Jose Abreu won the Rookie of the Year award with a seamless transition to America three years ago. Then he joined Albert Pujols as the only two players in MLB history to post 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of their first two seasons. This past year, he was reunited with his son, first in Cuba, then in the United States.
He's had a rather smooth go of it relative to the circumstances that brought him here. Once in a while, however, reminders of his dangerous journey to the States bubble up.
This time, No. 79 is on a 77-strong witness list in the United States' smuggling case against Bart Hernandez, Abreu's former agent. Jeff Passan went into some of the documents, and even with knowledge of the underworld in question, Abreu's case stands out:
Few cases illustrate the corruption as well as Abreu’s. In August 2013, an alleged associate of Hernandez’s named Amin Latouff paid $160,000 to have Abreu smuggled from Cuba to Haiti, according to court documents. By mid-October, Latouff secured a fake passport and visa for Abreu and his girlfriend to travel to the United States. At the end of the month, he had signed a $68 million deal with the Chicago White Sox. And then the payments started.
A $2.45 million wire to Julio Estrada, another alleged associate of Hernandez’s. A $276,250 payment to Hernandez. Then $2 million more to Estrada. And three more payments after that. The total: $6,401,250, the price of doing business for a star baseball player who wanted to leave Cuba. Investigators from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security found more than a dozen cases similar to Abreu’s, according to court records. In all, they listed 17 Cuban players who paid $8,888,644 into bank accounts run by Hernandez or Estrada. The government believes the total payments exceeded $15 million, and it wants them back.
Against a mountain of amount of evidence in the form of payments and false document requests, the defense is leaning on the Cuban Adjustment Act, saying if it's legal for Cubans to legally remain in the United States when they get there, then there's no crime they're aiding and abetting.
There's a chance this could be the last high-profile smuggling case. Cuban contracts seem to have peaked with Rusney Castillo, whose $72.5 million contract is more than the Gurriel brothers signed for combined. An international draft could theoretically protect players from being exposed to this dangerous market, although the easing of U.S.-Cuban relations would go further.
Major League Baseball dumped its search firm (Korn Ferry) after another hiring cycle came and went without a single minority candidate hired from the outside. The specific issue:
There were so many conflicts of interest with Korn Ferry as baseball’s search firm that it resulted in nothing more than friends hiring friends. Mostly all the hires had backgrounds with the Cleveland Indians, or had a relationship with Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro, the Indians’ former president and GM.
Passan called it "sneaky huge news," saying, "The joke among execs and scouts is that if you're not a FOS -- Friend of Shapiro -- you're not going to get hired."
The White Sox kept it from being a total whiteout by promoting Rick Renteria from within, but that's not really the point of the exercise. Nor is it that white people can't/shouldn't be hired, as Rob Manfred pointed out by praising Atlanta's process. The Braves ended up taking the interim label off Brian Snitker, whose Braves went a respectable 69-75 after the early-season firing of Fredi Gonzalez. But they did go outside their circle by interviewing Ron Washington, along with in-house candidates Bo Porter, Terry Pendleton and Eddie Perez, and all of them have roles in the organization.
Arizona Fall League play is over, and Louie Lechich emerged as the biggest success story. The converted outfielder almost made it through the entire year without allowing an earned run, but that scoreless streak died at 27 innings on the last day of the season. His final line between the regular minor-league season and the AFL: 27⅔ IP, 19 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 8 BB, 23 K. The initial scouting report says he has a low-90s fastball, a decent changeup and a fringy slider, all of which is encouraging at this point in the transition.
By signing Josh Reddick to a four-year, $52 million deal, trading for Brian McCann and signing Charlie Morton for rotation depth, the Houston Astros' offseason would fit in with our project. The difference is that the Astros already have the young organizational infrastructure in place to make a Cubs-like leap. In his chat, Jeff Sullivan floated the idea of trading George Springer in a deal for Chris Sale, which hadn't crossed my mind. Probably for good reason.
That's if the White Sox should trade Chris Sale. Many of you have already seen this, but if you haven't, Grant Brisbee arrived at the conclusion after examining the other teams that could use his services.
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It isn't all bleak.