No one in the baseball media is quite sure if the Phillies are buyers or sellers going into the trading deadline this year, but Ruben Amaro clearly believes his team can still make some noise in 2013. To that end, Philadelphia reportedly agreed to terms with Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, a right-handed pitcher, on a six-year, $49 million deal with an $11 million vesting option for a seventh year. It's the largest contract ever handed out to a Cuban player, edging Yasiel Puig's seven-year, $42 million deal from December 2012.
Gonzalez comes to the U.S. as somewhat of an unknown, so we put together a helpful primer on Gonzalez, as well as where the Phillies go from here with their Cuban import.
So who exactly is this Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez?
Glad you asked! Gonzalez, who is 6-foot-2-inches, 185 pounds and reportedly 26 years old, defected from Cuba early in 2013, a successful departure after a number of failed attempts. Those earlier tries at leaving Cuba landed him a suspension from playing for the Cuban national team for the last two years, as well as for his team in the Cuban National Series, the island's equivalent of MLB. Before that suspension, he pitched for La Habana from 2007 to 2009, and for the national team in few international tournaments, including the 2009 and 2011 Baseball World Cups. After defecting, he went to El Salvador, then Mexico, and pitched in a few games for the Toros de Tijuana in the Mexican Northern League.
Wait, but if he's an international player, how did he get such a huge deal? Didn't the CBA eliminate those?
They did indeed, except for one loophole: Cuban players who are 23 or older and have played at least three seasons in a Cuban professional league. That got Gonzalez an exemption from the CBA's international signing guidelines, allowing Amaro and the Phillies to spend as much as their hearts desired.
Oh, ok, thanks. So what does he throw?
According to scouts, Gonzalez boasts a fastball that sits at 93 MPH and gets as high as 96 to go with a splitter, a changeup, a cutter and a curveball. You can get a good look at his stuff via this video of him throwing in Mexico, which features a scout helpfully holding up a radar gun after every pitch.
There's also video of him from the 2010 World University Baseball Championships in Japan. That's him at the start, showing off a fastball with pop and the kind of mound reactions that will likely drive at least one stodgy Philly baseball writer completely insane.
Maybe he and Jonathan Papelbon can form a wrestling tag-team duo.
I just hope they call it Birds of Prey.
Anyway, will Gonzalez pitch this season?
I'm assuming Ruben Amaro wouldn't give a pitcher $50 million in the middle of a season unless he thought he was going to be of immediate help, but Amaro is nothing if not unpredictable. Whether Gonzalez will contribute in 2013 was the big question for scouts and front offices—after all, he made just two appearances in Mexico this season—but the Phillies have to hope that, after a month or so in the minors, he can throw some valuable September innings. His agent, Jaime Torres, told ESPN Deportes that he thinks Gonzalez can pitch in 2013.
"[Gonzalez] could help a team this season … [He'd] only need to go to the minor leagues a couple of weeks and make a few [starts] before debuting in the major leagues."
Whether that's doable is another question. Back in 1996, the Marlins got Livan Hernandez to pitch the same season he was signed, but that was after 141 innings in the minors, and Hernandez contributed just three innings in September before the season ended. Aroldis Chapman was also brought up by the Reds the same year he signed, in 2010, but threw only 13 1/3 innings in the Majors after 95 2/3 innings for Triple-A Louisville. Jose Contreras managed to throw a full season for the Yankees in 2003 after being signed that same offseason, though he topped out at 71 innings and didn't join the rotation until late May.
Well, they signed him for six years anyway, so they'll have him beyond 2013. What will the Phillies do with him?
Assuming Roy Halladay's $20 million option for 2014 isn't picked up — which, given the hamburger meat-like status of his right shoulder, seems a likely outcome — the Phillies will slot Gonzalez into the rotation behind Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, and ahead of John Lannan, Kyle Kendrick, Jonathan Pettibone and Tyler Cloyd. So Gonzalez's rotation spot, barring injury, seems secure. Of course, there's the fact that, between Gonzalez, Lee and Hamels, the Phillies will owe roughly $56 million to those three starters in 2014. There's always the possibility that Lee gets moved to create some financial flexibility, but Amaro's given no real indication that Lee will be anywhere but Philadelphia in 2014 and beyond, and a stiff neck may kill Lee's trade value before July 31, anyway. The problem will be if Gonzalez doesn't deliver on his potential. On paper, his AAV of roughly $8 million isn't a killer. But for a team that already has $75 million committed to three players for 2014 and onward, there may not be financial room to swallow a bad performance by Gonzalez and find a capable replacement. That's been the case this season with Halladay, currently costing the Phillies $20 million, and the cast of less-than-suitable replacements Amaro's put in his place.