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Should Yankees pursue Cuban defectors Yenier Bello and Odrisamer Despaigne?

Will the Yankees hold onto their promise to start spending big internationally?

Koji Watanabe

The Yankees have spent almost $500 million this offseason, adding the likes of Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann. Unfortunately, they also lost Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez, leaving the infield to rest on a Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira coming back from injury-riddled seasons. The Yankees have previously spoken about looking internationally to supplement a weak farm system, so if they are planning to spend big on this kind of talent, then it's time to start opening up the wallet.

Catcher Yenier Bello and right-handed pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne both previously defected from Cuba and have finally been unblocked by the Office of Foreign Asset Control after months of waiting. That last hurdle has been passed and now they are free to sign with major league teams. Should the Yankees be interested?

I previously wrote about Bello in November. At the time, it was believed that the Yankees were interested in the 28-year-old backstop, along with the Rangers, Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Phillies. I reported that "from 2003-2011, Bello hit .276/.324/.458 with 82 home runs while throwing out 50% of potential base stealers," which sounds like decent production out of the catcher spot. Unfortunately, given his age, it doesn't make him much of a prospect:

Bello would likely be able to start in Triple-A before making a move to the majors, but given the Yankees' current boom of catchers in and around the majors, it doesn't seem worthwhile to bring him in, even if he's not too expensive. Gary Sanchez will be in Double-A, J.R. Murphy and Austin Romine are both ticketed for Triple-A, and Francisco Cervelli and Brian McCann will probably be the major league catching tandem. Why throw another player into that mess? They traded Chris Stewart to try and fix that very problem.

I wrote about Despaigne all the way back in October when it was reported that the Yankees were one of several teams to scout the righty. He has had two showcases this month and may have another before he signs with a team. There's a little more information on him than with Bello:

The 26-year-old right-hander has pitched in Cuba for eight seasons and owns a 51-39 record with a 3.65 ERA, though his final season might have been his best after he posted a 2.58 ERA. He finishes his career in Cuba with a 6.4 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 8.8 H/9 in 957.3 innings. Despaigne can be considered a workhorse, having pitched in at least 20 games every year since 2010. In the 2012 season he combine for 30 starts in 220 innings between the regular season and the playoffs. He also pitched for Cuba in the World Baseball Classic along Aroldis Chapman and Jose Abreu.

When compared to recent defectors Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and Dalier Hinojosa, Despaigne has a better strikeout rate and ERA, but a much higher walk rate. He also eclipses them both in innings pitched and starts since the 2010 season. The Phillies signed Gonzalez to a three-year, $12 million deal, while the Red Sox signed Hinojosa for $4 million. Despaigne is younger than both, however Obstructed View says he might not be worth a pricey investment.

Even with Tanaka in the fold, the pitching staff has some openings, especially in the bullpen. Despaigne might not be ready to go right into the majors upon signing, but it's not like there is anyone really blocking him to at least crack the majors after some time in Triple-A. It seems like managing his control issues will be key for him, so that is something to watch. Maybe the Yankees also move him to the bullpen at some point too, as Ben Badler of Baseball America seems to think is in his future.

A third player out of Cuba, shortstop Aledmys Diaz, is still deemed to be ineligible by the OFAC until February 19 for falsifying documents. Right now he is training in Arizona and will have showcases there and in Florida next month. I wrote about him in December, where I pulled from different sources to paint a picture about the 23-year-old right-handed shortstop:


While he is known for "his ability to hit for power and average, Diaz is [also] considered an average runner with an above-average arm."

From CBS Sports:

Diaz hit .315/.404/.500 with 12 home runs in 270 at-bats during the 2011-12 season in Cuba, his last before defecting. He hit .308/.401/.444 from 2008-12. Reports on his defense are mixed, which is why some teams expect him to move to the other side of the bag.

From Viva El Birdos:

Looking at his statistics over his career in Cuba, he seems to have a middling bat. Dan Moore of Viva El Birdos looked into Diaz back in January, declaring "The Davenport Translations, an attempt to translate his numbers into an MLB context, help a little-from 07-08 (in which Diaz drew 32 at-bats) to 10-11, they make him look like a punchier Daniel Descalso, with a line of .258/.320/.353."

If that projection is legit, I would sign up for that right now. It might not be something great or special, but it definitely would be useful. The Yankees have almost nothing in regards to internal solutions at shortstop, so even Descalso-levels of production would be welcomed if he can provide better defense than Eduardo Nunez. They don't need a superstar, they just need someone who is useful.

We should be hearing a lot more about these players soon, but we'll see how the Yankees act here. This is the time to prove their dedication to the international market, especially after Tanaka. If it was up to me, I'd go after Despaigne and Diaz (when he becomes available), but probably let Bello go elsewhere.