While it most assuredly is a ‘professional' league with ‘professional' players, Revolutionary Cuban baseball prefers to considers itself an ‘amateur' league. Since the Cuban Revolution, the government, through the Cuban National Baseball Commission, has pushed and maintained the narrative of baseball being an activity that players engage in simply for the love of kin and country, rather than for money and personal gain. Putting that into political perspective relevant to Cuba, framing baseball in socialist terms would serve as a propaganda tool to get the baseball-crazy general public to buy into—at least in concept, if not execution—the changes transforming the island nation.
As a result of all of that, players do not actually play under contracts. If they make their respective teams, they receive government stipends and other assistance for being "professional amateurs;" but they never indenture themselves to their teams. As a result, you periodically get what happened in the case of Pavel Quesada. A veteran infielder on the Cienfuegos team, he "handed in his resignation" to the Cuban National Baseball Commission, stating that he did not wish to play in the upcoming 54th Serie Nacional de Beisbol, instead looking to legally leave the country to play abroad. Jesus Gomez, representing the commission, commented to the effect that it doesn't make sense to hold a player against his will and granted Quesada's request. Quesada was granted a visa and a passport, and was allowed to leave the country. Quesada is not alone in this regard. Of late, the Cuban government has allowed a handful of other players to leave the country in this manner: Yenier Bello, Irait Chirino, and Yoan Moncada, among others. One of numerous reforms sweeping the island nation over the last few years, looser restrictions on Cuban players is seen as a move to establish goodwill to the benefit of both players and the government.
Pavel Quesada made his Serie Nacional debut in the 44th tournament (2004-2005) as a starry-eyed 17-year-old, but only got two at-bats over two games. He did not make the Cienfuegos team for the 45th Serie National, but made the cut for the 46th. In that tournament, which took place in 2006 and 2007, he got into 75 games for the Cienfuegos team—nicknamed ‘Los Elephantes' (the Elephants) or ‘Los Elephantes Verde' (the Green Elephants)—hitting .274/.357/.312 in roughly 200 at-bats. He would become a mainstay in the Cienfuegos' lineup for the next few tournaments, before missing the 50th Serie Nacional. During that time, he averaged roughly 80 games per year, hitting a combined .298/.377/.471, splitting time at second and third base.
When he returned after his 2010-2011 sabbatical, he picked up where he left off. Playing exclusively at third base, he hit .287/.410/.459, notching career highs in hits (100), home runs (12), walks (52), hit by pitches (22), and RBI (60). Quesada, along with Jose Abreu and Erisbel Arruebarrena, presented a very dangerous trio for opposing pitchers. Curiously, Quesada's home run power began to dry up immediately after that season, though his overall power remained solid as he hit a career-high 28 doubles. For the 52nd Serie Nacional, the third baseman hit only five home runs, four in the Primero Face (first round) of the tournament, and only one in the Segundo Face (second round). The trend continued during the 2013-2014 season, his last in Cuba. In limited game action, his power dipped further.
|2009-2010 (49th SNdB)||21||87||286||.304||.404||.514||10||42||45||3/7|
|2010-2011 (50th SNdB)||22||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP|
|2011-2012 (51st SNdB)||23||96||327||.287||.410||.459||12||51||49||2/6|
|2013-2014 (53rd SNdB)||25||43||149||.322||.434||.443||2||28||9||0/1|
Quesada's strongest skill is his plate discipline. Because of the elevated offensive environment in Cuba—compared to what is generally considered a normal environment in the minor and major leagues in the U.S.—his high on-base percentage is not as good as you might immediately think, although it is still above average compared to the rest of the league. Mike Puma of the New York Post has described the corner infielder as "a 3B with power," which is somewhat incorrect. While he does have a modicum of power, it is not enough for me, personally, to describe the player as a true power hitter, especially considering the position(s) he plays. His career high in home runs came in 2011-2012, when he hit 12, putting him in a seven-way tie for 25th most that season. As his home run numbers trended downward in the next two seasons, he made up for it partially in doubles; but, yet again, Quesada found himself nowhere near the top tier in that category, either.
Earlier in his career, Quesada split time between second base and third base. The last time be played second in a professional ballgame was in the 2009-2010 season. Since then, he has played exclusively at third base.
Does he make sense for the Mets?
The Mets appear to be interested in Quesada, as they plan to have him work out in front of their scouts in a training complex in the Dominican Republic. This may or may not be the first time that Mets officials are on hand to see Quesada for themselves, as he worked out in front of a few teams at the end of July at a Yankees training complex in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. This more recent and personal workout with the Mets could either signify the team wanting to get a first look at him, or continued interest in the corner infielder.
While I don't think that he will break the bank (as many recent Cuban defectors have), I don't think that with his particular skill set, Quesada will cost the major league minimum. I do think he can be had for relatively close to it, though, assuming he does not suddenly light up the world in his workouts and drive the bidding process through the roof. As a corner infielder, his total skill set is very limited when compared to those of some of his fellow Cubans who are currently playing in MLB. He does not have the speed of Rusney Castillo. He does not play defense like Erisbel Arruebarrena does. He does not have the power of Jose Abreu. He does not seem to be the total package, like Yasiel Puig is. His main strength—getting on base—has value. But even in today's post-Moneyball world, it remains something of an undervalued asset as compared to more flashier skills, like power, speed, or defense.
As for what role he might play were the Mets to sign him? I don't have enough information to say for certain, but were I to make an educated guess, it would be as a platoon partner for Lucas Duda. While Duda is enjoying a breakout season, he is still hitting only .154/.250/.205 against lefties, and is a .210/.292/.313 hitter against them over the course of his career. While he and Ike Davis were paired with right-handed compliments for platoon purposes, those players never really figured to be much more than cheap attempts to get some production where virtually none existed. I do not have platoon numbers on Pavel Quesada, but it is more likely than not that he does not have a reverse platoon split—that is, he probably hits better against lefties than he does against righties. Assuming as much, the Cuban infielder would seem to be a more permanent partner for the incumbent Duda. If his abilities manifest themselves in the U.S. as they have in Cuba, is Quesada a player worth signing and rostering?
Ignoring any possible domestic free agents the Mets could possibly bring in to play such a role, the Mets have a few options already in the farm system. Josh Satin already filled the role of right-handed platoon mate at first base in 2013, and did not fare too poorly, hitting .317/.404/.476 against lefties before falling out of favor in 2014. Andrew Brown has hit .333/.439/.646 against left-handed pitchers in 137 at-bats in Triple-A Vegas during the past two years. Jayce Boyd is currently hitting .302/.417/.488 against lefties in 129 at-bats in Double-A Binghamton. All three, were they selected to compliment Lucas Duda partially or fully against left-handed pitchers, would almost certainly cost less than Quesada. In addition, while all three have risk associated with them—each being either a "four-A" player or an untested rookie—all three are familiar with baseball and baseball strategy in the United States, which Quesada is not. The Cuban infielder would have to deal with adapting to his new circumstances on top of everything else, a hurdle that the Mets' internal options would not have to face.
Quesada is still in the process of establishing permanent residency outside of Cuba and needs to go through the unblocking process; so a lot can change between now and the time that he becomes eligible to be signed by an MLB team. The Mets' situation might change such that signing Quesada would be unnecessary, while it might change such that signing Quesada would be a boon to the club. As always, this is a fluid situation worth monitoring.