Report: Top Cuban slugger Jose Dariel Abreu defects

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A pair of agents told El Nuevo Herald that first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu has defected from Cuba and is somewhere in the Caribbean, with separate reports placing him in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

If the news is true, Abreu would rate as biggest Cuban free agent ever. Arguably the country’s best hitter, Abreu is just entering his prime at 26 and he tied for the league lead in homers last year, hitting 19 in 264 at-bats. He finished the season batting .345 with a 39/54 K/BB ratio. In the World Baseball Classic, he went 9-for-25 with three homers and nine RBI.

Particularly in light of the success of Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig in the majors, Abreu will likely set off quite the bidding war if he’s made a free agent. Given that the Dodgers, Yankees, Tigers and Angels already have huge commitments at first base, the Red Sox and Rangers would seem to be in the best position to land him, with the Mets, Blue Jays, White Sox and Mariners rating as longer shots.

Personally, I think Abreu would immediately emerge as an All-Star candidate at first base. A contract exceeding $70 million-$80 million would hardly come as a surprise.