Aledmys Diaz, 2B, Cuban Defector/Free Agent
6'0/185, R/R, Opening Day Age: Unconfirmed, but roughly 23
Comparables & Recent History
Diaz hopes to be yet another in a string of recent well-paid recent Cuban free agents (Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez was drafted from a Florida high school after defecting) that have signed in just the last five years: A's OF Yoenis Cespedes (4 years, $36 million), Dodgers OF Yasiel Puig (7 years, $42 million), Cubs RF Jorge Soler (9 years, $30 million), White Sox 1B Jose Abreu (6 years, $68 million), Rangers CF Leonys Martin (5 years, $15.5 million), Marlins SS Adeiny Hechevarria (4 years, $10 million), White Sox OF Dayan Viciedo (4 years, $10 million), Tigers SS Jose Iglesias (4 years, $8.25 million), Reds lefty Aroldis Chapman (6 years, $30.25 million), Phillies righty Miguel Gonzalez (3 years, $12 million), Dodgers 2B Alexander Guerrero (4 years, $28 million) and, as of last week, Dodgers SS Erisbel Arruebarruena (5 years, $25 million).
The two most important recent deals to keep in mind in setting Diaz's price are the last two (Guerrero and Arruebarruena), both infielders that signed with the Dodgers this offseason. It's useful to see that two infielders of generally comparable talent to Diaz recently signed multi-year deals, but especially because Cuban free agents are their own market altogether and domestic or Asian comparables don't apply. Guerrero is 27 years old, projects to play second base and got $28 million over four years while Arruebarruena is 24, projects to play shortstop and for $25 million over five years.
Guerrero is penciled in as the Dodgers everyday second baseman and could hit as many as 20 homers in his rookie season, but may only hit .250 and is a fringy defender at second that may eventually have to move to third base. Arruebarruena is a defensive wizard at shortstop that likely will contribute this year for the Dodgers in a utility role but, even more than recent comparable Cuban player Tigers SS Jose Iglesias, Arruebarruena struggles at the plate to the point that many teams thought he couldn't be an everyday player, even with plus defense at shortstop.
Diaz is younger, more athletic and better defensively than Guerrero and a much better hitter than Arruebarruena. Some scouts still don't think Diaz is an everyday player, though that's been said about all three of these players. Scout opinions can vary on the younger Cuban players but, either way, it's now clear what a good backup to low-end starting infielder from Cuba in his 20's is worth.
The Age Issue
Diaz's exact age isn't confirmed; a couple dates have been used in international tournaments over the years but one will be settled on before he signs, likely making him 23. That age is key because it is the youngest a player can be and not have his bonus count against a club's international spending pool (which ranges from roughly $2-5 million depending on a club's record the previous year). The disagreement about Diaz's age centers around what appeared to be Diaz's representation presenting him as 23 when he hadn't actually turned 23 yet, in an attempt to maximize his bonus in the shortest timeframe. When Diaz is cleared to sign sometime in the next month, he'll be 23 and his bonus won't be subject to the pools.
Diaz has a level, fluid stroke and above average bat speed that he uses to lash line drives all over the field. Scouts grade his bat above average (55 or 60) on the 20-80 scale and project a .270 or .280 batting average. His power is below average, but his high contact rate and bat speed could still produce 10 homers. Diaz can play shortstop in a pinch, which gives him value to clubs that think his bat isn't enough to start, but his arm strength is just average (a little short for that throw from the hole) and his range isn't good enough to make up for it. Diaz should be average to above defensively at second base and has above average speed and good instincts that should help him steal 15-20 bases.
Projected Team & Contract
The bidding for Diaz is wide open with the Cardinals mentioned often but the A's, Blue Jays, Braves, Giants, Phillies, Mariners and Mets have all been tied to him in recent weeks while the Yankees and Twins have both said they won't make an offer (even though scouts are baffled as to why the Yankees aren't showing interest in Diaz or free agent SS Stephen Drew). I'm told Diaz's people understandably shot for the moon early on, asking for $50 million, but are now realizing no team has interest at that level.
With spring training already started and the agent incurring more costs than expected due to the age controversy/delay, Diaz is now priced with his comparables Guerrero and Arruebarruena. These comparables and scout chatter suggest Diaz will eclipse Arruebarruena's $25 million total haul, but get comfortably less than $50 million, with scouts and executives believing Diaz will fetch a 5-6 year deal for $5-7 million per year. That said, for the same mysterious reasons that Cuban free agents seem to be their own market with a big markup relative to other markets, scouts and executives don't seem confident predicting anything when it comes to Cuban free agents.
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