Dodgers’ Cuban Experiment a Dismal Failure

During the summer of 2012, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Cuban defector Yasiel Puig to a seven-year, $42 Million contract, and the following year he blasted upon the major league scene, hitting .319 with 19 home runs in less than 400 at bats. He showed great speed, excellent defensive abilities in right field, and almost daily showed off one of the great throwing arms ever seen in a major league outfield. The Dodgers thought they had lightening in a bottle, and firmly believed that Puig was only one of many Cuban ballplayers with the bright neon sign of “Major League Star” blinking on their foreheads. The Dodgers

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then proceeded to commit assets, energy, and above all, millions and millions more US dollars, to signing the future of the team, from this seemingly endless pool of talent.

Three years later, this unmitigated disaster of a plan is an embarrassment to the organization and a major reason why the team has failed to achieve the level of success that has been so highly anticipated. As if one could not have seen this coming. Prior to the 2015 season on March 24,
2015, I wrote about how the plan was already a monster failure, and that was before Puig fell apart and while some other players still had a fighting chance to succeed.

Let us review.

Following the Puig signing, first in line was Alexander Guerrero, a 25-year-old Cuban All-Star shortstop who already had a reputation for 1) having a big bat, 2) having a stone glove, and 3) being a head case – when he did not make the roster of the 2013 Cuban World Baseball Classic team, in a royal hissy fit, he decided to sit out the next full Cuban league season. In late 2013, the Dodgers signed him to a four-year, $28 Million contract.

Guerrero spent most of 2014 in the Dodgers minor league system, bouncing between three leagues, but hitting a robust .333 overall with pretty good power, while playing primarily at second base. At the end of the season he came up to the big club and went one-for-13, primarily as a pinch hitter, but playing a few innings in left field. In 2015, he was a member of the Dodgers for the full season, starting out really strong at the plate, but fading as the season progressed. He ended up batting .233, but his hitting was all done early – of his 11 home runs, he had hit ten by June 2, and one in the last 44 games in which he appeared. On June 2, he was hitting .296, .182 thereafter, with all of 11 RBI. His time was split between left field and third base, demonstrating convincingly that he could play neither at the major league level. During the spring of 2016, he suffered a knee injury, and

spent the bulk of the season so far on the disabled list. He did, however, recently appear in 16 minor league games, batting .136, and this week the Dodgers designated him for assignment, ending their relationship, apart, of course, for having to pay the additional $10 M or so that they still owe him.

Having just signed one of Cuba’s top shortstops
in Guerrero, only a few months later, in February of 2014, they signed a second Cuban shortstop, Erisbel Arruebarrena. Arruebarrena, with a five-year, $25 Million deal, plus $7.5 M signing bonus, from the Dodgers, was basically the mirror image of Guerrero, a slick fielder whose bat was a major question mark. He played with four teams in the Dodgers’ minor league system during 2014, hitting .259 with six home run, but his fielding was disappointing, with him committing far more errors than anticipated by his reputation. He was called up to the Dodgers in 2014, and in 22 games batted .195 and in limited chances committed three errors for a fielding percentage of a dismal .930. During the 2015 season, he appeared in 53 minor league games, hitting a surprising .299, but still making lots of errors. This year he appeared in 17 games in Triple-A, hitting .182. But other events led to his current situation.

During his brief career in the Dodgers’ organization, he was involved in numerous confrontations and brawls, some unquestionably started by him, and he had several disciplinary actions imposed on him. After the 2014 season, he was actually released by the Dodgers, but then re-signed to the minor league system. However, in May of 2015 he was suspended indefinitely, but that was appealed and reduced to 30 days. Last month, the Dodgers announced that, due to “repeated failure to comply with the terms of his contract”, he was suspended for the remainder of the 2016 season.

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In March of 2015, the Dodgers signed Cuban right-handed pitcher Pablo Millán Fernández Rojas in a deal that included an $8 Million signing bonus. Fernandez was a relief pitcher in Cuba, where he had some measure of success despite having a fastball that topped out in the mid-80s. He split the 2015 season between four minor league teams, recording a disappointing 3-2 won-lost record in 20 starts, with a 3.92 ERA and 1.282 WHIP. Last month, he underwent Tommy John surgery, and will likely not pitch until late 2017 at the earliest.

And then, of course, there is Hector Olivera. Despite a long history of health issues – a bad throwing arm that could even require Tommy John surgery, not good for a third baseman, and a lingering blood disorder that had caused him to miss two full seasons – the 30-year-old snookered the Dodgers out of the ungodly sum of $62.5 Million with his March, 2015 signing of a six-year contract. Hector was not “ready” to return to competition until June of 2015, and then played all of 13 games as Dodgers’ property. In July, the Dodgers included Hector in a multi-player, multi-team transaction, sending him to the Atlanta Braves. He played a handful of games in the Atlanta organization before being called up to the Braves in September. He played in 24 games, mostly at third base, hitting .253 with two home runs. He actually began the 2016 season as the Braves starting left fielder, and in five games went four-for-21. Then the roof fell in.

Olivera was arrested on April 13 for domestic violence, and the Braves placed him on the restricted list. Thereafter, he was suspended for 82 games, with his return now possible on August 1. One good thing for the Dodgers – while they have paid Olivera about $30 M, the remaining $32 M on his contract is Atlanta’s responsibility. Info is sketchy, but apparently his criminal prosecution is still to play out, and that, of course, could lead to more time away from the diamond.

So, with all these signings, all the press conferences, all the drama, and all the millions down the tube, all that the Dodgers have now is Puig, who after the great start to his career is now hitting .238, following his .255 of 2015, and he continues to underperform mentally as well, having recently been pulled from a game due to his on field actions.

Is there any question that the Dodgers’ Cuban Experiment is a Dismal Failure?

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