In a move that was privately predicted by JoeCatz (he said by the end of the week; he's almost certainly either psychic or secretly Ruben Amaro, Jr), and openly speculated upon by me, the Phillies have signed Cuban right hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to a 50 million dollar, six year deal. Jeff Passan broke the news:
Cuban RHP Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and Philadelphia Phillies have agreed on six-year deal worth more than $50M, club source tells Y! Sports.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 27, 2013
He then followed it up with this more nebulous tweet:
With bonus money, the Gonzalez deal could reach upwards of $60M, a record for an international player, source said.
With bonus money, the Gonzalez deal could reach upwards of $60M, a record for an international player, source said.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 27, 2013
So, the Phillies nabbed this year's Cuban phenom for between 9 and 10 million dollars a year. That's a lot to be paying someone who has never thrown an MLB pitch, to be sure, but it is also a very intriguing risk.
A few things. First, if you're confused as to how the Phillies managed to skirt the international signing caps, don't worry: they have not drastically blown out their budget there. Instead, they've managed to sign one of the odd loophole players who are both: a) over 23, and b) have played more than three seasons in a Cuban professional league. Gonzalez, 26, defected from Cuba earlier this year, and has never been subject to the signing limits that others such as Eloy Jimenez and Luis Encarnacion are. As such, this is basically like signing a free agent. But, like, the most boom/bust free agent you could possibly imagine. The Phillies outbid teams like the Red Sox in order to snag Gonzalez, and they're hoping this is the rare free agent deal that pays off in a big way.
Second, now that you know he's basically costing the team money and nothing else, you might be wondering how good Gonzalez is. This is the potentially less good news. For the Phillies' money, they may be getting a true number 2-3 pitcher or they might be getting a number 5 pitcher/bullpen arm. That they've spent 50 MM on him while having a "proven closer" in tow suggests that they believe he can be ready for the rotation, so let's hope they know what they're doing.
Going for them, at least, is the fact that fellow Cubano, erstwhile Philly, and Gonzalez-agent-sharer Jose Contreras feels that MAG (nickname pending) is ready for the big leagues. True, he lists no real good reason other than makeup and experience, but you'd expect that the Big Truck knows a thing or two about transitioning from Cuban baseball to MLB. Another article from WEEI quotes Boston Red Sox infielder Jose Iglesias, who says that Gonzalez is a lot like Clay Buchholz. If it's 2013 Buchholz, then you have my attention. It also quotes a talent adviser that rates Gonzalez's fastball as a plus pitch, and his secondary offerings -- a changeup, a splittler, a cutter, and a slider, with the cutter being the most recent addition and the slider being the most consistent. The adviser also sees him as likely to make an impact, either in the rotation or the pen, in short order. Like this year maybe.
So, third, is he going to help this year? Short answer: who knows? Long answer: maybe, and if so, probably in the pen. Again, I have to assume that, if the Phillies are paying him 10 MM a year, they're going to try to make the guy a starter. But given that he's just signed, and that he's played no professional baseball with the Phillies up until this point, it's a fairly safe bet that he'll marinate in the minors for a little bit before making any real showing with the club. Even Contreras had six minor league starts. If the Phillies are in contention, they might add him as a power arm down the stretch (a mid-90s fastball is likely to play up in a relief role, after all); if they aren't, maybe they see what they have in him as a starter. Regardless, don't be too surprised if you don't see Gonzalez pitching in red and white pinstripes for a little bit -- he may be a bit of a work in progress.
Still, despite all of the disconcerting details -- he hasn't pitched too much since unsuccessfully defecting two years ago; he was hurt for a time; he has an uncertain ceiling -- this is exciting news. Friends, this is where Yasiel Puigs and Yu Darvishes come from. To be sure, it is also where Kei Igawas and Jose Tabatas come from, too, but 50 MM is worth the risk, especially with the new TV deal coming up. Remember, they said this guy had a number 3-to-bullpen ceiling, too, and he's doing okay. In a season of dull, repetitive, flogging, this is something to be legitimately excited about.
Screw caution -- I for one welcome our new Cuban overlord. MAG forever!
PS: No, I don't think this means they're trading Cliff Lee. Maybe I'll expand on that more if this line of thinking keeps developing, but I'll just put it out there: an unproven Cuban starter =/= Cliff Lee in terms of rotation security. Nothing's changed.
PPS: Fairly startling tweet from Gelb for some context:
The Phillies have never spent more than $2 million on an international player. A huge shocker.
The Phillies have never spent more than $2 million on an international player. A huge shocker.— Matt Gelb (@magelb) July 27, 2013
And some video of Gonzalez, courtesy of Gelb. Just some filthy stuff early on:
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