Who Is Cuban Free Agent Yasmany Tomas and Is He Worth Big-Money Risk?

Jason Catania@@JayCat11MLB Lead WriterNovember 4, 2014

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Yasmany Tomas remains quite a mystery, or at least an unproven commodity, to many in and around Major League Baseball, but that could work in the Cuban defector-turned-free agent's favor this offseason.

So much of the focus over the winter will be on the pitching market, headed by aces Jon Lester and Max Scherzer, as well as the consistent, durable James Shields and possibly Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda if he is posted.

But on the position-player front, there's decidedly less high-end talent. Sure, third baseman Pablo Sandoval is positioned well to earn a big-money pact coming off his third World Series title at age 28. And Hanley Ramirez is going to get paid—probably even overpaid—by some team that's willing to give the injury-prone soon-to-be 31-year-old occasional offensive force a chance to play shortstop.

Beyond those two, however, the biggest contracts could go to catcher Russell Martin and designated hitter Victor Martinez, two steady, proven veterans who stand out in their respective markets. But based on their ages—they'll be entering their age-32 and age-36 seasons, respectively, in 2015—anything north of $60 million to $70 million for either would seem to be pushing it.

In light of that, just how much interest is there going to be in a soon-to-be 24-year-old, power-hitting outfielder with experience from a professional league that has funneled three other marquee major league hitters to the majors in recent years?

Try a lot.

That's certainly the case given what's been said and written about Tomas since he defected in June from Cuba, a country that has supplied ready-made stars like Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu the past three seasons.

And by many account, Tomas could be next in that line.

The 6'1", 230-pound righty swinger and thrower worked out for all 30 big league teams in the Dominican Republic in September.

Tomas, who turns 24 on Nov. 14, played five seasons for the Havana Industriales in Cuba's top pro league, the Serie Nacional, as Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com notes:

Overall, he hit 30 home runs with 104 RBIs in 205 regular-season games for the Industriales, starting in 2008. However, he never played more than 69 games during the Serie Nacional's 90-game regular season and did not play during the 2010-11 season.

'My dream was always to play with the best players in the world,' Tomas said. 'Everyone knows there is good baseball in Cuba, but Major League Baseball is the top level in the world. Everybody wants to play there.'

Despite not starting for Cuba in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Tomas went 6-for-16 (.375) with a double and a pair of home runs, one of which came against two-time defending champion Japan and was smashed well over the fence in left-center field:

While there's much intrigue and plenty of positives, there are concerns surrounding the outfielder, too.

For one, Tomas hasn't necessarily been in the best shape, leading some to question what his physique will look like, especially as he ages, as Keith Law of ESPN Insider (subscription required) notes:

Tomas is a stout center fielder who'll have to move to a corner outfield spot, as he's a below-average runner with a stiff body who could probably stand to shed some weight before he signs.

What Tomas brings is plus power, and I don't think it's just BP power, as he's very short to the ball—maybe even more so than Abreu—with good hip rotation and a very quiet approach. He keeps his head steady through contact and his back leg pretty strong. However, he has below-average bat speed, unlike Abreu (whose is average or better) or Puig (whose is just ridiculous), and I've had multiple scouts tell me they question Tomas' ability to hit for average against major-league pitching.

A reasonable/optimistic projection for Tomas would be an average to slightly above-average regular in left field, with 25 to 30 homers, a low OBP and below-average defense.

That sounds an awful lot like the production provided by another, but less impactful, Cuban player: Dayan Viciedo of the Chicago White Sox.

In fact, that's just the name Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs mentions in his scouting report: "Scouts on the low-end for Tomas mention Dayan Viciedo as a comparable while more scouts think Yoenis Cespedes is a better offensive comparison, though Cespedes is quicker-twitch athlete with more speed and defense value."

As for the financial aspect, safe to say it's going to require a hefty investment to land Tomas.

Here's Ben Badler of Baseball America:

Media reports continue to assume that Tomas is asking for $100 million, which is wrong. I haven’t had a team yet tell me that Tomas is asking for $100 million, just that his camp is looking for more than what Rusney Castillo got from the Red Sox. That could mean topping Castillo’s $72.5 million total contract, or it could mean beating what essentially works out to a $12 million average annual value.

The market for Cuban players has exploded in the past few years, and the deal for Tomas, who is exempt from international bonus pools because he is at least 23 years old and has played at least five seasons in a professional league, is going to reflect as much.

Cespedes got a four-year, $36 million deal with the Oakland A's. Puig signed with the Dodgers for $42 million over seven years, and Abreu landed a $68 million contract with the White Sox through 2019.

Additionally, there are a number of teams that either could use a corner outfielder or have shown a specific interest in Tomas, including the Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, San Francisco Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Some MLB higher-ups view the Phillies as the favorites, according to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News:

'He makes a lot of sense for Philadelphia,' said one rival executive, noting that that the Phillies have money, a thin farm system, and a desire to reverse their fortunes as quickly as possible. Plus, people around the game took note when GM Ruben Amaro Jr. flew to the Dominican Republic to personally scout Tomas.

The San Diego Padres, for what it's worth, appear to be the club that has been most thorough in evaluating Tomas, as they have worked him out twice and seen him three times, according to Badler. Most recently, the Boston Red Sox held a private session with the outfielder over the weekend, per Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com.

In other words, there may not yet be a clear front-runner to land Tomas, who can sign with any team at any time. But there sure as heck is a market for him—one with a number of aggressive, big-spending clubs at a time when offense, and especially power, is being valued at a premium.

Even with justifiable questions about Tomas' physique, his readiness for the majors immediately and his ability to hit for average against big league pitchers, a contract near $100 million isn't out of the question. And the likelihood is that Tomas will surpass the $72.5 million contract—a record amount for an international free agent from Cuba—that fellow outfielder Rusney Castillo landed from the Red Sox in August.

Speaking of Castillo, here's what the 27-year-old had to say about his countryman back in September, per Rob Bradford of WEEI:

[Tomas is] a really high quality baseball player, and a really good person. He's got a ton of power. For his physique, he actually moves pretty well. He's pretty quick for a big guy.

I would compare the power to Abreu's power. Tomas has a ton of power. Maybe not to that degree, but if you want a comparison, especially to another Cuban guy—especially when it comes to power—that's the guy.

In terms of power potential, Yasmany Tomas has drawn comparisons to Jose Abreu.
In terms of power potential, Yasmany Tomas has drawn comparisons to Jose Abreu.Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

So at least in Castillo's eyes, Tomas earns comparisons to Abreu, who only led all of baseball with a .581 slugging percentage as a rookie in 2014.

Evoking names like Abreu, Puig and Cespedes—each of whom have had undeniable and immediate success in the majors—for comparison purposes, even loosely, is only going to work in Tomas' favor even more.

Same goes for the mystery and the unknowns surrounding Tomas. The allure, the potential is easy to dream on right now.

Ultimately, whether Tomas will net a near-nine-figure deal—and more importantly, whether he'll be worth the total he does get—are, strangely, mutually exclusive questions.

The answer to the former likely is yes. The answer to the latter? Well, for the sake of whichever team inks Tomas, let's hope he turns out to be as good as his predecessors have been.

Statistics are accurate through the 2014 season and courtesy of MLB.com, Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.

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