Rodriguez: Defects in the system

Yariel Rodriguez, 26, is reportedly in the Dominican Republic seeking a contract with an MLB team, while Cuba’s baseball federation claims he is under control of the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Central League through 2024.

On the surface, this appears to be cut and dried but is complicated by Japanese teams’ habit of occasionally playing fast and loose with contract details.

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If things are as the FCB and the Dragons say they are, then Rodriguez is unlikely to be allowed to sign with anyone until Chunichi releases him, something that is unlikely to happen without Cuba’s approval. That process would likely play out like it did for Oscar Colas, who between his last at-bat for Japan’s SoftBank Hawks, and his contract with the Chicago White Sox, spent two seasons in limbo.

In December, Chunichi Sports reported an announcement by the FCB that the 26-year-old’s contract with the Dragons had been extended for two years, so Japan’s media is taking the Dragons and the FCB at their word that Rodriguez’s signature is on the contract.

My colleague Claudio Rodriguez of Beisbol has supplied this photo of Rodriguez’s signing ceremony:

My dealings with Colas and his contracts and documents with the Hawks painted a picture of both Cuban officials and Hawks hirelings cutting corners because they held all the cards and are unused to scrutiny. Signatures on different documents didn’t remotely match, Colas’ mother’s signature on his first contract – necessary because he was a minor – was misspelled.

None of that, or his mother’s complaints that the federation’s baseball export business is analogous to a slave auction, swayed NPB to throw out his contract. SoftBank declined to release him out of fear of upsetting their Cuban talent supply even though owner Masayoshi Son was criticized in the media for being a party to abusive practices.

I see a number possibilities for Rodriguez going forward:

  1. Everything is like the Dragons and Cubans claim: Rodriguez actually signed a contract. That means he’ll be placed on the restricted list, and will be unable to move to MLB until at least 2024—because unlike Colas he won’t need to go through the international amateur signing registration.
  2. Before I could confirm the signing above, I considered the possibility that Chunichi expected Rodriguez to sign his contract upon his arrival in Japan after the WBC or that they only had the kind of provisional contract that the Orix Buffaloes tried to use to block pitcher Jeremy Powell from signing with the SoftBank Hawks in 2008. If that had been the case, Rodriguez could begin negotiating ASAP.
  3. Or, as one MLB source suggested, the Dragons could restrict him until December, then reserve him for 2024 before posting him. Cuba, with nothing to lose at this point really couldn’t complain, and might OK it if Chunichi kicks back a chunk of the posting fee to the FCB.

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