Life used to be so simple and predictable. Refugee Cubans seeking a better life away from the oppressive Castro regime would sail off in the dead of night and invariably wash up on a beach in south Florida to start a new life in the land of milk, honey, oranges and opportunity. No more, especially if you happen to have mad baseball skills.
The fact is if you actually land your boat on U.S. soil you immediately become eligible for the baseball draft and Lord knows you didn’t paddle 90 miles to not cash in as a free agent.
The change in travel plans became obvious in one of two ways: 1) at a certain point in time, refugee boats populated by at least one draft-eligible Cuban, would veer off, likely led to the promised land by speedboats teeming with player agents, amazingly but not coincidentally washing up on Bahamian atolls or hunks of land not claimed by America; or 2) they would sneak away from Team Cuba hotels at tournaments in Mexico or central America turning up as residents of that country, also not eligible for the draft. Jackpot!!
But the story of left-handed pitcher Aroldis Chapman takes the Cuban “free-agent” story to another level. Here is text of the triumphant release from his agents:
Athletes Premier International (API) announces that Major League Baseball has declared Aroldis Chapman a free agent following its investigation. The United States Department of the Treasury has also licensed him as an unblocked national of Cuba. Chapman is now free to sign a contract with a Major League club interested in procuring his services.
“I wish to thank Edwin and the rest of the API team for helping me get to this point,” stated Chapman. “It has been a dream of mine to pitch in the Major Leagues and I’m very excited to start the next phase of my life.” “This is a great reward for nearly three months of hard work, but our real objective is helping Aroldis achieve his personal and professional goals,” stated Edwin Mejia, CEO of Athletes Premier International. “We look forward to speaking with Major League teams and other potential partners interested in helping Aroldis attain them.”
Such a heartwarming tale. Where’s Walt Disney? A new ride at Disney World? Free Agents of the Caribbean. With a yo-ho-ho and a bottle of Dom.
Chapman left the Cuban national team at an international tournament in Rotterdam, stepping off the team bus into a waiting car inexplicably still holding onto his passport (their custom is to confiscate players’ passports until they go home) and sped off to a safe house and to freedom. Of course, Chapman had had an earlier chance to do the same thing at the World Baseball Classic but that tournament ended in the U.S. and he would therefore have been draft eligible. Chapman is a 21-year-old left-hander whose fastball tops off at 101 m.p.h. - which is about the same speed at which his driver screeched away from the team bus with the meal ticket firmly buckled in.
After working out at the old ’84 Olympic complex in Barcelona, strutting his stuff for pro scouts and taking Rosetta Stone English lessons, after months of being scared for his safety, he is now a proud resident of … Andorra (?) and eligible for free agency instead of he 2010 draft. For those unaware, Andorra is a landlocked nation renowned as a tax haven nestled in the Pyrenees between Spain and France. The national anthem is Le gran Charlemany, mon pere. The population is 84,000. Hmm, maybe Canada could make sure that we draw Andorra in our group for the next World Baseball Classic and then have Scott Richmond actually pitch.
The scouting report on Chapman is one great pitch, but tough to coach. They are looking for a huge amount of money and a one-way ticket to a major-league roster.
On to the mailbag.
Q: Richard, couple of questions.
Since Vernon Wells is the only speed threat that we have, should Wells be batting 2nd? Also if the Jays want to trade Doc, would it be more logical for the Jays to keep JP and let him pull the trigger. It would be a tough spot for the new GM to come in and trade Doc, so I am expecting JP to finish his contract and you will have more GM jokes and the Jays will have a scapegoat for next season. Everybody wins?
Davy P., San Jose
A: Cito Gaston has already talked about Aaron Hill and Adam Lind batting third and fourth next year. That means Wells would have to bat either second or fifth. If the Jays signed a legit leadoff hitter like Chone Figgins (who has great personal respect for Cito) then, if they re-signed Marco Scutaro, it would make sense that the shortstop bat second. If they had only one out of Figgins or Scutaro that would be their leadoff guy and I believe Wells would be a decent choice (process of elimination) to bat second.
As for keeping J.P. to trade Halladay, that makes no sense. Ricciardi alienated all the GMs that he was dealing with in July by letting the media know virtually every step of the way which teams he was talking to. They will do him no favours in re-bidding for Doc. Besides, J.P. in his eight years has never made a deal in which he has received more than two players back. The biggest players he has traded are Billy Koch, Raul Mondesi, Orlando Hudson, Troy Glaus and Scott Rolen. Why is he the right guy to trade Halladay? As for the offensive term “GM jokes” they are more like “wry observations” and stem from the same frustration that the fans have finally arrived at re the current regime.
Q: When was the last time the Jays had a speed demon, a threat to steal every time he was on base? Has there been anyone since Dave Collins way back when? The Jays have had some guys with decent SB potential recently (Vernon, Rios), but it seems that the SB has not been part of the team’s game. Your comments? Thanks.
