When the Dodgers won the bidding for Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig and Korean pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu in 2012, the immediate reactions were of excitement — after all, it was beyond thrilling to see the formerly cheapskate team start flexing that new financial muscle to outspend other interested clubs and start rebuilding a formerly barren international talent pipeline.
Of course, the second reaction was usually, “great! Wait, who?” Only the most hardcore fans had ever even heard of either more than a few days prior to their signing, and so we all found ourselves in a bit of a scramble to learn as much as we could about just who it was the Dodgers had committed so many millions to.
Today, we’re going to try to get out ahead of that issue with the latest hot import, this time with Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz. I have absolutely no idea if the Dodgers are in on him, but MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reports that at least ten teams have shown interest in Diaz, so let’s be honest with ourselves: yes, the Dodgers are interested. Just in case it’s not clear, I say that because the Dodgers are in on everyone, not because I really know for sure.
What makes Diaz especially interesting is that like Puig (who signed in the final days of the old CBA) and Ryu (who was posted by his Korean team), he isn’t subject to the restrictive international budget limits imposed by the new CBA. That’s because he turned 23 earlier this month and had played at least three years in Cuba before leaving, and that makes him a true free agent. Whether you consider that a “loophole” or an “opportunity” is a matter of opinion; all that matters is that means the Dodgers (or any other team) could offer him as much as they want, and if the Dodgers really want him, we all know they won’t be outspent.
So should they want him? The easy answer is “yes”, because as Chris Jackson showed us recently, the Dodger system depth at shortstop is just beyond barren, assuming that Corey Seager is still going to end up at third base some day.
But obviously having a hole isn’t the same thing as Diaz being the right guy to fill said hole, and as you’d expect, scouting reports from Cuba are sparse and difficult to trust. Sanchez, back in November, described Diaz thusly:
Known for his ability to hit for power and average, Diaz is considered an average runner with an above-average arm.
What’s helpful here is that since Diaz is able to sign with every team, we’ve had a bunch of team bloggers poking around asking the same question for their clubs, so let’s borrow a bit of their research here to flesh out the picture a little further.
Luckily, we do have a little more to go on. Clay Davenport, a major part of Baseball Prospectus back when all of us were reading Moneyball in hardcover, uploaded a decade of Cuban League stats last year just in time for Cespedes-mania, with Diaz among them. After I grabbed Diaz’s 2012 stats from this very Google-Translate-able fansite, I was left with these four half-seasons to go on:
AB H 2B 3B HR BB K RBI AVG OBP SLG 2008-09 276 94 20 2 5 25 31 39 .341 .401 .482 2009-10 262 74 8 2 3 20 28 32 .282 .349 .363 2010-11 282 83 16 1 7 58 23 45 .294 .437 .433 2011-12 270 85 10 2 12 36 25 49 .315 .404 .500 08-12 1090 336 54 7 27 139 107 165 .308 .401 .444
So what we seem to have there is a a guy with good on-base skills and and some amount of power; while 12 homers may not seem like much last year, note his number of at-bats in the shortened Cuban season.
As for his defense, well, who knows, but here’s Diaz in some horrible orange uniforms showing off his arm:
It’s difficult if not impossible to guess what he might sign for; two recent Cuban shortstops each received four year deals — $8.5m for Jose Iglesias with Boston and $10m for Adeiny Hechavarria in Toronto — though they’re both almost exactly the same age as Diaz is now, meaning they signed when they were younger and further away from the bigs. (From what I can tell, Diaz is thought to be not all that far away from being MLB-ready, but would still need some time to acclimate in the minors, so no, he’s not going to be the guy who prevents us from having Hanley Ramirez at shortstop on Opening Day.)
As it often does in these situations, we’re left in a position where we have to trust the best judgement of the team when it comes to bidding — or not bidding — on a player like Diaz, just because we have no idea what to make of him. There’s really no way any of us can have an informed opinion at this point, other than to think he’s worth paying attention to simply because other teams are.
The next step is a showcase near the end of the month that was originally to have taken place a few weeks ago. I can’t say for sure the Dodgers will be in attendance, but… yeah, they’ll be there. And if they like what they see, it’s not going to be money or budget limits that prevents them from adding more international talent to an organization that sorely needs it.