Javier Baez Rumors

NL Central Notes: Cueto, Gonzales, Schwarber, Baez

After missing his start on Sunday, Reds ace Johnny Cueto underwent an MRI on the injured joint today (as FOX’s Jon Morosi tweeted he would earlier this morning), but agent Bryce Dixon said after the fact that the test revealed no tears or structural damage (Twitter link via C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer). The news is a sigh of relief for all parties involved, as a serious arm injury for Cueto would hurt his standing as one of the top free agents on the upcoming open market, whereas an injury would hurt the Reds’ chance of righting the ship and potentially eliminate their best trade chip should they sell off veteran pieces this summer.

Here’s more from the NL Central…

  • Another NL Central hurler got somewhat worse news than Cueto, as Cardinals left-hander Marco Gonzales has been diagnosed with a shoulder impingement that will sideline him for three weeks, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Gonzales will receive an anti-inflammatory injection in the coming days and has otherwise been prescribed rest to allow the injury to heal. Gonzales will need to alter his workouts and preparation tactics, Goold notes, as they may have had a part in the injury. Gonzales and the training staff will look for areas of weakness in the shoulder that can be improved — a similar endeavor to the one undertaken by Michael Wacha last summer (though the two have different shoulder injuries).
  • Kyle Schwarber‘s name doesn’t get bandied about as much as other promising young Cubs bats such as Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Javier Baez, but VP of scouting and player development Jason McLeod feels that Schwarber has a chance to impact the team in 2015, if necessary (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat). Selected fourth overall in last year’s draft, Schwarber entered the year as a consensus Top 100 prospect (Baseball America ranked him as highly as 19th), and he’s demolished Double-A pitching this year, batting .305/.440/.595 with 10 homers in 166 plate appearances. Said McLeod of the catcher/outfielder: “If there was a need for [Schwarber] to come up here and help this team win later this year, I think he could do it.” Of course, I should note that while I listed Schwarber as a catcher (in at least a part-time capacity), the belief of many scouts is that the lefty slugger will have to move off the position for defensive purposes. The Cubs have continued to give him reps behind the plate in an attempt to maximize the value of his bat.
  • Also within Muskat’s piece, McLeod notes that the team feels that Baez is athletic enough to play in the outfield, though there are no plans to move him there in the works. He also likens righty Yoervis Medina, acquired in the Welington Castillo trade, to Pedro Strop before Strop gained the consistency he’s shown with the Cubs over the past two seasons.

Cubs Notes: Baez, Russell, Schwarber

Two of the NL’s top clubs begin a three-game series today at Wrigley Field when the Cubs host the Nationals.  Beyond just sharing impressive records, ESPN.com’s Ken Woolums notes that the Cubs have gone about their rebuilding process in a manner similar to how the Nats have reconstructed their roster prior to their current run of two NL East titles in the last three seasons.  Here’s more on the Cubs…

  • Javier Baez has a .944 OPS in 99 Triple-A plate appearances this season, yet ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers wonders if the former top prospect can find playing time with the Cubs no matter how well he’s hitting.  Baez has been splitting time between second base and shortstop in the minors, though the Cubs are obviously set at both positions with Addison Russell and Starlin Castro.  Of course, questions remain about Baez both defensively (he already has 11 errors, nine at short) and offensively (he has 24 strikeouts in his 99 PA, and nine walks) and thus the Cubs could decide he’s expendable; Rogers notes that shifting Baez between two positions could be an audition for other teams just as much as it has to do with his development.  That said, Rogers also observes that the Cubs are under no pressure to swing a deal now and have plenty of time to figure out how to best deploy their numerous young talents.
  • Rogers hears from league sources that the Cubs have repeatedly turned down offers for Russell and have no interest in trading him.  If Chicago does decide to move a notable middle infielder, then, it would have to be Baez or Castro.
  • Kyle Schwarber is another prospect who has often been rumored to eventually change positions, though Cubs director of player development Jaron Madison tells Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register that Schwarber will remain a catcher.  “With all the work he’s done in the offseason and spring training and big league camp, and going into this year and what he’s done so far this year, we’re more certain than ever that he’s going to stay behind the plate long-term. We’re committed to that right now,” Madison said.
  • Madison discusses several Cubs minor leaguers within that same piece, including Baez.  The team doesn’t have any plans to use Baez at any positions besides second and shortstop for now, Madison said.  There has been some speculation that the Cubs could make room for Baez by moving him to third and shifting Kris Bryant to left field, though Baez has never played the hot corner in his pro career and Bryant has only three innings under his belt in left.

