Cuban center fielder Yasiel Balaguer defects with eye on MLB

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Yasiel Balaguer, a 17-year-old center fielder considered one of the top prospects in Cuba, has defected to Nicaragua in order to become a free agent and sign with an MLB team, according to Jorge Ebro of El Nuevo Herald.

Ebro reports that Balaguer is now being represented by the Miami Sports agency and calls him “a natural leadoff batter and an explosive baserunner” who “is an extraordinary defensive player because of his arm.”

Baseball America‘s reports on Balaguer are far less glowing, but he’s definitely viewed as a legitimate prospect.

Jose Iglesias and Noel Arguelles defected from Cuba as teenagers last year, with Iglesias joining the Red Sox for $8.25 million and Arguelles getting $7 million from the Royals.

Rangers will not exercise Mike Napoli’s 2018 option

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The Rangers have informed 1B/DH Mike Napoli the club will not exercise his 2018 option, worth $11 million, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports. Instead, the Rangers will pay Napoli $2.5 million to buy him out of his contract, making him a free agent.

Napoli, 35, hit a disappointing .193/.285/.428 with 29 home runs and 66 RBI in 485 plate appearances this past season. Given his age and declining production, it’s not shocking that the Rangers want to look elsewhere.

Napoli turns 36 at the end of the month. Given his age and worsening peripheral stats, he will likely have to settle for a one-year deal this offseason.