The list of Cuban defectors making an impact across Major League Baseball this season is impressive. It also makes you wonder what other talented ballplayers are currently stationed in the Caribbean.
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who defected from Cuba earlier this year, will look to join Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, Aroldis Chapman and a host of other Cuban-born players in making a successful leap to the majors. The 26-year-old pitcher reportedly signed a six-year contract with the Phillies that could be worth close to $60 million, making it the largest deal ever given to an international free agent. But while there’s obviously some risk involved, it’s a risk worth taking, and the Red Sox might end up regretting not making a harder push to secure the pitcher’s services.
Gonzalez’s contract itself is substantial, and it seems even more considerable because it’s attached to a player who we have limited information about. Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan reports that Gonzalez’s array of pitches — a fastball that sits around 93 mph (and tops out at 96), a split-fingered fastball, a changeup, a cut fastball and a slow curveball — impressed scouts and executives, and that talent evaluators saw the pitcher as a mid-rotation piece who could contribute immediately. Baseball Amercai’s Ben Badler, meanwhile, says that scouts who like Gonzalez see him as about a No. 3 starter, whereas other scouts think he might be a back-of-the-rotation starter or low-leverage reliever.
As much debate as there is about whether or not Gonzalez’s stuff will translate to the majors, the pitcher’s overall condition is another area of uncertainty. ESPN’s Buster Olney points out that Gonzalez has had a long layoff from pitching competitively and that there are questions about his elbow, reportedly leading executives from other clubs to consider Philadelphia’s move to be a very risky one.
Clearly, signing Gonzalez isn’t a guaranteed slam dunk. But it could be, and that’s enough to warrant making a splash in this instance, especially if you’re the Red Sox.
The Red Sox find themselves in a tricky situation going into the final days before the trade deadline. They could certainly use a boost in the bullpen, and an additional starter may help given Clay Buchholz’s uncertainty. The problem is that the Red Sox are forced to balance going for it with not giving up important pieces of their future. Cliff Lee, Jake Peavy, Bud Norris, Ervin Santana and others all sound nice, but they’d require the Red Sox to part ways with good prospects, and Ben Cherington isn’t in any rush to mortgage the future for a quick fix. That’s why taking a chance on Gonzalez would have made sense for Boston.
Red Sox owner John Henry said recently that money wouldn’t be an issue in terms of bringing in players before the deadline, which means that the value of Boston’s prospects is ultimately what’s being considered in any potential deal. And given how talented some of the Red Sox’ prospects are and how relatively thin the trade market appears to be, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Sox stand pat rather than make a big move before July 31. The Red Sox could have made a splash with Gonzalez, though, as he’s not only a pitcher who could make an impact now and in the future, but he’s also an investment that wouldn’t have required surrendering any compensation beyond money.
Passan reports that Gonzalez’s contract is worth a guaranteed $48 million over six years, with a seventh-year vesting option for $11 million. That means it equates to $8 million per year, which would be a bargain if Gonzalez does, in fact, evolve into a middle-of-the-rotation major league hurler. It sounds like even more of a bargain when you consider that acquiring similar big league pitchers on the free-agent market during the offseason may require relinquishing a draft pick, per the new collective bargaining agreement.
Like any deal, Gonzalez’s signing could go either way. And because information about the pitcher is so limited, it’s understandable that some teams shied away from making a sizable commitment. But when you’re in the situation that the Red Sox are in, the potential reward might be worth paying a few extra bucks for.
The Red Sox reportedly went hard after Gonzalez. The question now is whether they should have gone harder.
Photo via Facebook/Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez