Yankees Sign Cuban Defector Duenas

By Jim Callis
February 11, 2004

When Drew Henson left baseball to pursue a career as an NFL quarterback, it left the Yankees without a Triple-A third baseman. They’ve filled that void by signing Cuban defector Yobal Duenas for $60,000.

The Yankees aren’t looking at Duenas as a possible fill in for big league third baseman Aaron Boone, who may miss the season after injuring his left knee playing basketball. Primarily a second baseman in Cuba, where he hit .321 in 14 seasons, Duenas simply will fill a hole on the Columbus roster.

Duenas and righthander Maels Rodriguez defected from Cuba by boat in October after being left off the national team roster. Duenas was suspended for reportedly funneling money to the family of Jose Contreras, who signed with the Yankees last offseason.

Duenas and Rodriguez established residency in El Salvador and worked out for 15 teams in San Salvador, the nation’s capital, on Jan. 22. Neither lived up to the hype.

Duenas showed average raw power, speed and arm strength, but looked shaky at second base. Scouts also raised questions about the veracity of his age, which is listed as 31.

Rodriguez, who threw 100 mph at the 2000 Olympics, struggled to reach the high 80s. He remains unsigned.

This is second time the Yankees have signed a Cuban to play third base, and the first was a disaster. New York gave Andy Morales a four-year, $4.5 million contract, only to release him after he hit .231-1-14 in 48 Double-A games in 2001. The Yankees tried to void the deal, claiming that Morales misrepresented his age.