a job for Spring Training, although let’s hope he has better luck.

Strike Two: Cuba heading to the Classic with MLB players

Two weeks ago, the governing body of Cuban baseball denounced OFAC (The Office of Foreign Assets Control) because it was hindering the process for Cuban players residing in the United States to play with the national team in the upcoming World Classic. After several days, officials from the US Treasury Department traveled to the island to process the permits for the players and on Saturday it was announced the granting of the license to Cuba to have MLB players in the event.

Having resolved this difficulty, I present to you my roster for the Classic. In it I included the players from other leagues that have agreed to the Federation, although this could vary depending on the efforts that Cuba makes until the beginning of January, when it must present a pre-score of 35 players.

Three Strikes: Classic Baseball, Free Agency, and Winter Leagues
Luis Robert (right) and Yoan Moncada should be two important pieces for Cuba in the upcoming World Classic. Photo: Tony Dejak/AP Photo.

Lineup: Roel Santos (RF); Yoan Moncada (3B); Luis Robert (CF); Yoenis Cespedes (DH); Andy Ibanez (2B); Lorenzo Quintana (C); Yurisbel Gracial (RF); Ariel Martinez (1B); Erisbel Arruebarrena (SS).

Starting Rotation: Roenis Elías, Elian Leyva, Yariel Rodríguez, Onelki García and Yoennis Yera.

Bank: Yadir Drake, Lázaro Hernández, Josúan Hernández, Alfredo Despaigne, Guillermo García, Pedro Revilla, Yordanis Samón and Yoelquis Guibert

Bullpen: Liván Moinelo, Raidel Martínez, Yoan López, Miguel Romero, Frank Abel Álvarez, Naykel Cruz, Carlos Juan Viera and Marlon Vega.

Among the positive aspects, the set shows a good bullpen and a decent rotation, which improves the odds of advancing to the second round. Of all the teams in our group, I would dare to say that we have the best pitching, now it remains to be seen in what form all these men reach the Classic and, most importantly, what support they will have from the offense.

Strike Three: the best performances of Cubans in Caribbean baseball

Let’s start by looking at what has happened in the Major Leagues of the Caribbean, where the Round Robin is already being played (it can also be called a semifinal). In the regular season, we have several Cuban players in talks for awards.

Henry Urrutia became the first West Indian to win a batting title in the Dominican Republic. Still, he also put up numbers that will have him in the MVP conversation. In 42 games, he ended up leading the championship in on-base average (.387) and OPS (.813), tied with Ronny Mauricio.

Three Strikes: Classic Baseball, Free Agency, and Winter Leagues
Henry Urrutia has been a relentless hitter this winter season for the Dominican Republic. Photo: Giants of Cibao.

Yunesky Maya and Roenis Elias can be included in the Pitcher of the Year conversation. The man from Pinar del Río left the best ERA (1.34) and batting average against (.197) among qualified starters. He also posted a 1.02 WHIP in 40.1 innings.

Roenis only had four innings left to opt for the leads. Between the pitchers that at least added 36 inningsthe man from Guantanamo showed the best earned run average (0.75), WHIP (0.72) and average opponent (.156). All six of his starts were quality, and in only one of them did he allow more than one run.

In Mexico, Yasmany Tomás can be considered the best hitter in a championship in which he had never played. “El Tanque”, who plays in the ranks of the Cañeros, is the only batter in the league with 50 RBIs and 10 home runs. He also ranks third in OPS (.888) and fourth in batting average (.325).

The Naranjeros de Hermosillo outfielder, Roel Santos, is in the top 10 of qualified hitters in average (.311) and OPS (.811). Lastly, we have to highlight the production of Yadir Drake (6 homers and 41 RBIs) in 59 games, although his averages have not been the best. The man from Matanzas plays for the Yaquis.

Among the pitchers we have to highlight two. The first is Yoennis Yera, who is in his third season in the league and his second with the Charros. The other is Elián Leyva, who has won the award for Best Pitcher on the circuit twice.

Three Strikes: Classic Baseball, Free Agency, and Winter Leagues
Yoennis Yera continues to grow in professional baseball in the Caribbean. Photo: Taken from LMP.

Leyva started working at the beginning of November and they don’t give him the innings to be a qualified pitcher. Now, that does not detract from the numbers he is achieving. in 47.2 innings his ERA is 1.70 and he has struck out 52 with 19 walks.

In the case of Yera, he ranks in the top 10 in earned run average (2.53). The left-hander has four consecutive starts in which he does not allow more than two runs and throws more than five innings. In general, his problem has been that he allows one hit per inning (58 for 57).

In this way we closed a year of many baseball events. Although we can highlight the individual performances of our team in foreign leagues, Cuban baseball has had another year of unfortunate results, from which we can only rescue second place in the U-15 World Cup.

On the other hand, we are preparing to welcome 2023 in which we will have the return of Cuba to the Caribbean Series and a new edition of the World Baseball Classic. Also, let’s hope we have another great year on the “Big Show”.

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