Heyman’s Latest: Hamels/Jays, Lucroy, Baez, Correa, Alvarez

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports has published the latest installment of his weekly Inside Baseball column, and he kicks it off by reporting that the Blue Jays have inquired on Cole Hamels. However, Heyman hears that Hamels was unwilling to waive his no-trade clause to allow a trade to Toronto, which is a blow for both clubs. The Jays desperately need help in both the rotation and the bullpen, and the Phillies, Heyman notes, would love to get their hands on young pitchers with the upside of Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris. The Blue Jays have a bit of financial leeway after going with inexpensive options at second base, center field and left field, and Heyman writes that the Blue Jays are expected to look at other potential front-line starters this summer as they become available. (He speculatively mentions Johnny Cueto and Scott Kazmir, though neither’s available just yet.) Additionally, Heyman notes that Blue Jays manager John Gibbons’ job is safe, as GM Alex Anthopoulos has a strong relationship with the skipper and recognizes that the team’s problems are roster-related and shouldn’t be pinned on Gibbons.

Some more highlights from the column, though it’s worth a read in its entirety…

  • The Braves are said to be disappointed in the play of Christian Bethancourt, even from a defensive standpoint, and recently inquired with the Brewers on Jonathan Lucroy. However, Atlanta executives were told by the Brewers that Lucroy isn’t available at this time. That the Brewers wouldn’t trade Lucroy isn’t a shock; he’s owed a very affordable $4MM in 2016 with a $5.25MM option for the 2017 season, so even if the team can’t quickly right the ship, he’d still have enormous trade value at the 2016 trade deadline. More interesting, to me, is that the Braves would so quickly look for an upgrade over Bethancourt and that they’re acting somewhat as buyers. Lucroy, of course, could be called a long-term piece that would be around to help the team when its rebuild is closer to completion. However, acquiring him would surely require the sting of parting with some of the key components of that rebuild.
  • Some rival execs feel that the Cubs are willing to part with Javier Baez and Dan Vogelbach in trades, in part because each was drafted under the previous administration and is not held in as high a regard by the new front office. Each player comes with issues, however, as Baez is trying to cut down on his swing and improve his contact skills, while a scout described first baseman Vogelbach as a “30 fielder” to Heyman (in reference to the 20-80 scouting scale).
  • There are members of the Astros‘ field staff that want to see Carlos Correa with the team right now, but Houston will likely keep him in the minors for another month or so in order to lessen the risk of Correa achieving Super Two status. I’ll add that the Astros will have a more legitimate claim that Correa still needs minor league time than other teams in similar situations have had in the past. Correa is still just 20 years old and has only nine games of experience at the Triple-A level, though he’s continued his brilliant work at the plate there, hitting .326/.362/.558 with a pair of homers. Also of interest to Astros fans — or to fans of teams needing outfield help — the Astros are on the lookout for starting pitching upgrades, and outfield prospect Preston Tucker “seems to be available.” Tucker recently made his MLB debut and has a .963 OPS through 34 plate appearances to go along with a strong minor league track record.
  • Marlins right-hander Henderson Alvarez has been pitching for years with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, according to Heyman. Some have described it as a “90 percent tear,” but he’s been able to pitch effectively in spite of the issue. Alvarez wouldn’t be the first to pitch through a UCL tear; Ervin Santana and Adam Wainwright are both recent examples of pitchers who pitched for many seasons with partially torn UCLs. Wainwright ultimately underwent Tommy John, though Santana’s is said to have healed and is no longer an issue. In another Marlins-related note, Heyman hears that pitching coach Chuck Hernandez is “under the microscope” with both Jarred Cosart and Steve Cishek struggling greatly in 2015.
  • Brewers starters Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza have little trade value due to their 2015 struggles, but Lohse’s lesser financial commitment and superior clubhouse reputation give him more value. The team is reluctant to trade not only Lucroy, but shortstop Jean Segura as well. The Brewers are a bit more open to dealing Carlos Gomez than that pair, as Gomez is closer to free agency (he’s controlled through 2016).
  • The Mets remain reluctant to trade any of their top arms, as they’ve seen on multiple occasions how quickly Tommy John surgery or other injuries can thin out a club’s depth. (Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz have all had TJ in their careers.) The Mets are also not rushing to find a shortstop, but they have indeed been “all over the map” in terms of trade possibilities with the Cubs.
  • Coco Crisp‘s neck injury is apparently quite serious, and there’s a fear that the oft-injured Athletics outfielder will ultimately require surgery that could bring his season to an end.
  • The Blue Jays would still like to extend both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but there have yet to be serious discussions with either slugger’s camp. Both players are controlled through the end of the 2016 season.


