Jack Curry The New York Times
Michel Abreu defected from Cuba 18 months ago with endless expectations. He figured he would gain residency status in Mexico, perform in a tryout camp for 30 major league teams and sign a lucrative contract to play first base in the United States.
But Abreu’s path from defecting to agreeing in principle to a $425,000 signing bonus with the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday was more circuitous. Abreu bounced between agents and sacrificed two years of his career for that modest bonus. He also had to live in two countries as he chased a contract in the United States. Abreu, one of Cuba’s best power hitters, could compete for a spot on Boston’s 25-man roster in 2006.
Bart Hernandez, an agent who recently tried in vain to represent Abreu, said Abreu defected by boat in February 2004. Bill Rego, another agent, took Abreu to Mexico to establish residency. When a defector does that, he is not subject to the amateur draft and can negotiate with any major league team.
Abreu spent several months in Mexico and could not get the documentation necessary to become a resident, so he relocated to Costa Rica. He parted ways with Rego and, after waiting some more, acquired the proper paperwork to become a resident of Costa Rica, where Bernie McGregor became his representative. John Boggs, an agent, negotiated the signing bonus with the Red Sox.
Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, a professor at Yale who is an expert on Cuban baseball, said defectors often ended up languishing in other countries while they awaited the documentation to pursue a career in the United States. Gonzalez Echevarria said teams had also become more cautious about signing Cubans after the New York Yankees outbid Boston to sign Jose Contreras to a four-year, $32 million deal in 2002.
“The market for Cuban players has dropped precipitously in the wake of Contreras’s poor performance with the Yankees,” he said. “The Yankees gave him all that money to keep him away from the Red Sox, and then they didn’t have patience with him.”
Abreu, who is listed as 6 feet 3 inches and 220 pounds, or 1.91 meters and 100 kilograms, made his debut with the Cuban national team in 1999.
While the Red Sox have David Ortiz under contract for next season, he is essentially a designated hitter and rarely plays first base. Kevin Millar and John Olerud, Boston’s primary first basemen, are not signed for 2006, so Abreu, 26, could be given a chance to play first base next season.
The Red Sox gave Abreu a deadline of Tuesday to accept their offer. Abreu, who had been hoping for a bigger bonus, did not know if another team would come after him, so he agreed in principle with Boston.