Dodgers Road to Cuba Fraught with Potholes

Some would say if you go in a certain direction and all you find is failure it may be wise to move in another direction to determine if the path is any better. The Dodgers road to Cuba has not been met with a lot of success, unless one defines the early production and controversy of Yasiel Puig a success. The map the Dodgers used to get them to Cuba was necessitated by the previous owner, who wrecked the Dodgers minor league system by using the major league franchise to enrich his own pockets to the detriment of the Dodgers. The signing of Yasiel Puig and what appeared to be his success motivated the Dodgers to continue on that path.

The Yasiel Puig signing was for seven years and $42 million, somewhat of a bargain when you consider that same year the Dodgers extended the contract of Andre Ethier for $85 million. Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford were two other outfielders anchoring down the Dodgers roster with huge contracts. So when compared to those other contracts Yasiel Puig might seem a bargain. When teams asked the Dodgers about outfielders available for trade Puig was the least expensive of the four and the one the Dodgers were least willing to trade.

However, Puig has not fulfilled the potential his tools predicted for him. Two years of .300 seasons was followed by a 2015 season filled with disappointment. His OPS since his initial year have fallen from .925 to .863 to .758 and this year it stands at .679. At the beginning of his career his wild antics in the clubhouse were overlooked because of the numbers he created. Now, they would be considered a cancer. Major league baseball reviewed possibly suspending him because of a domestic dispute this year involving his sister, one of three Cubans involved in domestic violence this year (Aroldis Chapman and Hector Olivera two others). Ultimately, major league baseball chose not to suspend Puig and his starting opportunities have been reduced as his production has lessoned.

The initial success led the Dodgers to look at the wave of Cuban prospects coming to the United States looking to play baseball as a way to stock up their farm system. Hector Olivera was another player they signed for six years and $62.5 million despite the mystery surrounding his injury in Cuba and his advanced age (31). The Dodgers were able to unload his contract on the Braves for Alex Wood, Jim Johnson, Bronson Arroyo (a contract the Braves were trying to unload), Jose Peraza and Luis Avilan. 

Now Hector has become the Braves problem. Major league baseball is investigating a domestic incident at a hotel in Washington in which Hector supposedly struck a woman. There is a criminal process of assault ongoing and Hector has been suspended (with pay at the moment) until the trial is resolved. The Braves have been trying to trade Olivera but with no success. At 32 years of age it is possible his baseball career has little to offer for the future and the Braves will have to eat the majority of his contract.

Erisbel Arruebarrena is another Cuban the Dodgers signed to a contract, five years and $25 million, despite the concerns by many scouts he would never hit major league pitching. Erisbel is a wizard with the glove and was good enough to be the shortstop for the Cuban national team in many international tournaments. In 2014 his bat was also good enough in the minor leagues to hit a homerun, and then take forever to trot around the bases, resulting in a beaning in his next at bat and a major brawl. He was suspended for five games after the brawl. In May of last year the Dodgers tried to suspend him without pay for the rest of the year for actions he took that were frowned upon by the Dodgers. That suspension was appealed and reduced to 30 days. On the one year anniversary of that suspension the Dodgers this month suspended Erisbel for the rest of the season for conduct not becoming of a Dodger. It will be interesting where that suspension goes. It doesn’t appear the Dodgers will get a lot for Erisbel. 

They also signed Alex Guerrero to a four year $28 million contract. Language in the contract prevented the Dodgers from sending Guerrero back to the minor leagues once they promoted him to the major leagues without getting his permission. Alex would not give that permission so for all of last year the Dodgers were obligated to keep him on the major league roster, despite having no position they could trust he could handle well defensively. Last year he played in 106 games and hit .233, showing spurts of power with 11 homeruns. The Dodgers played him in the outfield and at third base. This time the Dodgers found a solution to their quandary of keeping him on the 25 man roster. They put him on the disabled list where he has lingered so far with what is described as a knee injury. There will probably be a long rehab in the minors limited by the restrictions of the collective bargaining agreement where once that rehab is complete they will either release him or put him on the disabled list again.

There is also the case of Onelki Garcia, who made the mistake of taking residence in the United States, instead of being sheltered by a people smuggler in a third country to negotiate a free agent contract. His agent tried for two years to argue he was a free agent, giving up after court cases supported major league baseball. Garcia became part of the draft process and the Dodgers selected him in the third round in 2012, signing him for $382,000, far less than what a major league team might have paid for him if he had been declared a free agent. Knee surgery and Tommy John elbow surgery finally convinced the Dodgers to remove him from the 40 man roster where he was picked up in the Rule V draft by the White Sox. The result for the Dodgers was three major league appearances and a 13.50 ERA. He has yet to make an appearance with the White Sox.

Despite all the headaches this road has given the Dodgers it has also been filled with heavy tolls. Myworld calculates those tolls have added up to about $127 million. The Dodgers have relieved themselves of one of the biggest tolls by trading Olivera to the Braves and they hope the suspension of Arruebarruena sticks to limit their financial damage for that contract. This has not prevented the Dodgers from continuing on that road as they sign more Cuban prospects. Only the future will determine whether the road will get better and easier to cross. The tolls for signing those players are still pretty high. The Dodgers hope they will not continue to travel over Potholed paths.