Dodgers Sign Cuban Alex Guerrero For Second Base

Until recently, Cuba was known for producing great major league pitching. Brothers Orlando Hernandez and Livan Hernandez come to mind first perhaps, but Jose Contreras, Aroldis Chapman, Rolando Arrojo and even Danys Baez successfully made the difficult cultural and professional transition to Major League Baseball in the past.

But now we have Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig stateside, and Jose Abreu on the way, and it seems like a trend. The Dodgers got in line Monday, signing Alex Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million deal that could be worth as much as $32 million according to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. The risks with this newest signing — and the upsides — are considerable, even if both aspects aren’t on the same level as some of the recent deals with Cuban position players.

There are a few questions about Guerrero, even if he isn’t one-dimensional like Jose Abreu might be. The Dodgers’ new middle infielder played shortstop in Cuba, but because his defense has been called stiff, he’s expected to replace Mark Ellis at second base going forward. The simple fact that he can probably play a competent second base puts him also a win ahead of Abreu right from the start, thanks to the respective defensive value at those positions.

But, since there are some questions about the 26-year-old Guerrero’s defense, it’s hard to project him into defense so plus that he’s worth the contract without some value on the basepaths and at the plate. Most 26-year-olds capable of playing second base are average on the basepaths, so really the question becomes: Can he be average (or better) at the plate?

It’s a batting practice video (complete with the requisite pop song; hitting starts halfway through the second minute), so there isn’t a ton to learn. To this untrained eye, he looks powerful enough and there isn’t a lot of wasted movement that might lead to a high strikeout rate. And scouts agree on this part, to some degree — some worry the power won’t translate. Luckily, he walked 39 times against his 30 strikeouts (328 plate appearances) in his final season, and to be league average with the bat at second, he only needs to hit .250/.309/.372.

Clay Davenport has the most widely-accepted translations for Cuban League stats, but it’s a difficult thing, translating stats for a league where the best players top out under 400 plate appearances, and the park situation is best summed up by John Moist of Ballpark Digest:

Teams sometimes play in alternate parks, some very small and in rural areas, in order to reach more remote fans, and games are often shifted to different parks with little advance notice. (Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez once pitched in a game played at Havana’s Psychiatric Hospital.) Many players do not like to play in rural parks because there are fewer fans and the parks may be in poor and unsafe condition. The number of parks in the National Series the season has been reduced from over 100 to less than 40 for 17 teams.

In other words, it’s hard to know what his competition and park situation looked like. But let’s set up the Davenport Translations and MLB stats for the most recent Cuban position players to put Guerrero’s translated numbers into context. We’ll use the translations for the years with the biggest sample sizes.

PA BA OBP SLG
Yuniesky Betancourt DT (2002 303 0.257 0.280 0.389
DT (2003) 337 0.279 0.322 0.430
Real 4278 0.261 0.285 0.388
Kendrys Morales DT (2002) 359 0.270 0.333 0.501
DT (2003) 214 0.336 0.433 0.537
Real 2419 0.280 0.333 0.480
Yoenis Cespedes DT (2010) 354 0.271 0.338 0.489
DT (2011) 371 0.253 0.325 0.499
Real 1114 0.265 0.324 0.472
Yasiel Puig DT (2009) 184 0.212 0.281 0.337
DT (2011) 343 0.259 0.339 0.440
Real 432 0.319 0.391 0.534
Jose Abreu DT (2010) 315 0.321 0.446 0.660
DT (2011) 236 0.364 0.481 0.792
Alexander Guerrero DT (2010) 336 0.286 0.338 0.473
DT (2011) 296 0.250 0.322 0.480

Mark Ellis had a $5.75 million option and the 36-year-old was coming off a season that saw him hit .270/.323/.351. Along with his customary good glove, he was almost a league-average option. It seems the Dodgers were willing to pay up to $3.25 million more in 2014 (there’s a million-dollar buyout) to get ten years younger at the position and have a shot at more upside. Given the numbers Alexander Guerrero has put up in Cuba, that seems like a good proposition in the short run. Given the sample sizes of those numbers, though, the Dodgers may be relying on the eyes of their scouts in this situation.




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35 Responses to “Dodgers Sign Cuban Alex Guerrero For Second Base”

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  1. tz says:

    If he can run, he might be similar to Kaz Matsui. Risky money for that kind of an upside, but the Dodgers don’t seem to mind spending the money.

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  2. Choo says:

    Contract will be worth $50 million if he can translate for Puig’s cutoff throws.

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  3. person hscer says:

    I like how his shirts in the highlight video are color-coded, in case you weren’t sure whether he was hitting or fielding when he had a bat in his hand.

    By the way #grammarnazi says take your pick between “The risk with this newest signing — and the upside — is considerable…” or “The risk and the upside with this newest signing are considerable…” but not what you actually said.

    As for substantive comment? I have none. I am useless. I’m sorry.

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  4. Matty Brown says:

    MLB stats seem to represent something like a 15%-20% drop. Jose Abreu’s monstrous numbers would be superb even with a 20% chop.

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    • jh says:

      yeah, seems like Abreu’s Ruth-ian projected stat line might have been worth mentioning in the post slamming the White Sox signing him a few days ago. I mean, no way is he going to put up those kind of numbers in MLB, but it’s worth pointing out that his stats in the Cuban league obliterate those of the other Cuban signings, some of whom have been quite successful (Puig, Morales, Cespedes).

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      • Bip says:

        Who slammed the Abreu signing? I don’t think anyone has declared that Abreu won’t hit, but the fact is that he needs to hit in order to be valuable, more so than Puig and Cespedes, because Abreu signed for more and provides little defensive value. So the Sox are putting their eggs in one basket to a greater extent than did the Dodgers and A’s.

