Before the most recent talented baseball player to defect from Cuba, Yasiel Puig, signed a 6 year, 42 million dollar contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, I thought about doing an article about whether the Rays should sign him. I realized it was a waste of time- it wasn’t going to happen.
The Rays have signed a couple of Cuban defectors in the past, Rolando Arrojo and Leslie Anderson. Arrojo was great in 1998, but both of them were busts, with Anderson still not playing a single major league game. The Rays have tried the Japanese route as well, signing Akinori Iwamura to a 3-year deal with an option for a fourth year, but he never amounted to much either. They also signed Japanese reliever Shinji Mori, who would up never pitching a game in the Rays organization. The Rays are done with signings like this, at least as far as we can tell.
The Rays are all about efficiency in their signings. They have gotten some great early first round picks over the years, such as Evan Longoria and David Price, but they have also gotten some later-round steals, such as Matt Moore and Desmond Jennings, because they were willing to take on some risk in the later rounds in exchange for upside that would vastly out-weigh the money they doled out. The Rays are known for signing players to contract extensions very early in their careers. They understand that risk is necessary for maximum reward. But they draw a line.
These Cuban defectors are guaranteed dozens of millions of dollars no matter what. The teams that signed them have scouted them, maybe seen them play in the World Baseball Classic or something, and think they have a feel for their tools. But what if they don’t work out? We’ve seen plenty of talented players fail. But in baseball, when highly-touted young players fail, they don’t typically cost their team many millions of dollars. The Rays have never been a big player in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela either, signing plenty of players including some who have turned out to be very good, but never for large sums of money. The Rays take calculated risks. There’s just so much more variability involved with international signings. You really never know. The Rays see no point of getting involved.