Cuban Defectors Hit The Market, Sort Of
by Kiley McDaniel
First reported Saturday by El Nuevo Herald, itís been confirmed to me by major league sources that high-profile Cuban defectors LHP Noel Arguelles and SS Jose Iglesias have been declared free agents by Major League Baseball. That being said, itís very unlikely that they will be signing soon. Hereís what has happened so far:
1. OFAC (in the U.S. Treasury Department) has signed off on Arguelles and Iglesias being allowed to work for an American company; that they wonít funnel money to Cuba, etc.
2. As current residents of the Dominican Republic, Major League Baseball has declared the players free agents, eligible to sign with any big league organization. Technically, they were eligible to be signed sometime late on Friday, when teams were notified.
So, both players could have signed as early as Friday, but are still unsigned. Is their agent, Jaime Torres, just negotiating? He may be, but thereís still more work to be done.
Each individual club is responsible (with the cooperation of MLB) for performing background checks to verify the ages of both players. The process of doing these background checks will take at least a few weeks. No club will sign the players without their ages verified, so it will likely be at least a few weeks until they sign with a major league organization. The U.S. government also hasnít completed their full process yet. The signing big league team(s) will need to request work visas and the FBI, among other governmental agencies, still stand between the players and an American baseball career.
Arguelles and Iglesias both have long track records of competing in international tournaments and that has teams more comfortable with their ages than previous Cuban defectors. That being said, there are whispers about both Iglesias and Arguelles being older than their stated ages of 19. A Torres client who lacked a long international track record, CF Felix Perez, had a contract with the Yankees, including a bonus of over $3 million, voided after it was revealed that he was in fact 4-5 years older than the 20-year-old he claimed to be. Perez was suspended for one year and that will presumably be the punishment if Arguelles or Iglesias falsify their ages.
Arguelles is considered a better prospect than Iglesias, as a left hander standing 6í3, tipping the scales at 210 lbs., and hitting 93 mph with his fastball. Arguelles has a solid curveball, changeup, and command, along with a recently-added slider that some scouts say has quickly become his best off-speed pitch. Some scouts saw him sitting at 88 mph recently and said Arguelles was out of shape, but other clubs have recently watched him hit 91 mph and say his body isnít a big concern. Every team Iíve spoken with is comfortable with his talent, given his consistent international performances. Executives agree that Arguelles would have been a late first rounder or sandwich pick in the recent draft, if he entered the draft rather than become a free agent.
Iglesias has a similarly strong tournament record, drawing attention for his flashy glovework at shortstop, with one scout grading his fielding as an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His arm is enough to stick at shortstop, but his range is somewhat limited by his fringe-average speed. Iglesias makes the most of his ability, with instincts that enhance his tools and excellent makeup. He bats from the right side and while his overall offensive package leaves a bit to be desired, most scouts agree Iglesias will hit enough to allow him to profile as a big league regular. He has decent pop in his 5í10 frame, at a maxed-out 180 lbs., though he can get pull-happy at times. An international scouting director called Iglesiasí total package, ďRyan Theriot with better hands.Ē Iglesias is a defensive-oriented overachiever and executives say he would be more of a 2nd-3rd rounder if eligible for the recent draft.
A number of teams are interested in Arguelles and Iglesias, but one team is mentioned by every international source Iíve spoken with: the Yankees. Seemingly since the players defected, nearly a year ago while at a Canadian tournament, the players have been tied to the Yankees and many believe they will both end up signing with the Bombers. It wonít be easy for the Yankees, though; expect the other big market clubs and organizations with active Latin operations to enter the fray as well. Itís too early to handicap all the teams that could be involved, but the Cubs are one team that has been mentioned as heavily interested in Iglesias. As a potential late first round pick (if subject to the recent draft), Arguelles would command a bonus of about $1.0-1.3 million, while Iglesiasí 2nd-3rd round projection correlates to a $500,000-$750,000 potential bonus. That being said, Cuban players tend to have their own pay scale, independent of 16-year-old international free agents or domestic draftees, due to the amount of high-level game experience and the refinement most defectors possess. Some sources have suggested the ultimate pay days for these players could be twice or even three times the slot bonuses Iíve suggested.