Emmanuel Rivelli, Thornhill
A: When he broke in, Shannon Stewart was a speed demon. Then he got bulky. Vernon Wells was somewhat of a speed demon. Then he got bulky. Alex Rios was a speed demon. Then he got balky. Raul Mondesi, Jose Cruz, Jr. and Shawn Green could all steal a base when needed. But chicks dig the longball. The last real, legitimate stolen base threat they had was Otis Nixon in 1996-97, but he was past his prime. The steal has not been important for the last eight years. Neither has October.
Q: Hey Griff,
With the season nearing its end, I thought I'd give you a philosophical question to think about. Currently no Blue Jay is in the hall of fame where the Blue Jays are considered the player’s primary team (ie Molitor is listed as a Brewer). With Robby Alomar and Fred McGriff eligible next year do you think either of them would make it? And if not who do you think could/would be the first?
Dave Fulton, Oakville
A: I would expect Alomar to go in, but maybe not on the first ballot because of his great expectorations with regard to umpire John Hirschbeck. Alomar was the greatest second baseman I have ever seen and an offensive threat that included some power as well as speed and base-running instincts that were unmatched. He will go in wearing the Jays’ hat. I don’t think McGriff will ever get in because the old standards for home runs no longer govern hall-of-fame voters. Of course, I’ve been wrong before.
Q: With consideration for player positioning next season after comments you made yourself, might you offer some insight into the present and perhaps the future of the Jays infield and outfield corners? It has dawned on me the best situation for the Blue Jays might be to move Encarnacion to right field where his arm and range could be maximized whilst his errors minimized? Does Dopirak have the tools to man first next season?
Nick Boileau, Whitby, Ont.
A: Gaston has already said that he can’t see Travis Snider and Adam Lind manning the corner outfield spots in 2010. One yes. Both no. Not enough combined defence. He also said he needs another RBI bat. Something doesn’t add up unless Lind moves to first base and Lyle Overbay is traded. As for Encarnacion moving to right field, I think the only reason he is on the ’09 Jays is because they had to take his salary in order to move Scott Rolen to the Reds. If that is the case, then the RBI bat Cito wants is either a DH or a right fielder. Jose Bautista has shown me more than Encarnacion as a hitter and potential right fielder. They will try to move Encarnacion and maybe even eat some of his ’10 salary. As for Brian Dopirak in the majors as a first baseman with the Jays in 2010 … no.
Q: Dear Richard,
Another frustrated UK Jays fan here. While I agree that it's time to move on from the JP regime, I think your repeated criticism of this era suggests that any half competent GM could have put together a team to jump past the Yankees & Red Sox over a 162 game season. As bad as it seems in T.O., it’s worse in Baltimore. Tampa Bay had seemingly all the pieces in place - but they fell way short. I think history will prove the ‘08 Rays as the Haley’s Comet of the AL East. I’m not making excuses, but I’ve no doubt that if the Jays had been in the Central rather than in the East the last 10 years there would have been at least one playoff appearance. I just don’t believe that if Chicago or Minnesota or Cleveland or Detroit had been in the East instead, that any of those teams would have had the same success. Yet all those teams get to catch pennant fever now and again and they get perceived as ‘mid-market’ successes, while the Jays get tagged as the AL’s answer to the Pirates, which I don’t think is fair. As of the AL standings today (Sep 23), outside of the Yanks/Sox only the Tigers (56-41, 0.577) have a better record against the AL Central/West than the Jays in 2009 (39-29, 0.574). I know every season hasn’t been like this but it illustrates my point. So my question is, do you think baseball would ever try to address this competitive disadvantage? Be it, a balanced schedule - or 2 divisions of 7 with 2 wild cards even. In the ESPN Yanks/Sox obsessed post-strike world, I fear that the rest of the AL East is being left for dead!
Iain Carey, Manchester, UK
A: The least of my worries as critic has been whether a competent GM could have vaulted the Jays past the Yankees and/or Red Sox. The biggest issues I have had with the GM over the years are the way he has treated his players as men, the way he has treated his payroll as the basis for his failures and the way he has treated the Jays’ fans as not worthy of knowing what he’s thinking, in terms of direction, ahead of fans in the good ol’ U.S.A.
Nobody has ever tagged the Jays as the AL answer to the Pirates. When Ricciardi took over he was handed a team that was 22 games above .500 for the previous four seasons. If this is his last season, J.P. will hand off a team that is 16 games above .500 for his final four years heading into Wednesday night. Not the Pirates. Not the Yankees. More like the 1998-2001 Jays.
As for the suggested changes to the league and playoff format, see last week’s lead into the mailbag that would allow 12 playoff teams into a post-season time frame that would be just over a month. Any more than that is too much.
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