Cubs Notes: Baez, Bryant, Russell, Maddon, Castro

Earlier today, Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago appeared with host Jeff Todd on this week’s edition of the MLBTR Podcast, and the two discussed a variety of Cubs topics, from the Welington Castillo trade to Starlin Castro and the team’s rotation. For Cubs fans (and others) who have already checked that out, though, here are a few more notes on the team that sits four games back in the NL Central and currently leads the Padres 3-0…

  • Infielder Javier Baez has hit well at Triple-A this season, posting a .296/.375/.423 batting line in 80 plate appearances, but there doesn’t seem to be any rush to get him back to the big leagues at this time. Via David Kaplan of CSN Chicago (on Twitter), GM Jed Hoyer said that the Cubs “…want to take our time on Javy Baez. He is playing well, but we want to let him continue to keep working right now.” Addison Russell has seen most of the time at second base, where many thought Baez would play this season. After some early struggles, Russell has settled in and is hitting .273/.333/.455 over a 22-game stretch.
  • Speaking of Russell, agent Scott Boras, who represents both Russell and Kris Bryant, praised the Cubs organization prior to tonight’s game, writes Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago. Boras feels that both Bryant and Russell have “dramatically” improved since joining the team, leading him to praise the organization’s developmental techniques. Boras said that his main gripe in Spring Training was that he wanted Bryant to know that his fate wasn’t pre-determined (presumably, that is, to know that he wouldn’t be reassigned to minor league camp at the end of Spring Training). He also praised manager Joe Maddon for his communication skills and work with young players. “Joe Maddon is a talent,” said Boras. “He’s very good at giving the players a focus at a variety of levels of their careers. And that has a lot to do with why they’re performing so well in their careers.”
  • Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports feels that the Cubs should think twice before considering a trade of Castro. Rosenthal spoke to a number of Castro’s teammates as well as Maddon, assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske and president Theo Epstein — all of whom feel that the 25-year-old has made strides in terms of maturity, preparedness and defense this season. Rosenthal notes that with $37MM owed to Castro from 2016-19, his contract is highly affordable as well. Of course, Castro has struggled at the plate early this year, as even after a pair of singles tonight he’s hitting .272/.304/.346, which translates to a wRC+ of just 76 (24 percent worse than the league average).

Rosenthal’s Latest: Mets, Baez, Orioles, Trumbo

Despite shaky defense, Wilmer Flores will remain the Mets starting shortstop, reports Ken Rosenthal in his latest video for FOX Sports. However, one alternative is to trade Daniel Murphy, shift Flores to second base, and promote shortstop prospect Matt Reynolds. The move would instantly upgrade the Mets’ infield defense. Per Rosenthal, the club may prefer to promote Reynolds once David Wright returns to action.

