A few weeks back, we took a look at the market for international free agents. For previous entries in this series, check out the storystream.
Dariel Alvarez is a supposedly-24-year-old from Camagüey, Cuba who defected from the island nation this past summer. Standing at 6-2 and weighing in at 190 pounds, the right-handed outfielder has been getting his reps in this winter in Mexico for the Tigres de Tuxpan in La Liga Invernal Veracruz.
His stats in Serie Nacional de Béisbol (Cuba) are as follows:
Year Age AB BA OBP SLG HR SB
2007 19 125 .256 .273 .280 0 0/1
2008 20 108 .269 .299 .398 1 1/1
2009 21 271 .269 .350 .365 5 5/13
2010 22 299 .274 .322 .435 11 5/15
2011 23 344 .363 .404 .613 20 2/4
Assuming that these stats are accurate, you can see Alvarez’developing as he ages and gets more time under his belt. In 2007 and 2008, as a teenager, like many other Cuban ballplayers, he seemed very much to be a hacky, swing-at-everything hitter. Starting in 2009, he began walking more, making his on-base percentage much more palatable, and his power began to blossom.
Defensively, Alvarez can play all three outfield positions. He has an above-average arm, which would seemingly make him a better fit for center or right field than left, where a below average arm can be hidden. He is not slow, but he isn't particularly fleet footed, either. As such, right field would likely be his strongest position, though it is not hard to imagine that he would be able to play a passable center field.
Does He Make Sense For The Mets?
According to the new CBA, Cuban defectors over the age of 23 that have three or more years of professional baseball experience are not subject to international free agent restrictions — most importantly: the limited signing bonus pool. Though baseball in Cuba is technically amateur baseball, Major League Baseball views the Cuban National Series as a professional league. In other words, Alvarez can be treated like any other free agent, and any money given to him does not count against the Mets' 2012-2013 international free agent singing bonus pool, which is already partially exhausted.
There is no doubt that the Mets could use a talent like Alvarez in the outfield. Outside of Kirk Nieuwenhuis, the Mets don’t have any youngsters lined up who are polished enough to roam the green pastures of Citi Field’s outfield with any kind of confidence. Assuming that most of his Cuban/Mexican batting numbers can translate into the MLB, Alvarez would likely be the Mets’ best outfielder. Those are a lot of ifs, though. The numbers that he’s put up, while very good starting in 2009, are all about one-third to one-half of an entire MLB season’s worth of at-bats. Whether or not he’d be able to sustain his production over a full season is a valid question.
His asking price is also a concern. This past year alone, three Cuban defectors — all outfielders — signed semi-pricey deals. Yoenis Cespedes signed a four-year, $36 million deal with the Oakland Athletics, Yasiel Puig signed a seven-year, $42 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Jorge Soler signed a nine-year, $30 million deal with the Chicago Cubs. Of the three, Cespedes is the only one to have played in MLB, but his excellent rookie season will certainly drive up the price on Alvarez. If Cespedes can do it, why not Alvarez?
Fortunately, the annual salary per year on all of these Cuban defectors is not exactly crippling or dehabilitating. Even in these post-Madoff years, the Mets would be able to afford the annual salary of the aforementioned trio of players. If Alvarez demanded a contract that yielded him an average annual salary between $3 and $9 million, the Mets should be able to foot the bill.
The length of the deal would be the next issue. Alvarez will soon turn 25, so it isn't likely that he would be given a decade-long contract like Soler and Puig. Something between three and five years would be the most reasonable and beneficial for the team and the player. If Alvarez is indeed turning 25, he would become a free agent around age 29, the age at which most domestic players hit free agency.
All in all, of all of the international free agents I’ve profiled, most of whom were either pitchers or middle infielders, Dariel Alvarez is probably the best fit for the Mets. With a team that is (a) in the process of rebuilding, (b) devoid of everyday outfielders in the near future and (c) in desperate need of an everyday outfielder, all of the stars seem to line up.