By Kevin Baxter
April 11, 2005
MIAMI—Although Cuban defectors Alay Soler and Kendry Morales already have received their signing bonuses from the Mets and Angels, respectively, neither organization is certain when they'll see what they paid for because both players were stranded in the Dominican Republic with immigration problems.
Morales, who defected to Miami last June then moved on to Santo Domingo in the fall in order to become a free agent, needs to become a Dominican citizen before he can apply for a passport and a visa, a process that normally takes about two years. And after months of bureaucratic delays the Angels, who have been working with Dominican government officials and the player's agent, say they finally are making progress on that front.
According to Angels farm director Tony Reagins, the 21-year-old switch-hitter took a citizenship oath in mid-April. Agent David Valdes then flew down from Miami to help take care of the remaining passport/visa process, which could take anywhere from a few days to several months.
"It's progress, but we've been hearing encouraging things for three months and he's still not here," Angels general manager Bill Stoneman told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. "We're in the mode of when he gets here, he gets here. We can't predict anything."
Morales was considered by many to be the best position player to defect since Fidel Castro came to power. The Angels signed him to an incentive-laden six-year deal on Dec. 1.
The Mets are less optimistic about Soler, who signed a three-year, $2.8 million contract on Sept. 1. A squabble with agent Joe Cubas, which led to Cubas' suspension by the MLB Players Association after the Miami-based agent seized some of Soler's immigration documents, has left the 25-year-old righthander in limbo, and the Mets aren't even willing to guess when they might see him.
Working in the Mets favor, however, is the fact that Rafael Perez recently joined the team as its director of international scouting. As Major League Baseball's point person in the Dominican for three years, Perez became a master at negotiating the sometimes Byzantine ways of the island's political institutions.
A recent accord between the Dominican Republic and Cuba's sports ministries could be complicating matters for both teams. The agreement calls for Cuba to send coaches and trainers to the Dominican as part of a sports-exchange program, and the fledgling administration of Dominican president Leonel Fernandez is unlikely to do anything to anger Havana now.