As for trading Murphy, the club may look to acquire a prospect or reliever. Aside from Jeurys Familia and a couple role players, the Mets bullpen has been a little shaky. However, strong starting pitching has allowed the club to hide that shortcoming. New York relievers have thrown the fewest innings of any team. Conversely, their starters lead the league in innings pitched. Here’s more from Rosenthal:

  • Cubs second base prospect Javier Baez is on an 11-for-22 streak, leading to speculation that he could be promoted. The easiest way to insert him into the lineup would be to move Kris Bryant to the outfield and Baez to third. Since the club is juggling several important future pieces, they’ll want to be careful about how they handle the logjam.
  • The Orioles are built to sell with eight players on the 25 man roster set to reach free agency after the season. Don’t expect a fire sale anytime soon. Baltimore is just four games back in a shaky AL East. Owner Peter Angelos is loathe to throw in the towel. He famously nixed a couple trades involving Bobby Bonilla and David Wells during the 1996 season. The club later clawed its way into the postseason. It would seem the Orioles’ woes would have to get a lot worse before Chris Davis and others were shopped.
  • Many speculate that Mark Trumbo will be available this summer, however the Diamondbacks have publicly resisted the idea. Per Rosenthal, the club believes they will contend next season once Patrick Corbin and other youngsters solidify the rotation. Trumbo is signed to a $6.9MM contract and has one year of arbitration remaining. Arizona could replace Trumbo with a platoon of David Peralta and Yasmany Tomas.

Heyman’s Latest: Hamels, Astros, Hinch, Greinke

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman touched on many topics in his latest “Inside Baseball” column, and since we’ve already focused on Heyman’s notes about the Brewers, let’s look at some of his other hot stove info from around the league…

  • The Astros will be looking to add one or even two starting pitchers, though Cole Hamels is “too pricey” for them, according to one team source.  MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently explored the case for Houston going after the Phillies southpaw, and 42.44% of MLBTR readers polled thought that the Astros should indeed pursue Hamels.
  • Rival executives aren’t bothered by Hamels’ sub-par performance this season since all of this trade speculation is assumed to be impacting his work.  Executives “seem to be split on” whether the Phillies are making the right move in holding out for a blue chip prospect or two in exchange for Hamels, or if they should just be looking to get his big salary off the books for a lower return of young talent.
  • A.J. Hinch’s deal with the Astros is a three-year contract with a club option for 2018.  The exact dollar figure isn’t known but Heyman reports that the average annual value is less than $1MM, which could end up being a bargain given how Houston has thus far played under Hinch’s management.
  • While Zack Greinke is expected to opt out of his contract at the end of the season, Heyman doubts he’ll leave the Dodgers since they certainly have the money to sign him to a new deal.
  • One scout suggests that Javier Baez might need “a change of scenery” to get back on track.  Baez struck out a whopping 95 times in 229 plate appearances with the Cubs last season, and only has a .755 OPS at the Triple-A level this year.  Baez is only a year removed from being considered an elite-level prospect, so while it seems early to consider trading him, Chicago is already deep in young middle infield talent.
  • The Rangers are willing to deal Shin-Soo Choo, rival executives believe.  This is no surprise given Choo’s huge contract and underwhelming performance in Texas, though obviously those same issues will make dealing him a tall order.  Heyman notes that the Yankees were interested in Choo when he was a free agent two winters ago, though even if Choo turns it around, I’m not sure I see New York taking on a big contract when they already have a pretty full outfield.
  • The Cardinalswill rue the day they made that trade” of Shelby Miller and prospect Tyrell Jenkins for Jason Heyward and Jorden Walden, in the words of one scout.  Heyman feels this is a bit of a stretch, even though Miller has been outstanding for the Braves and Heyward has struggled for the Cards (and Walden is on the DL).
  • Veteran Andruw Jones isn’t yet planning to retire, though he won’t play in 2015.  Jones has played in Japan for the last two seasons and expressed interest in a return to Major League Baseball this winter, drawing interest from at least two teams, including the Indians.  According to Heyman, Jones turned down minor league contract offers from multiple teams.

Kris Bryant To Begin Season In Minors

The Cubs announced today that wunderkind Kris Bryant has been assigned to Minor League camp, indicating that he will not make the team’s Opening Day roster out of Spring Training. Second baseman Javier Baez was also optioned to Triple-A today.

