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Forgive my ignorance, but what's with all the Cubans?


glenn__davis

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It used to be that you'd have a guy defect every couple of years and it would be a big deal. Now it seems like there are 3 or 4 major defections every year. Is it becoming easier to defect? Are more guys just getting bold enough to try it? Or is the uptick just in my imagination or just being reported more frequently?

I realize this is probably more of a social/political issue, but I'm just interested in the baseball aspect of it.

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I know Cuba pretty well and I'm not entirely sure, to be honest.

Here are some theories that I've thought of:

- The transition from Fidel Castro to his brother Raul has brought a more lenient socio-economic climate, both with regards to personal wealth and ease of defection.

- The increased dollarization of the Cuban economy (and maybe increased remittances allowed; I'm about 50% sure that happened) has made defection more financially beneficial for family members who stay in Cuba. There's a whole debate over what dollarization means for Cuba but let's not get into that here -- suffice it to say that a major reason defection is a problem is essentially because the Cuban government can't regulate American dollars being spent on the black market, which then means that Cubans in Cuba with access to dollars will be substantially better off than those who work just as hard but don't have access to those dollars, which is against the fundamental nature of the revolution.

- In purely baseball terms, the success of so many players who have left, though not the best players in Cuba (Yulieski Gourriel, for example, never left, nor did Omar Linares), inspired others who saw themselves as being at least equal to those players to go and do the same.

If you look at the history of Cuban players in MLB, there's a whole bunch in the 50s and early 60s, but once Castro decided his revolution was socialist (it wasn't really to begin with), there are no players who defected as adults (some, like Jose Canseco and Rafael Palmeiro, were born in Cuba but grew up in Miami), until Rene Arocha in the early 90s, coinciding with the "Special Period" after the collapse of the Soviet Union, who were by far Cuba's biggest trading partner, where there was just not enough of anything in Cuba. After Arocha, who was one of the best pitchers in Cuba, there were Livan and then Orlando Hernandez, who were considered the best there were in the country at the time.

What might be partially responsible for the current influx is what you could call the Rey Ordonez factor. Ordonez was the second-string shortstop on the under-23 team, or something like that, and when he defected, several Cuban shortstops thought "okay, well, I'm way better than Ordonez, if he can play in the big leagues, why can't I?" which of course doesn't mean everyone defected, but the relative success of such a middling player by Cuban standards almost certainly played a part in the defections of some of the guys like Yuniesky Betancourt, Yunel Escobar, Alexi Ramirez, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Jose Iglesias. Along the same lines, the money Cespedes got probably made some players, who thought they were almost on Cespedes' level (he was good in Cuba, but not Linares level), think they could get close to that as well.

There's also the effective end of the Special Period in recent years, which might be bolstering Cuban strength and conditioning programs, and they're also seeing how much American scouts love the big bodies and fast runners like Puig and Cespedes.

I don't know for sure, but these are some possibilities I've thought about.

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