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Alfredo Despaigne Rumors
The Chiba Lotte Marine of Nippon Professional Baseball announced that they have signed Cuban slugger Alfredo Despaigne (via Japanese media outlet Sanspo). Like fellow Cuban stars Yulieski Gourriel and Frederich Cepeda before him, Despaigne has agreed to play in Japan with his country’s permission, under the condition that he returns to Cuba at the conclusion of the NPB season (which concludes prior to the onset of Cuba’s Serie Nacional), writes Baseball America’s Ben Badler.
Despaigne, 28, had been playing in the Mexican League earlier this year (also approved by Cuba), but he was hit with a lifetime ban from the league after it was discovered that he was playing with a fake Dominican passport, leading to speculation about his possible defection. He returned to Cuba after his initial suspension from the league, and Badler speculated at that time that Despaigne may look to play in Japan were he unable to continue competing in Mexico.
In his report on Despaigne signing, Badler likens Despaigne’s body type to that of the late Kirby Puckett during his playing days. The 5’8″, 215-pound Despaigne is “built like a fire hydrant” and possesses 80-grade raw power — more raw power and bat speed than White Sox first baseman and Cuban countryman Jose Abreu, he notes. Abreu, however, has a more balanced swing and is a better overall hitter than Despaigne, whom Badler describes as an all-or-nothing hitter.
Despaigne is a three-time MVP in Serie Nacional, and he currently holds the single-season home run record with 36 (breaking the previous record of 33, set by Abreu and Despaigne’s former teammate, Yoenis Cespedes). His numbers in the Mexican League were outstanding — in parts of two seasons, he slashed .341/.381/.578 with 13 homers in 227 plate appearances. That was nothing out of the ordinary for Despaigne, who batted a ridiculous .326/.483/.695 in his most recent MVP campaign in Serie Nacional, Badler notes.
It’s not known whether or not we will ever see Despaigne in Major League Baseball, but MLB did inform Badler last month that Despaigne’s lifetime ban from the Mexican League won’t have any bearing on his potential free agent stock; MLB does not have an agreement to honor any suspensions from the Mexican League.
JUNE 12: Despaigne has been hit with a lifetime ban by the Mexican League, reports Badler. The news will not, however, impact any future moves by Despaigne to establish himself as a major league free agent, as MLB informs Badler that it does not have an agreement to honor Mexican League suspensions.
MAY 20: Reports out of Cuba indicate that Despaigne has returned to his home island, says Badler. A final decision on his status in the Mexican League is still pending and is now expected to take some time. Should Despaigne be hit with a suspension, he may look to follow prominent countrymen Frederich Cepeda and Yulieski Gourriel to Japan, sources tell Badler.
MAY 15, 8:31pm: Despaigne has been temporarily suspended by the Mexican League, Badler reports. The decision as to his ultimate punishment is not yet known, as the league is waiting to hear back from the Dominican government regarding Despaigne’s passport.
The Mexican League is also investigating Despaigne’s team, the Campeche Pirates, to see if anyone from the club helped him in attaining a false passport. Any individuals who helped Despaigne in the acquisition of that document could potentially face a lifetime ban from the league, though Campeche issued a statement today stating that no one from the club was involved in the scandal.
A final ruling on Despaigne’s punishment could come on Monday, according to Badler.
11:29am: 27-year-old Cuban outfielder Alfredo Despaigne, long one of the island nation’s most intriguing talents, has played this year and last in the Mexican League under special permission from the Cuban government. Now, reports suggest that he could potentially be in position to attempt to establish himself as an MLB free agent.
As Ben Badler of Baseball America recently reported, Despaigne has been playing this year under a Dominican passport dated back to April of 2013 (before his debut with Campeche last year), raising interesting questions about his status and intentions. Despaigne appeared in the Mexican League on a Cuban passport in 2013. But during the Winter Meetings in December, MLB asked the affiliated league to require a passport from a third country before employing Cuban players, owing to concerns involving the United States’ embargo against Cuba. (As Badler notes, it seems somewhat dubious that residency in another country would be seen as relevant to the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control when the player retains his Cuban citizenship, as appears to be the case for Despaigne.)
The situation has only become more confusing in recent days. At the time of Badler’s initial report on Tuesday, the Mexican League said it was not investigating the situation. Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes reported thereafter (Spanish language link) that Dominican officials believe Despaigne has had three false Dominican passports that were not obtained through official channels. In an updated report, Rojas says that the Mexican League is now initiating an inquiry. “At this time we are opening an investigation to determine the legality of the passport Campeche submitted to register Despaigne,” said league president Plinio Escalante. “If we find an irregularity, he will have to stop playing immediately and the club will be sanctioned.”
As Badler writes today, how the Mexican League proceeds could greatly impact Despaigne’s future. A decision is expected by the end of the week, and Badler says there are two disciplinary scenarios. On the one hand, the league could suspend Despaigne for up to seven years, which would also bar him from playing in any MLB-affiliated league for the period of the ban.
On the other, the league could simply declare him ineligible. In that case, Despaigne would still be eligible to use the mechanisms generally available to Cuban ballplayers to effect a move to the majors (convoluted and unappealing though they may be). Despaigne could hypothetically attempt to defect to Mexico, renouncing his Cuban citizenship and asking to be declared a free agent by MLB. It remains far from clear, of course, that Despaigne intends (or even desires) to make such a move, let alone that it would be successful, but Badler notes that he may now have a path to the United States that does not involve a harrowing escape from his home nation.
If Despaigne were to navigate his way to free agency, he would make for a compelling target for many MLB clubs. Badler says that the 5’9, right-handed swinging corner outfielder has a highly aggressive approach and shows 80-grade power that compares favorably to that of White Sox sensation Jose Abreu. (Additional scouting information from Badler is available here and here.) Indeed, he has posted a combined .341/.381/.578 line with 13 home runs in just 227 Mexican League plate appearances. Despaigne has racked up 45 strike outs to go with just 11 walks in that stretch, though he also has notched five stolen bases.