Cuba

Cuba to allow athletes to sign foreign contracts

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Are the days of ballplayers risking their lives to defect a thing of the past?

The Cuban Government’s anouncemnt thru GRANMA (the official newspaper of Cuba’s Communist Party) says that athletes will be able to sign contracts abroad as long as they “fulfill their obligations at home.” Said obligations were characterized thusly: “It will be taken into account that they are in Cuba for the fundamental competitions of the year.” This suggests that Cuban athletes will still be required to play for the national team and tournaments.

NBC’s Orlando Matos in Havana, who confirmed the news, says this could be considered one of the most radical economic reforms announced by the Cuban government.  Sports were declared strictly “amateur” in the early 60’s.  This reform would allow the athletes, trainers and other sports specialists to keep the money earned from contracts made abroad as long as they pay taxes to the Cuban government.   When it comes to Cuban baseball, athletes will start to get paid, receive bonuses and other monetary awards (all in Cuban pesos) and this indicates the beginnings of a professional Cuban Baseball League.

It is unclear how this affects baseball players coming to play in the United States beyond the issue of taxes, but one can only assume that this move is designed in large part to address them given the primacy of baseball in Cuba and the embarrassment to the government engendered by its biggest star athletes fleeing the country to play. Yasiel Puig has become a sensation. Yoenis Cespedes before that. We wrote the other day about a documentary on Yunel Escobar’s harrowing journey to the U.S. Before that we bore witness to Orlando Hernandez’s famous defection. As of now, teams are scouting Cuban defectors Alexander Guerrero and Jose Dariel Abreu, putting them in line to be the next big Cuban success stories.

The devil will be in the details, of course, and the details insofar as they relate to Cubans in Major League Baseball are not yet known. Nonetheless:  Viva increasing normalcy in a relationship that has been messed up for far too long.

The Red Sox’ DH search now includes Pedro Alvarez

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 27:  Pedro Alvarez #24 of the Baltimore Orioles walks back to the dugout after striking out with the bases loaded to end the top of the first inning on August 27, 2016 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
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The Red Sox have more or less withdrawn from the Edwin Encarnacion sweepstakes, with Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald noting that much of their reluctance hinges on the likelihood that they’d exceed the new $195 million luxury tax threshold by locking the DH into a lucrative deal. That doesn’t leave them without options, however, and FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman reported that the club could be interested in 29-year-old corner infielder Pedro Alvarez, as well as fellow free agents Mike Napoli and Matt Holliday.

After playing just 10 games at DH from 2010 to 2015, Alvarez suited up as the Orioles’ primary designated hitter and part-time third baseman in 2016. His defense is sub-par, to say the least, but he batted .249/.322/.504 with 22 home runs for Baltimore in 2016.

According to Heyman, the Red Sox envision using Alvarez in much the same way the Orioles did. He’d have a place as the team’s DH with the occasional infield start, while Hanley Ramirez would keep his post at first base. Whether the Red Sox make offers to Napoli, Holliday or Alvarez, they’re expected to pursue a short-term deal in order to stay under budget.

Braves sign Jacob Lindgren to one-year deal

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 29:  Jacob Lindgren #64 of the New York Yankees watches Brett Lawrie #15 of the Oakland Athletics round the bases after he hit a home run in the eighth inning at O.co Coliseum on May 29, 2015 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The Braves signed left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren to a one-year deal, according to a team announcement on Sunday.

Lindgren, the Yankees’ top draft pick in 2014, was nicknamed “The Strikeout Factory” after blowing through four levels of New York’s farm system in 2014. He started the 2015 season in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and was called up for his major league debut only two months into the 2015 season. The 22-year-old lasted seven innings with the club before succumbing to bone chips in his elbow, and underwent bone spur surgery in June before trying his luck again during spring training in 2016.

In August, the Yankees shut Lindgren down for the remainder of the season so the lefty could undergo Tommy John surgery. With a projected return date of 2018, Lindgren was non-tendered by the Yankees on Friday.

While the Braves won’t get the benefit of Lindgren’s top prospect skill set in their bullpen anytime soon, he will remain under club control if they keep him on their 40-man roster beyond the 2017 season (per ESPN’s Keith Law).