The Bryant decision was widely expected, as the Cubs’ long-term benefit by optioning Bryant is almost impossible to ignore. Keeping Bryant in the Minors for even 12 days will leave him with 171 days of Major League service time this season, or one day shy of a full year. In other words, rather than controlling Bryant from 2015-20, the Cubs would gain an extra year of control and have the rights to Bryant through the 2021 season.

Oftentimes, teams will be willing to bring a player north to open the season because they plan on trying to negotiate a long-term deal eventually anyhow. The Cubs may well have interest in extending Bryant — why wouldn’t they? — but Bryant is also a client of agent Scott Boras, who traditionally encourages his players to go year-to-year through arbitration and test the free agent market as early as possible. While there are exceptions — Carlos Gomez, Jered Weaver and Carlos Gonzalez each come to mind — the Cubs have to know that their odds of buying out any of Bryant’s free agent years in advance are considerably thinner than they would be if Bryant had different representation.

Boras has been very vocal on the matter, which has been one of the most oft-discussed storylines this Spring Training. Boras told Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports that the Cubs had to make a choice regarding Bryant: “Are they going to present to their market that they are trying to win? [Cubs owner] Tom Ricketts said they were all about winning.” Boras would go on to argue that Bryant should have been promoted last September when the rosters expanded.

While it’s not surprising to see an agent advocating for the promotion of his player, it’s also hard to dismiss Boras’ comments as those of a biased party. Bryant batted a ridiculous .325/.438/.661 with 43 homers between Double-A and Triple-A last season, and he crushed nine homers in just 44 spring plate appearances while slashing .425/.477/1.175. Ranked by several outlets as the game’s top prospect, Bryant has certainly made a case that he belongs at the Major League level, and it’s difficult to compose an argument that he is not ready for the Majors, from a baseball standpoint.

The Cubs, of course, will not indicate that service time plays an issue in the decision. (Doing so would open the door for a grievance.) However, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein pointed out to reporters that he has never once taken a prospect north to open the season if it meant making his Major League debut, as he feels that Opening Day is a difficult time for a young player to debut. He also cited a belief that it’s good for players to be in a rhythm when called up to the Majors for the first time.

Needless to say, the service time rules that frequently cause teams to stash prospects in the Minors to delay their free agency or to avoid Super Two status figure to be a major talking point in the next collective bargaining agreement. Last year, there was plenty of controversy around the promotion timelines for prospects Gregory Polanco, Jon Singleton and George Springer, among others. MLBPA executive director has called the tactic “unfortunate,” though certain playerss, including Andrew Miller, have voiced an understanding that it’s part of the game.

In the case of Baez, it’s perhaps not surprising to see him begin the year in the Minors. He hit just 169/.227/.324 last season and struck out in more than 40 percent of his plate appearances, and this spring he batted .173/.218/.231 with 20 punchouts in 55 PA. Baez racked up 55 days of service time last year, and he’ll need 117 additional days in 2015 to reach one full year of big league service time.


Central Notes: White Sox, Dozier, Baez, Madson

If all the high-profile moves the White Sox have made this offseason don’t work out, the organization plans to be “nimble” in trying to contend in 2016 and beyond, GM Rick Hahn tells MLB.com’s Scott Merkin. “Knock on wood, given the young players that we have in the organization now and the ones we have coming and players under control for the next several years, I don’t think that what happens in ’15 is going to cause us to take a significant step backwards in terms of that plan,” says Hahn. “It just may have us reallocate assets to future seasons so that we can get back on track quickly.” That might suggest that the White Sox could trade someone like Jeff Samardzija, who is eligible for free agency after 2015, if the team doesn’t contend this summer. That stands to reason, of course, although it’s somewhat rare to hear a GM describe contingency plans in a year in which his team is expected to contend. Here’s more from the Central divisions.

