By Kevin Baxter
The Miami Herald
August 7, 2001
Cuban defector Andy Morales, released last month by the New York Yankees as part of a contractual dispute, has signed with the Sonoma County Crushers of the independent Western League and is expected to begin playing with the team Thursday.
The Yankees outbid eight other teams to sign Morales to a $4.5-million contract during spring training, but then quietly dismissed the player from their Double A affiliate in July, claiming Morales’ contract was void because he had lied about his age. Morales and his agent, Gus Dominguez, claim the player is 26; sources widely available in Cuba show him to be 29.
In any case, the players union has ruled that the Yankees’ action make Morales a free agent and by placing him with the Crushers, Dominguez hopes to showcase Morales for other major league teams.
Of the eight teams that were interested in him before, we’ve already heard from five,” Dominguez said Tuesday. We did this because he needs to play. There’s no reason for him to stay home.”
In Sonoma, Morales joins fellow defectors Mayque Quintero and Evel Bastida, who signed with the Crushers on July 11. Quintero, a pitcher, lost his first decision before taking a perfect game into the fifth inning of his last start, which he won.
Bastida, a slick-fielding second baseman and the Crushers’ lead-off hitter, is batting .217.
Team president Robert Fletcher, who also has 35-year-old Japanese import Makoto Sasaki on his roster, expects Morales to play some third base and some outfielder while also DHing for the Crushers, who are locked in a first-place tie with Solano with 2 weeks left in the regular season.
When the Yankees signed the right-handed hitting Morales in March, they were expecting to groom him to take Scott Brosius’ place on the major league club by the end of this season. But less than two weeks later, the team signed former Michigan quarterback and minor league third baseman Drew Henson to a $17-million deal, pushing Morales into the outfield, where the Yankees where already flush with talent.
Some sources close to the Yankees say the club were concerned about Morales’ abilities immediately after he reported to spring training, a factor which may have prompted the Henson signing. By May, New York was offering waivers on Morales, eventually shipping him to Double A Norwich, where he hit .231 with a home run and 14 RBI in 160 at-bats.
The players association has filed a grievance against the Yankees on Morales’ behalf, claiming that the Yankees are still contractually bound to the financial terms of their contract with Morales.
“Even if we win, he’s still a free agent,” says Dominguez, who says a ruling on the union’s complaint could be reached in a month.