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Cuba Links: Unblocking, Moncada, Olivera

We looked yesterday at the latest on the slowly-moving Yoan Moncada signing eligibility process. Today, there’s an update to that story as well as some more interesting info on the always-intriguing Cuban market:

  • It is Major League Baseball, not the U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), that is currently holding up Moncada’s freedom to sign, reports Baseball America’s Ben Badler. Though MLB has already declared him a free agent, and Moncada has met the standards for a “general license” that would leave him free to sign (“unblocked”) in OFAC’s eyes, the league is not permitting Moncada (and others) to reach eligibility based on that general license. Instead, per Badler, MLB has required players since Yasiel Puig to apply for and receive a “specific license,” creating up to a six-month delay.’s Jesse Sanchez adds (via Twitter) that OFAC changed its rules four years ago, with the additional step (presumably, the specific license) being added at some intervening point.
  • As Badler explains, if the process drags on long enough, it could create some intrigue, as teams like the Yankees and Red Sox will face a two-year international signing ban (for all but sub-$300K bonus amounts) beginning on June 15 of this year.
  • Fellow second basemen Hector Olivera and Andy Ibanez, among other players, are awaiting their specific licenses, like Moncada, Badler notes.
  • Olivera, of course, is more of a plug-and-play option than the other, young Cuban middle infielders. Baseball America passes on some video of Olivera, who cuts rather an imposing figure for a second baseman. Badler wrote up Olivera’s efforts yesterday, noting that the PadresGiantsAthletics, and Braves had significant presences in the stands.

Latest On Yoan Moncada

The international market provides opportunities to make (mostly) open-market purchases of the rights to the types of players who rarely can be acquired in that manner. Recent years have brought early-prime starters (Masahiro Tanaka, Hyun-jin Ryu), still-youthful sluggers (Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes), and high-upside talents (Yasiel Puig, Jorge Soler). Cuban second baseman Yoan Moncada certainly fits into that last category, rating as the type of player who would be chosen at or near the top of an amateur draft. In that regard, his ultimate payday (bonus plus ~100% penalty) will provide some fascinating insight into team valuations. But, of course, we are still waiting for the United States Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) to establish Moncada’s eligibility to sign. Here’s the latest:

  • The precise hold-up in Moncada’s seemingly overdue OFAC application is not clear, writes Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs. Moncada’s agent indicated that he has not heard from OFAC since President Obama announced changes in the US diplomatic stance toward Cuba, seemingly indicating that higher-level activity is playing a role in Moncada’s situation. As McDaniel explains, MLB is working with the government to determine how to apply new unblocking policies. For what it’s worth, as’s Jesse Sanchez notes on Twitter, a similar policy appears to have been in place several years back, when Cespedes was preparing to enter the market.
  • One entirely hypothetical reason for the delay with regard to Moncada, apart from the broader diplomatic considerations, is the fact that he was allowed to leave the island legally. Per McDaniel, concern that money could flow from Moncada back to the Cuban government is a possible, but by no means substantiated, factor distinguishing his situation.
  • Of note, fellow top young middle infielder Andy Ibanez is also rumored to have left the island with the blessing of the government. There are rumblings that he could be unblocked soon, however, McDaniel notes.
  • As for another largely-uncertain bit of information, McDaniel adds that the latest chatter has Moncada going for about a $80MM total investment (based on a $40MM bonus).
  • Moncada worked out for the Dodgers this morning, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports on Twitter. Los Angeles has given public indication of its interest, and if impressed with its private look will certainly have to be counted among the most capable suitors. President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Don Mattingly were both on hand, Sanchez reports on Twitter.
  • The other teams to have held private workouts are the BrewersRangers, GiantsYankeesRed Sox, and Padres, Sanchez tweets

International Notes: Olivera, Fernandez

Last week, Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera had a showcase at the Giants’ facility in the Dominican Republic that reportedly had over 200 scouts in attendance. Ben Badler of Baseball America has some takeaways from that showcase in latest piece; some highlights from Badler’s post and a bit more news on the international front…

  • Olivera was clocked at 6.7 to 6.8 seconds in his 60-yard dash and looked to be a steady defender when fielding grounders at second base. He also took grounders at third, but didn’t show off as much arm strength as he had in previous years. Olivera collected three hits in “seven or eight at-bats” against live pitching. While the overall report has a positive undertone, Badler does note that there is still some uncertainty among scouts due to the fact that Olivera missed all of the 2012-13 season with a blood disorder and then spent most of his time at DH upon returning in the 2013-14 season.
  • Four teams — the Padres, Giants, A’s and Braves — had the largest contingents at Olivera’s showcase, and all are expected to be in the mix to sign the 29-year-old. Padres GM A.J. Preller was on hand, in fact, and his team has been the most aggressive on Olivera, Badler writes, adding that San Diego may ultimately be his most likely landing place. It’s not known at this time when Olivera will be cleared by Major League Baseball and the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, but Badler speculates that Olivera will be able to sign prior to Opening Day based on the fact that he left Cuba all the way back in September.
  • Kiley McDaniel joined Carson Cistulli on the Fangraphs’ podcast over the weekend, and the two spent the early portion of the episode discussing Cuban players. The biggest takeaway from the discussion was an update on highly touted Cuban second baseman Jose Fernandez, whom McDaniel hears is now being heavily guarded by police in Cuba. Fernandez was thought to have left the island late in 2014 but was apparently detained in his attempt to do so.

