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.

Phillies, RHP Taijuan Walker reportedly agree to 4-year deal

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO – The active Philadelphia Phillies added Taijuan Walker to their rotation on Tuesday, agreeing to a $72 million, four-year contract with the right-hander.

A person familiar with the negotiations confirmed the move to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because it was pending a physical.

It was the second major free-agent score for the Phillies at the winter meetings after they reeled in shortstop Trea Turner on Monday with a $300 million, 11-year deal. Walker and Turner join a Phillies team that made it to the World Series this year before losing to the Houston Astros.

The 30-year-old Walker went 12-5 with a 3.49 ERA in 29 starts this season for the New York Mets, one of Philadelphia’s biggest NL East rivals. He slots into a rotation fronted by Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola.

The Phillies recently lost pitcher Zach Eflin in free agency to Tampa Bay.

Asked about the market for Walker earlier in the day, agent Scott Boras said it was robust.

“As you can see in the marketplace, there’s a whole number of pitchers that are throwing 60 and 70 innings that have been pursued, probably with the exception of (Jacob) deGrom, at the lower end of threshold around $13-15 million a year because the demand for quality pitching is so great,” Boras said.

“So, Tai … is one of the younger ones, one of the more durable ones and we expect him to be pursued greatly as his market unfolds.”

Walker was selected by Seattle with the No. 43 pick in the 2010 amateur draft. He made his big league debut with the Mariners in 2013.

Walker signed with New York as a free agent in February 2021. He turned down a $7.5 million player option last month in favor of a $3 million buyout, making his deal worth $17 million over two seasons.

The 6-foot-4 Walker made the All-Star team for the first time in 2021, putting together a fast start before fading to a 7-11 record with a 4.47 ERA in 30 games, 29 starts.