Update, Sunday 11:30pm Pacific time: Sports Hochi reports that DeNA has a basic agreement in place with Gourriel. GM Takada cautions that “he’s not signed yet”, but DeNA has a representative in Cuba to complete the deal. The Baystars plan to play Gourriel at second base, and bat him third in the order. The article also mentions that Yuliesky’s father, Lourdes, played industrial league ball in Japan for Isuzu.
Word on the street (err, Japanese media) is that the Yokohama DeNA Baystars are looking to follow the Yomiuri’s acquisition of Frederich Cepeda with a Cuban splash of their own: infielder Yulieski Gourriel. Baystars GM Shigeru Takada was quoted in Sanspo as saying, “We’re headed in a good direction. It won’t take much time. We’re going to wrap up the talks.” Nikkan Sports adds that DeNA scouted Cuba in the offseason.
Cuban defectors Leslie Anderson and Yuniesky Betancourt are currently active in NPB, but Cepeda will be the first Cuban non-defector to play in Japan since an over-the-hill Omar Linares from 2002-2004. If a DeNA is able to conclude a deal with Gourriel, it’s tempting to think that Cuba could become a new, much-needed talent stream for NPB.
From a pure baseball standpoint, I don’t think I could possibly like the idea of this signing any more for DeNA. Part of it is personal bias; Gourriel has been a favorite of mine for years and I’ve written about wanting to see him in Japan as far back as 2009. But in addition to that, Gourriel is still 29 and logically has more of his prime left than Cepeda. And he seems like a good fit for DeNA’s non-pitching needs, as their offense has been sluggish in 2014 and second base has been a hole for years*.
Kudos to Takada and DeNA for going outside the box after a talent like Gourriel. Now, if they could only apply some creative thinking to their pitching woes…
*this assumes they play him at 2b.