Quick Hits: Papelbon, Beachy, Olivera

Talks between the Phillies and Brewers concerning closer Jonathan Papelbon are “on life support,” reports Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Haudricourt reported earlier today that “there was no traction” between the two sides. GM Doug Melvin echoed that sentiment, saying there was no momentum. It is thought that Papelbon’s $13MM option for 2016 is holding up an agreement. Since Papelbon has a limited no trade clause that includes the Brewers, he may ask for the option to be guaranteed before accepting a trade. The ball may be in Philadelphia’s court to find a financial solution to the situation.

  • Brandon Beachy has “zeroed in on a new team,” tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN. Beachy and the unknown team are currently working on contractual details. Wolfson adds that the team is not the Twins. Beachy was non-tendered by the Braves earlier in the offseason after undergoing his second Tommy John procedure. If he avoids setbacks, he may return to action mid-season. It’s easy to compare Beachy’s situation with fellow former Brave Kris Medlen, who signed a two-year, $8.5MM deal with an option. Like Beachy, Medlen is also recovering from his second Tommy John surgery.
  • Cuban infielder Hector Olivera held a public workout in the Dominican Republic last week and over 200 scouts attended, tweets Jesse Sanchez of The Giants, Padres, Rangers, Braves, and Yankees are showing the strongest interest in Olivera.

Giants Re-Sign Brandon Hicks

Infielder Brandon Hicks has been assigned to Triple-A Sacramento, according to the Pacific Coast League transactions page, so it seems the Giants have re-signed him to a minor-league deal. Hicks is represented by Relativity Baseball.

Hicks, 29, collected a career-high 242 big-league plate appearances last season and hit .162/.280/.319 while playing mostly second base. The Giants ultimately replaced him with Joe Panik and outrighted Hicks to Triple-A in July. He became a free agent after the season. Hicks has logged significant Triple-A time in each of the past five seasons, and he hit .244/.350/.506 in his last stint with Sacramento in 2012, when it was an Athletics affiliate. He’ll likely provide infield depth for the Giants in 2015.

Minor Moves: Quintero, Bowker

Here are today’s minor moves from around baseball:

  • The Red Sox have signed catcher Humberto Quintero to a minor-league deal, Baseball America’s Matt Eddy writes. Quintero spent last season in the Mariners system, batting .290/.311/.425 for Triple-A Tacoma and picking up a few plate appearances at the big-league level to appear in the Majors for the 12th straight season. The 35-year-old has a long history as a big-league backup, although it might be tough for him to find playing time in Boston, with Christian Vazquez, Ryan Hanigan and Blake Swihart all on the Red Sox’ 40-man roster.
  • The Giants have signed 1B/OF John Bowker, Eddy writes. The 31-year-old Bowker spent most of the past three seasons in Japan, hitting .248/.291/.411 in 230 plate appearances with Rakuten in 2014. Bowker was the Giants’ third-round pick in 2004, and he played parts of three seasons in San Francisco before being traded to the Pirates and then the Phillies.

Giants Re-Sign Ryan Vogelsong

While it looked for awhile that he’d be pitching elsewhere, right-hander Ryan Vogelsong will officially be returning to San Francisco in 2015. The Giants announced on Friday that they have re-signed Vogelsong to a one-year deal, which reportedly guarantees him $4MM and provides him the opportunity to earn more via performance bonuses.

Ryan Vogelsong

The 37-year-old Vogelsong, a client of agent Dave Meier, was originally drafted by the Giants in the fifth round of the 1998 draft and ultimately traded to the Pirates in the 2001 Jason Schmidt trade. Vogelsong struggled through parts of five seasons with Pittsburgh before eventually landing in Japan for three seasons. He came back to the States in 2010 but failed to latch on with either the Phillies or Angels on a pair of minor league deals. San Francisco brought him back that offseason, and Vogelsong’s emergence and All-Star nod in 2011 was one of the better stories of that season.

Including his 2011 breakout, Vogelsong has tallied 657 2/3 innings of 3.74 ERA ball with 7.0 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 over the past four seasons. He missed much of the 2013 campaign after being hit by a pitch on the hand and fracturing his finger, which required surgery. Vogelsong struggled to a 5.73 ERA that season but has otherwise been a reliable source of innings for manager Bruce Bochy’s rotation since establishing himself in 2011.

