Frederich Cepeda becomes the first non-defecting Cuban to play in a major league in decades

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Last year we noted that Cuba lifted its rule — dating back to 1961 — which prevented its baseball stars to play baseball in other countries. Now Cubans can play in foreign leagues (at least non-U.S. foreign leagues) without having to defect. In exchange, they pay 20 percent of their salary to the government. For many — especially players who may not be Major League Baseball material — this isn’t a bad deal. After all, it’s one thing to risk your life and family for the chance at tens of millions. It’s another thing altogether to do it merely to play outside of Cuba for a couple of seasons.

Frederich Cepeda, an outfielder for the Cuban National team and  and Sancti Spíritus of the Cuban National Serieshas become the first player to take advantage of this policy. Cepeda, 34, will head to Japan to play for the Yomiuri Giants. He’ll make $1.5 million which, while just above average for any U.S. major leaguer, is life-transforming money for someone who otherwise would have little choice but to continue to play in Cuba, where even the best players make no more than $500 a month.

Noah Syndergaard: ‘I feel like I’m going to bet (on) myself in free agency’

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Yankees starter Luis Severino and Phillies starter Aaron Nola both signed contract extensions within the last week. Severino agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract with a 2023 club option. Nola inked a four-year, $45 million deal with a 2023 club option.

While the deals both represented significant raises and longer-term financial security for the right-handed duo, some feel like the players are selling themselves short. It has become a more common practice for players to agree to these types of deals in part due to how stagnant free agency has become. Get the money while you can.

Mets starter Noah Syndergaard is in a similar situation as Severino and Nola were. He and the Mets avoided arbitration last month, agreeing on a $6 million salary for the 2019 season. He has two more years of arbitration eligibility left. A contract extension with the Mets would presumably cover both of those years plus two or three years of what would be free agent years. As Tim Britton of The Athletic reports, however, Syndergaard plans to test free agency when the time comes.

Syndergaard said, “I trust my ability and the talent that I have. So I feel like I’m going to bet (on) myself in free agency and not do what they did. But if it’s fair for both sides and they approach me on it, then maybe we can talk.” He clarified that he would be open to a conversation about an extension, but the Mets thus far haven’t approached him about it. In his words, “There’s been no traction.”

Syndergaard, 26, has been one of baseball’s better starters since debuting in 2015. He owns a career 2.93 ERA with 573 strikeouts and 116 walks in 518 1/3 innings. Among pitchers to have logged at least 400 innings since 2015 and post a lower ERA are Clayton Kershaw (2.22), Jacob deGrom (2.66) and Max Scherzer (2.71). Syndergaard made only seven starts in 2017 yet still ranks seventh among pitchers in total strikeouts since 2015.

If Sydergaard doesn’t end up signing an extension, he will be entering free agency after the 2021 season. The collective bargaining agreement expires in December 2021 and a new one will likely be agreed upon around that time. Syndergaard will hopefully have better prospects entering free agency then than players do now.