More than 100 scouts, agents and executives showed up last month in the Dominican Republic to watch Noel Arguelles pitch. If the name is not familiar, it's with good reason: He was practically an unknown to the baseball world a year ago, too.
Oh, people in the game had the cursory information, the same stuff they gather on all Cuban players: age and handedness and position, and a scouting report that's more police sketch than portrait, exaggerated here and there, a rough facsimile of the real thing.
Well, here that was, in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, where those on hand could finally add to the 19-year-old left-handed pitcher's slim bio. And as one person at the workout said, "We loved him."
While Arguelles isn't likely to generate near the high-dollar bids of fellow Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman, he looms as a worthwhile alternative, someone without the 100-mph fastball but with enough potential to draw perhaps eight figures. The New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A's are the teams hottest after Arguelles, according to club sources, and A's assistant general manager David Forst confirmed he and GM Billy Beane recently met with Arguelles during a trip to the Dominican.
Arguelles is expected to receive a contract in the neighborhood of those given to Dayan Viciedo(notes) and Jose Iglesias, two other high-profile Cuban defectors. Viciedo, a third baseman, signed last winter with the Chicago White Sox for $10 million, and Iglesias, a shortstop with whom Arguelles defected last year in Canada, received an $8.2 million major league contract with the Boston Red Sox.
Oakland is something of a surprise bidder for Arguelles, though with Matt Holliday(notes), Orlando Cabrera(notes), Jason Giambi(notes) and Nomar Garciaparra(notes) gone, its payroll could dip from more than $60 million to $45 million. The A's have shown a willingness to spend big in Latin America – the $4.25 million they spent on Michael Ynoa two summers ago remains a record for 16-year-olds – and would prefer to restock from within after three straight disappointing seasons.
"If there are deals out there in January and February for some complementary pieces, we'd look at that," Forst said. "Right now, we want to target players who we can keep around for a couple years instead of one."
Arguelles is likely to start in Class A, allowing for an adjustment period to the professional game after a year of inactivity. His 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame impressed scouts, who excused a slight drop in fastball velocity because Arguelles' arm strength isn't quite at full strength. His curveball and changeup rate as potential plus pitches, according to a scout who saw the workout.
Arguelles would be a luxury for the Yankees, who, of course, are accustomed to such baubles and don't fear the possibility of flushing $10 million quite like the A's or Rays. The Yankees are hotter for Chapman, whose price tag could triple Arguelles'. The 100-mph-throwing left-hander now has a stronger connection to the Yankees as well: Chapman switched agents last week, leaving behind Edwin Mejia, who helped him file for free agency and acclimate to the United States, for Randy and Alan Hendricks, the longtime representatives of Andy Pettitte(notes) and Roger Clemens(notes).
• No longer are one-year make-good deals strictly the domain of big-market teams with extra cash to burn. A year after Boston rolled craps on John Smoltz(notes) and Brad Penny(notes), lower-revenue teams are taking the same tack: avoid long-term commitments while trying to stay competitive. Even Kansas City is going hard after left-hander Erik Bedard(notes), who is likely to sign an incentive-loaded one-year deal.
• The level to which Detroit is foisting right-hander Edwin Jackson(notes) on anybody who will listen – "It's like they want to give him away," one executive said, "and I don't really understand why" – is an indictment on the mismanagement that began showing cracks with Gary Sheffield(notes) last spring and has graduated to a full-fledged fault line. The Tigers have six players making eight figures this year: Magglio Ordonez(notes) (who turns 36 in January) at $18 million, Miguel Cabrera(notes) (hopefully sober for opening day) at $15 million, Carlos Guillen(notes) at $13 million and – get ready to gag on a slice of Little Caesars – $34.5 million for Jeremy Bonderman(notes), Dontrelle Willis(notes) and Nate Robertson(notes) (combined 2008: 3-8 in 43 games, with a 6.53 ERA and a 57-to-64 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 93 2/3 innings). All but Cabrera are dead money, leaving Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski to pawn off some of his valuable parts, like Jackson and center fielder Curtis Granderson(notes).
• Head over to the Baseball Writers' Association of America's website for a good chuckle. Every year, the bottom of the MVP ballots provide a plethora of head-scratchers. This year's in the AL: Placido Polanco(notes) appearing higher than Felix Hernandez(notes). Polanco, a free-agent second baseman, finished the season with a .727 OPS. The only players with a lower OPS to appear on an MVP ballot this decade were Jason Bartlett(notes) in 2008 (.690, as opposed to his .879, no-votes-received OPS this season), Scott Podsednik(notes) in 2005 (.700) and Jose Reyes in 2005 (.687). And yet Polanco received a ninth-place vote and all Hernandez – the second-best pitcher in the league who put up Cy Young-worthy numbers – could muster was a 10th. Among NL oddities: Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt(notes) and Rockies outfielder Brad Hawpe(notes) received 10th-place votes and somebody handed Braves shortstop Yunel Escobar(notes) a fifth-place vote.
- Noel Arguelles