  • Twins infielder Brian Dozier‘s new extension contains a few potential bonuses, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets. Dozier can make $100K for winning and MVP or World Series MVP award, plus $25K for Gold Gloves or All-Star appearances.
  • The Cubs haven’t yet decided whether Javier Baez will make the team out of camp, Carrie Muskat of MLB.com writes. “You put your present and future hat on. In the present tense, there has to be some adjustments made at the plate; future tense, I can see all those things coming together,” says manager Joe Maddon. Baez hit nine homers in 229 big-league plate appearances last year, but struck out in 41% of his plate appearances. As Tim Dierkes noted in today’s Offseason In Review post on the Cubs, Baez is part of a hazy middle infield picture in Chicago.
  • Royals reliever Ryan Madson says he has an opt-out at the end of Spring Training, but he hasn’t thought about exercising it, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star tweets. Madson, who has not appeared in the big leagues since 2011, is simply enjoying getting back to pitching after years of injury troubles.

Central Notes: White Sox, Twins, Baez

Members of the White Sox are excited about GM Rick Hahn’s high-profile offseason, Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com writes. “They were busy, worked hard and instilled confidence in the guys that were here,” says Adam Eaton. “It kind of credits (us) that ‘This is a good base, this is the time to stretch it.’” For a 73-89 team, the 2014 White Sox had a lot go right, including excellent performances from starters Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, along with an exceptional rookie season from Jose Abreu and good contributions from Eaton and Alexei Ramirez. Now they’ve added Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche and Zach Duke to that talent base. “You go from not expecting anything or not knowing what to expect to now you expect quite a bit and expect success,” says Eaton. Here’s more from the Central divisions.

  • The Twins believed they had completed two trades that ultimately fell through this offseason, as the players they wanted were traded to other teams, Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN reports (Twitter links). Wolfson says he wondered if those trades might have involved Jeremy Hellickson (who went to the Diamondbacks) or J.A. Happ (who headed to the Mariners), but was told no in both cases.
  • New Cubs manager Joe Maddon traveled to Puerto Rico to see Javier Baez play winter ball, MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat writes, citing a report from the Puerto Rican paper El Nuevo Dia. “He’s trying way too hard,” says Maddon. “I want him to back off. The last thing I want him to do is try to impress me tonight. … I said, ‘Hit a couple singles and, above all, I want to see you smile.’” The 22-year-old Baez’s underwhelming 2014 debut (.169/.227/.324 in 229 plate appearances) was understandable given his youth, although he’ll probably have to improve his strikeout rate before he can make an impact in the big leagues. He’ll compete for a spot in the Cubs’ infield in Spring Training.

NL Central Notes: Pirates, Kang, Baez, Reds

The Pirates deserve praise for the depth they’ve built on their Major League roster, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes in his daily Insider-only blog post (subscription required and recommended). More and more, Olney writes, the Pirates are beginning to look like the second coming of the perennially-contending Cardinals, with talented players that can handle multiple positions, safeguarding the club against regression and injury. For instance, Josh Harrison can play right field if Gregory Polanco‘s adjustment to the Majors stalls again in 2015, with Jung-ho Kang sliding into third in his stead. Kang could also unseat Jordy Mercer at short if Mercer struggles, and the team has plenty of options at first base in addition to Pedro Alvarez, including Corey Hart, Sean Rodriguez and Andrew Lambo. That depth breeds success, which paired with the revitalization of pitchers A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon, Edinson Volquez and Vance Worley, makes Pittsburgh a very desirable free agent destination — particularly for pitchers.

More on the Pirates and the NL Central…

  • The questions about Kang’s defense may not be an issue given how the Pirates have used shifts to cover up for their generally unimpressive fielding, Fangraphs’ Miles Wray writes.  If Kang’s defense isn’t an issue, Wray feels the Bucs made an acceptable risk in signing Kang given his power-hitting potential.
  • Javier Baez is having a tough time in Puerto Rico winter ball, FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi reports, as the Cubs prospect is still plagued by strikeouts.  It is starting to look like Baez could begin the 2015 season in Triple-A unless he enjoys a big Spring Training.
  • Tony Cingrani and Anthony DeSclafani are the current favorites to fill the two remaining spots in the Reds rotation, though manager Bryan Price tells reporters (including C. Trent Rosencrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer) that nothing has been decided.  Jason Marquis, David Holmberg and Raicel Iglesias stand out as possible contenders to earn a rotation spot in Spring Training, with Iglesias something of an “X-factor” given how he went several months without pitching while arranging his departure from Cuba.