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        • chuckb says:

          No one slammed the Abreu signing. Some people just get their feelings hurt really badly when people here at fangraphs don’t lavish praise all over their favorite teams/players.

          Most here appreciate objective comment. Some, unfortunately, do not.

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        • jh says:

          Perhaps “slammed” was too strong a word.
          Dave Cameron finishes the post by saying: “It [Abreu’s contract] seems like a pretty big gamble, though.”

          As you said, Abreu has to hit better than Puig and Cespedes, and the statistics from the Cuban league suggest that he will. How much better? Who knows. It seems like less of a gamble, though, when put into the context of how much better Abreu has been than the other hitters.

          Positionally, Abreu is most like a much better hitting version of Kendrys Morales, who put up something like 7 WAR in the last 4 years. Assuming Abreu’s floor is Morales, i.e. about 10 WAR in 6 years, the contract would be $6.8 million per WAR, so not unreasonable. Assuming Abreu is a better hitter than Morales, which the stats support, it would begin to be a bargain.

          And, no need to be a dick, chuckb. I was remarking upon the amazingness of Abreu’s stats in relation to other successful Cuban players. As more come into MLB, we should get a better idea of how exactly their stats translate. So far, it seems like an undervalued market for players.

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        • Bip says:

          Yeah, I think even those skeptical of Abreu’s contract need to put it into perspective. He’s getting paid about $11 million a year. I could compile a very depressing list of players given that amount or more as free agency. People were skeptical of Puig too, but he would have to have been real bad to make $7 million a year look like a waste. I mean the Dodgers signed Brandon League for $7 million a year for God’s sake.

          So I agree jh, the market seems to undervalue these players, especially considering how every year my mind is re-blown by the contracts given out. ($300 million for Clayton Kershaw? The fact that is even being discussed gives me stroke symptoms.)

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  5. Dave Cornutt says:

    I guess this means the Dodgers are throwing in the towel on Dee Gordon. Can’t say I’m really surprised, but it’s still a bit startling to think of how highy touted he was a few years ago.

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    • Finally, I’m tired of the large amount of support he gets. He can be a pinch runner/break for Hanley, but that’s all I desire from him.

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    • Bip says:

      He was always a high-ceiling low-floor type prospect. His pure athleticism and plus-plus speed made him an interesting prospect, but his utility was always dependent on his ability to learn shortstop and to make enough contact and learn enough patience to get on base. Pretty much none of those things have happened so far. Whether we should have expected that or not, I don’t know.

      His prospect status is also a product of the deplorable infield depth in the Dodgers system.

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  6. Professor Ross Eforp says:

    The most fascinating part of this article is the info on the ballparks and league.

    My first thought was, “They have 17 teams?” How bizzare is that?

    My next, and lingering, though was, “This country is 90 miles from Florida and we have almost zero information on the baseball league!” I understand why this is, but it is really fascinating to me.

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  7. Professor Ross Eforp says:

    I have no idea how good the stat translations are (this has to be a near impossible task), but if he is a .320-.330 OBPish type player then this should likely work out “OK” at least. The SLG translation is somewhat easy to dismiss if scouts are worried about his power translating.

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  8. I Know Everything says:

    That’s all fine and dandy, but come on… the best Cuban player is in the Cubs farm system. Case closed. The dishes are done. Nothing to see here; keep moving along.

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    • Professor Ross Eforp says:

      I can’t tell if this is some type of joke or not.

      Soler posted a wRC+ of 128 at AA this year in 236 PA. That is good production from a 21 year old that is really getting his first taste of major competition, but I’ll take the guy that just posted a WAR of 4.0 in 104 MLB games. I understand he posted a high BABIP, but there is quite a bit of room for regression for him to still be a well above average player.

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    • Professor Ross Eforp says:

      Puig is two years older than Soler and about five years ahead of him in terms of development. This is an open and shut case, but it is not anywhere near in favor of Soler.

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  9. Bip says:

    His projected slash line is very similar to a Brandon Phillips line, with a little more power. Despite his reputation, Phillips rates as basically an average defender, but he still has managed 3+ WAR every season. If Guerrero can meet his projection (adjusted down a little for Dodger Stadium probably) and play average defense, then he will basically be the Dodger’s own Brandon Phillips, but 5 years younger and for half the price.

    I much prefer that to acquiring the real Brandon Phillips, even before thinking about what the Dodgers would have to give up to complete the trade.

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    • Professor Ross Eforp says:

      His projected slash line seems unlikely to me. That is a LOT of power.

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      • Bip says:

        That’s why I think Brandon Phillips is a good comp. If you bring down Guerrero’s projected power a little bit, you basically have Phillips.

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    • Bip says:

      So I have to admit here that I got totally twisted up by fangraphs new column layout on the hitter page, so I thought Phillips’ offense RC was actually his defense. Looking at the correct column for defense, it appears Phillips is actually more of a +10 run 2B, meaning Guerrero would be basically only a 2+ win player with Phillips’ slash line and average defense. Oops.

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  10. Franklin says:

    However much Alex Guerrero (or more likely his trainer) paid for that promotional video, they paid too much.

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  11. The Typical Idiot Fan says:

    Huh, another Cuban defect

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  12. Mr. Obvious says:

    Looks Dan Uggla stiff in the field…

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  13. Tea party baseball fan says:

    Pfft “26”, more like 56

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  14. anonynous says:

    How is it that Danys Baez gets a mention but you left out Aroldis Chapman???

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  15. Newcomer says:

    Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo are glaringly missing from this video (though to be fair, Viciedo was a younger prospect who needed time in the minors.)

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