LOS ANGELES -- The most exciting Dodgers-related news lately are the multiple reports that the team had a private workout for Cuban second baseman Yoan Moncada on Monday, one attended by both president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Don Mattingly, according to MLB.com.
Then again, is it exciting news or troublesome news? The Dodgers have had mixed success with Cuban defectors lately.
Many people thought they were just showing off their newfound financial muscle when they signed Yasiel Puig to a seven-year, $42 million contract 2 ½ years ago after a short scouting trip to watch Puig work out in Mexico. Though Puig has caused the Dodgers plenty of headaches along the way, he has had an outstanding .888 OPS in two major-league seasons, electrified the team’s fan base and established himself as probably the majors’ second-best Cuban position player after Jose Abreu.
On the other hand, the Dodgers may have swung and missed on two expensive Cuban infielders, Alex Guerrero and Erisbel Arruebarrena, who signed for a combined $53 million and last winter and have done nothing but make negative headlines while in the minor leagues. The Dodgers no longer mention Guerrero, 27, when discussing their infield (or outfield) plans and they designated Arruebarrena for assignment after signing pitcher Brett Anderson.
Guerrero lost part of his ear in a dugout brawl with a teammate, Miguel Olivo, last season and Arruebarrena sparked one of the nastiest minor-league brawls of 2014 with an ultra-slow trip around the bases in a Triple-A game.
Moncada, 19, appears to be in a different category than Guerrero or Arruebarrena, who arrived with glaring question marks -- Guerrero’s defense and Arruebarrena’s offense -- based on reports out of Cuba. According to Baseball America, Moncada, is “a 6-foot, 210-pound switch-hitting infielder who’s the best teenager to leave Cuba since Jorge Soler, a player with exciting tools and dominance of the Cuban junior leagues on par with what Yasiel Puig did at the same age.”
The courtship of Moncada will set another precedent in the rapidly evolving relationship between major league teams and Cuban-born players. Moncada is awaiting clearance from the United States Office of Foreign Asset Control before he can sign and six other teams, including NL West rivals San Francisco and San Diego, also arranged private workouts.
Signing Moncada could prove more costly than the Puig, Guerrero and Arruebarrena deals combined and that might prove to be the ultimate deterrent. The team that signs Moncada would have to pay a 100 percent tax on the amount by which it exceeds its international bonus pool (the Dodgers’ was less than $2 million last year). It would also be banned from spending more than $300,000 on any single international prospect for the next two years.
The fact that Mattingly and Friedman attended Moncada’s workout tells us the team has a serious interest. If they cross all the hurdles to signing him, we’ll know they came away awed by his potential.