Must-click link: Jose Abreu and the journey out of Cuba


White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu is the heavy favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award on Monday, marking the culmination of a mysterious journey out of Cuba last year.

Jared Hopkins of the Chicago Tribune has written an excellent piece on the dangerous and corrupt system that Abreu and others have faced in order to come to the United States to play baseball. Details on Abreu’s defection are murky and he has never acknowledged that he paid to be smuggled out of Cuba, but the process is commonplace.

Cuban exile Rider Reyes, who recently finished a six-month prison sentence on charges related to smuggling, said he helped people involved with moving players into Mexico. He said the smugglers treat players like prisoners, despite their voluntarily leaving, and do not release them until they are paid.

“Those people are all about the money; they don’t care about the players,” Reyes said.

Nieto, a White Sox catcher, said paying the smugglers appears simply to have become another step in the process of Cubans reaching the majors.

“It has become a business, pretty much, with guys that do this and do that,” he said. “You have to give them a percentage when you sign. It’s a risk, and for a lot of guys, it has paid off for them.”

Alfredo Arias, a trainer and player agent who co-owns the Arias and Goodman academy in the Dominican Republic, told the Tribune that Abreu was “dragged out of there in a boat” and “risked his life” in order to establish residency in Haiti and eventually come to the United States. He signed a six-year, $68 million contract with the White Sox last October, which stood as the record contract for a player from Cuba until Rusney Castillo’s seven-year, $72.5 million deal with the Red Sox this August. Yasmany Tomas, a 23-year-old outfielder, defected from Cuba earlier this year and could top Castillo’s contract this offseason.

Yasiel Puig’s harrowing defection story has gained the most attention via a detailed piece from Jesse Katz of L.A. Magazine earlier this year. That drama is still playing out in a $12 million federal court case.

Astros, Nationals set to face off in the World Series starting Tuesday

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Saturday night’s wild ALCS finale will live in the mind of Astros and Yankees fans for a long, long time, but the Astros only have two days to bask in it because they have other business to attend to: the Washington Nationals, who they will host Tuesday evening in Game 1 of the World Series.

For the Astros, this year’s World Series presents the chance to forge a dynasty. To carry on a journey in which they’ve risen from a three-time 100-loss club to a three-years-straight 100-win club with not just one, but two World Series titles in the space of those three seasons.

For the Nationals, the World Series presents an opportunity to complete a pretty compelling narrative in which they’ve grown stronger as the year has gone on: from a near disastrous 19-31 start, to a late, come-from-behind victory in the Wild Card Game, to beating the favored Dodgers in the NLDS to simply dominating the Cardinals in the NLCS. The Nats are nobody’s Cinderella, but a win over the Astros would certainly make them one of the more notable giant-killers in recent memory. And, of course, would give them their first World Series title in franchise history and the city of Washington its first World Series winner since the Senators won it in 1924.

We’ll break down this Series in greater detail over the next couple of days, but for now it’s worth noting that this matchup presents us with, arguably, the best possible group of starting pitchers in the game. Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin are six of the top — what? — 15 starting pitchers going right now? And Aníbal Sanchez has been pitching pretty dang good for Washington of late as well. Bullpenning is all the rage these days — and Houston’s Game 6 win was a bullpen affair — but there is something classic and compelling about a handful of aces facing off in October.

The difference-maker could very well be an Astros offense that — last night’s José Altuve walkoff blast notwithstanding — has, somehow, gone relatively quiet this postseason. Postseason pitching is always tough — and in beating the Rays and Yankees they faced two of the best bullpens going — but their collective 3.7 runs per game and .645 team OPS is very un-Astro-like. To beat the Nats, they’ll definitely want to see those numbers go higher.

For Washington, it’ll be about figuring out how to beat Gerrit Cole, Game 1’s starter, and Justin Verlander, who will likely go in Game 2. They’ll have to face each of those 20-game winners/Cy Young contenders twice if this series goes long. That seems daunting, but so too did climbing out of the hole they found themselves in in late May and beating the Dodgers in a five-game series. The Nats have dealt pretty well with “daunting” thus year and, at the moment, they’re playing their best baseball of the season.

So the stage is set. Washington vs. Houston in the 115th edition of the Fall Classic. Things get underway just after 8PM Eastern on Tuesday evening when Gerrit Cole fires in a near-100 m.p.h. fastball to Trea Turner. Stay with us over the next three days for our breakdown of what looks to be an epic matchup.