Two Cubans playing in Caribbean Series defect
Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY Sports 12:10 a.m. EST February 4, 2015
SAN JUAN, P.R. – Two players from the Cuban team competing in the
Caribbean Series have defected, according to a tournament official.
The official, who spoke to USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity
because the Cuban federation has not confirmed the defections, said
shortstop Dainer Moreira was one of the players. A person familiar with
the Cuban team said the other one is pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez.
If confirmed, the defections would be the latest blow to Cuban baseball,
which has suffered a talent drain in recent years as All-Star-quality
players like Jose Abreu, Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis
Cespedes have escaped from the Communist island to pursue their fortune
in Major League Baseball.
Neither Moreira nor Gutierrez is considered to be in that level.
It’s not clear whether the players were acting together or how they
parted ways with the team, but Moreira started and went 2-for-4 in
Tuesday afternoon’s 6-1 loss to the Dominican Republic, which dropped
Cuba to 0-2 in the tournament. Gutierrez did not play.
Moreira, 30, is the starting shortstop for Matanzas but has limited
experience at the international level and may be a longshot to make the
majors. One longtime Cuban observer compared him with Aledmys Diaz, the
infielder the St. Louis Cardinals signed for $8 million over four years
in March. Diaz, 24, batted .273 in 47 games between Class A and AA last
Gutierrez, 19, is regarded as a better prospect even though he’s not a
hard thrower. The 6-1 right-hander won rookie of the year honors in the
2013-14 Cuban league season, going 5-5 with a 3.90 ERA both as a starter
and reliever for Pinar del Rio. Gutierrez then looked sharp pitching out
of the bullpen as Cuba swept to the championship in the Central American
and Caribbean Games in Mexico last November.
A scout in attendance at the Caribbean Games said Gutierrez is a major
Five Cuban basketball players defected during a tournament in Puerto
Rico in 2012, but no baseball players had left their team in this
island, which is a U.S. commonwealth.
To gain free agency for MLB purposes, the players would have to
establish residency in a third country. However, the process of becoming
eligible to sign with a major league team has become less onerous since
President Obama announced in December that the U.S. and Cuba would
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