Where he fits onto the 2015 roster is a bit more complicated, however. The Giants expect Madison Bumgarner, Tim Hudson, Matt Cain, Jake Peavy and Tim Lincecum to comprise their rotation, and though Hudson and Cain are both recovering from surgery, the team has said that each is expected to be ready come Opening Day. Vogelsong could theoretically fill a swingman role, but Yusmeiro Petit excelled in that role in 2014, even setting a Major League record for most consecutive batters retired (46). It’s possible that one of the Giants’ mending starters may not be ready for Opening Day, but Vogelsong doesn’t appear to have a long-term rotation spot in place, barring an injury to a current starter or a shift of the struggling Lincecum to the bullpen.

Vogelsong looked at one point to be heading to the Astros, with reports even placing him in Houston earlier this week, but that deal did not come to fruition. He also drew interest from the Phillies and Rockies before returning to a more familiar setting.

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports first reported (on Twitter) that an agreement had been reached. Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, who originally reported that a reunion between the two sides was likely, reported the $4MM guarantee (on Twitter).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Giants Sign Gregor Blanco To Two-Year Deal

Gregor Blanco won’t have to worry about arbitration again in his career, as the outfielder has signed a two-year contract that buys out his final two seasons of arbitration eligibility, the team officially announced on Thursday.

Gregor  Blanco

Blanco, a client of Octagon’s Jose Mijares, will reportedly earn $7.5MM over the life of the deal: $3.6MM in 2015 and $3.9MM in 2016. The 31-year-old had filed for a $4MM salary next year, with the team countering at $3.3MM, as documented in MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker. The deal keeps him on track to reach free agency before the 2017 campaign.

Blanco seems likely to function as a fourth outfielder next year, now that San Francisco has signed Nori Aoki. But he obviously represents a key part of the club’s plans, especially given the injury history of center fielder Angel Pagan.

Blanco, who swings from the left side, has enjoyed a productive three-year run thus far with the Giants. Over that stretch, he has averaged 469 plate appearances annually while producing a league-average .257/.336/.355 slash. Though his defensive ratings took a step back last year, he has generally been valued as an above-average glove and two-to-three win player in a slightly less-than full-time role.

Manuel Lira of Venezuelan outlet Lider en Deportes was the first to report the deal. Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle first tweeted the year-to-year breakdown.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Ryan Vogelsong Likely To Return To Giants

3:22pm: The Giants and Vogelsong are working toward a one-year deal, and it seems likely to happen, tweets Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle.

THURSDAY, 11:07am: The Giants are in “active discussions” with Vogelsong, tweets Crasnick, though nothing is completed.

9:54am: The Astros have not been told that Vogelsong has decided to sign elsewhere,’s Jerry Crasnick reports (Twitter links). Houston appears to be waiting and watching at the moment, per the report.

WEDNESDAY: While yesterday it looked like Ryan Vogelsong was on the verge of signing a one-year deal with the Astros, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports now reports that the right-hander has “shifted course” and is in serious discussions with the Giants about a reunion (Twitter link). Earlier today,’s Chris Haft wrote that San Francisco remained in contact with the 37-year-old Vogelsong.

Vogelsong spent the 2011-14 seasons in San Francisco, pitching to a 3.74 ERA with 7.0 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 657 2/3 innings and winning a pair of World Series rings along the way. Those numbers were skewed somewhat by an injury-shortened 2013 campaign that saw Vogelsong post a 5.73 ERA in 103 1/3 innings, but he rebounded to a 4.00 ERA over the life of 184 2/3 innings in 2014.

The Giants appear to have a full rotation with Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy and Tim Lincecum all in the fold, plus excellent swingman Yusmeiro Petit waiting in the wings as a safety net. However, both Cain and Hudson are on the mend from surgery, while Lincecum has deteriorated over the past three seasons and Petit has never thrown more than 117 innings in the Majors.

Pitching Notes: Santana, Shields, Haren, Lynn

Johan Santana‘s comeback bid has hit a snag, as the southpaw was scratched from a planned Venezuelan Winter League start with shoulder soreness (via the league’s Spanish language website). Though he will surely find another opportunity to showcase for MLB clubs, shoulder health was already an obvious concern for the two-time Cy Young winner.

Here are some more notes involving starting pitching:

  • It has been a challenge to find obvious fits for free agent righty James Shields, but’s Dan Szymborski (Insider link) makes the attempt by focusing on which clubs would stand to receive the greatest boost in projected wins. Three NL West teams (DodgersGiantsPadres) and a trio from the AL Central (TigersRoyalsWhite Sox) join the Marlins as the clubs that the ZiPS projection system thinks would benefit most by signing Shields.
  • The Marlins have not yet received any trade offers for righty Dan Haren, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports. Miami is in an interesting spot with regard to the veteran, as Jackson explains.
  • Before reaching agreement on a three-year deal that bought out all of his arb-eligible seasons, the Cardinals and righty Lance Lynn considered longer extension scenarios, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. That did not come to fruition because the team was interested in delaying Lynn’s free agency by one or two years whereas the pitcher was only interested in foregoing the open market for a larger, longer pact. Lynn explained that he would be open to revisiting talks later: “It’s not something that we could get situated, but there’s always going to be a process later. If everything goes well and I pitch the way I’m capable of, I’m sure that will be revisited down the line.”