Today the St. Louis Cardinals announced the signing of Cuban infielder Aledmys Diaz (pronounced Ah-led-mess). Terms of the contract were released by the team, but according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the contract is four years long. Before the signing Diaz was reportedly looking at a deal somewhere between $15-$20 million in value over those four years. Goold stated that it is the most significant international signing in Cardinals history. Diaz has not played professional baseball in 18 months after defecting from Cuba. He is reportedly capable of playing second base, shortstop, and third base.
Reviews on Diaz are mixed. No one believes he has the potential impact of Yoenis Cespedes or Yasiel Puig, two other Cuban players who came over with considerable hype. However, Diaz plays at a position where offensive production is more rare so he would not have to equal their offensive output to have significant value. Diaz hit .315 with 12 homeruns over 270 at bats, but those stats may be misleading for a number of reasons.
Kiley McDaniel of CardinalNation.com provides an excellent scouting report here. According to McDaniel, Diaz projects as a .270 to .280 hitter with about 10 homeruns. McDaniel states that Diaz' arm strength is just average for a shortstop, not good enough to throw from the hole, and that his range "does not make up for it." McDaniel says Diaz has above average speed and base running instincts which should equal 15-20 stolen bases per year. If Diaz hits .270 with 10 homeruns and 15 stolen bases while providing average defense at shortstop he would be an absolute bargain for the club at $5 million per year.
However, not everyone is so high on Diaz. A more pessimistic scouting report is provided in an interview of baseball consultant Joe Kehoskie in an interview on Viva El Birdos. Kehoskie discounts Diaz great offensive numbers in the Cuban league, saying many of the pitchers there are comparable to High-A ball pitchers in the United States, and that Diaz bat is "overhyped." Kehoskie states that Diaz glove and range are below average for shortstop, and that he is likely a second baseman or third baseman on a bad team, or a utility guy on a good team.
Baseball author Peter Bjarkman also provides a very sober analysis of Diaz via another interview on Viva el Birdos. According to Bjarkman, Diaz may be nothing more than a 4A player who struggles to ever make an impact at the major league level. Bjarkman points out that many of the pitchers that Diaz faced in the Cuban league had fastballs that topped out near 80 MPH.
The Immediate and Long Term Impact
Bernie Miklasz, via Twitter, reported that the Cardinals will assign Diaz "at the high minor league level." That likely means AA Springfield or AAA Memphis. Since Diaz has been out of baseball for so long he will need at least 200 at-bats to get his timing back. It may take Diaz even longer to learn the "Cardinal Way" to the satisfaction of management. An extremely optimistic projection would have Diaz with the big league club in June. A middle of the road projection would have Diaz arriving in August or September. If he struggles Diaz may not arrive until next year, if ever
In November the Cardinals signed Johnny Peralta to a four-year $52 million contract, which presumably makes Peralta the starting shortstop, barring injury, this year at least. The Cardinals just signed Matt Carpenter Peralta's contract is structured to pay Peralta more in these first two years, which means the clubs may envision fazing Peralta out in the last years, and thereby fazing Diaz in simultaneously.
Just yesterday the Cardinals signed Matt Carpenter to a six-year, $52 million deal (a number which evidently appeals to management). Carpenter is slated to play third base this year, but one could envision Carpenter moving back to second base in coming years, where he played more than adequate defense last year, and installing Diaz at third base. That scenario assumes that Kolten Wong struggles to hold on the second base job, or perhaps gets traded in the future.
First a foremost, Diaz will have to prove that he can hit professional pitching in the United States. If Diaz does that, and if he can play just adequate defense at shortstop, the team will presumably move the other pieces to find Diaz a spot in the lineup. If Diaz struggles, on the other hand, the team can simply stick with its current arrangement.
Diaz could be a key piece of the big league club in the future, or just some additional depth behind the starters, or a total flop as the first big international signing by the Cardinals. All options are on the table, which will make Diaz perhaps the most interesting player to track in the minor leagues this year.