- Date signed: November 2014
- Length: six years (2015-2020)
- Cost at time: $68.5 million
- Adjusted 2022 cost: $81.90 million
- Production: -2.2 bWAR
- Negative value: $101.90 million
How the player got there
Baseball players defecting from Cuba is not a new development. The first to reach the majors after doing so, was Bárbaro Garbey, who departed as part of the Mariel boat-lift in 1980, and reached the majors four years later with the Tigers. The first D-backs defector was pitcher Vladimir Núñez, who left Cuba in 1995, and was one of the earlier players to sign with Arizona, doing so in February 1996, more than two years before the team would play their first game. He made 31 relief appearances here, part of a nine-season career in the major-leagues. Others to play here include Liván Hernández, Juan Miranda, Yoan Lopez, and former coach Ariel “Apple Watch” Prieto.
But Yasmany Tomas is the most infamous of them all. He was a late arrival as part of a Cuban wave which left the island in the early 2010’s. It perhaps began with Leonys Martín. who signed with the Texas Rangers in May 2011 for $15.5 million. However, the dam burst the following February, when Yoenis Céspedes joined the A’s on a a four-year, $36 million contract. He batted .292 with 23 home-runs, finishing second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting to some guy called “Mike Trout”. Wonder what happened to him? Anyway, Yoenis’s success turned everyone on to Cuba as a potential source of players, and suddenly, every team wanted a bit of the action.
Some proved worthwhile signings. Jose Abreu signed a six-year, $68m contract to play for the White Sox in October 2013, won Rookie of the Year in 2014, and was worth 21.7 bWAR over the length of the deal. Some were a bit more questionable. Yasiel Puig got a seven-year, $42m contract with the Dodgers, and initially delivered, before becoming so toxic, he was unable to get even a minor-league contract with any team in the US, after it ended in 2019. Some were dismal failures. At the peak of the Cuban War, Rusney Castillo signed a 7-year, $72.5m deal for Boston in August 2014, then a record. He didn’t even appear in 100 games for them, spending his last four years entirely in the minors and earning $49m there.
Great incentive exists to spend big on Tomas. He is one of the last elite Cubans after the great defection wave that sent Abreu, Castillo, Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, Jorge Soler, Aroldis Chapman, Leonys Martin, Jose Iglesias and others to the major leagues. And between Tomas’ age and power, nobody like him on the free-agent market exists: a 24-year-old with incredible raw strength who will command a contract far lower than a veteran major leaguer with commensurate skill and talent.
— Jeff Passan, Nov 20, 2014
However, Castillo didn’t suck while playing for the Red Sox, being worth 1.6 bWAR, making his negative value less than Yasmany’s overall. Tomas defected from Cuba in June 2014, and immediately became the subject of scrutiny, in terms of signing a contract with a MLB team. Due to his situation, his signing was not subject to the usual limits on international spending, and interest was unsurprisingly brisk, with the Phillies the first team linked to the slugger. The 23-year-old was ranked as the #7 free-agent that winter by MLB Trade Rumors. Even before Tomas’s showcase on Sep 21, the Yankees, Rangers, Tigers, Padres, Giants, Red Sox and Mets had all shown interest.
About two dozen clubs were in attendance for it, and in a poll near that time on MLBTR, the Yankees were favorites to sign him. The D-backs finished 28th, with 1.1% of the votes. The Phillies and Rangers had private workouts with Tomas, and Tim Dierkes predicted Tomas would get a seven-year, $105m deal, shattering Castillo’s record. Clearance from MLB came through on October 2, making Yasmany officially a free agent. The Phillies continued to be the apparent front-runners, along with the Padres, Twins and Tigers; Tomas did workout for Arizona, the first real indication of interest. Interestingly, his agent reportedly declined an 8-year contract, preferring one letting Tomas reach free agency in his prime. Oops.
As negotiations came down to the wire, there were about five or six teams seriously in the running: the Braves, Giants, Padres, Mariners, Phillies and Diamondbacks. But on November 26, it was the D-backs who got their man, signing Tomas to a six-year contract for $68.5 million - the biggest ever given by the team to a free agent. That was still considerably lower than most estimates, with concerns over Tomas’s plate discipline and defense depressing the eventual market, by some reports. The deal saw Tomas get a $14m signing bonus, then salaries of $2m, $4m, $6m and $10m, at which point the player could choose to exercise options for $15.5 and $17m in 2019-20, with up to $2m in bonuses.
What went wrong
“At the end of the day, he said, ’I really like those people,’ These are baseball people. They get it. I think Yasmany appreciates that.”
—Yasmany Tomas’s agent, Jay Alou, of the D-backs execs
Having spent almost a thousand words already, I’m tempted to cut to the chase, and just post some kind of crying meme. But I’ve come this far. There were a lot of takes at the time, almost all of them proved to be inaccurate, Though I did write, “This is the kind of high-risk, high-reward move that was almost never carried through to completion by the previous administration. Inking the biggest contract in franchise history, after being in charge for only a couple of months is undeniably a bold statement by Stewart.” Unfortunately, the statement turned out to be... /checks record Oh, yeah: “I’m an idiot,” beginning with the team saying their intention was to use Tomas as a third-baseman.
This was the result of an outfield logjam for 2015, including Ender Inciarte, David Peralta, A.J. Pollock, Cody Ross and Mark Trumbo. The switch of position did not go well. In the middle of March, manager Chip Hale was forced to admit, “I think he needs to be better than what we’ve seen.” Mind you, this was also a front-office which saw Peter O’Brien as the future at catcher. Joel Sherman wrote scathingly later that month: “I could not find a scout or executive — and asked at least 10 — who think Yasmany Tomas can play third base.” Even Dave Stewart had to admit, “Probably Yasmany’s long-term future is going to be in the outfield as he was when we signed him.”
Tomas began the season in the minor-leagues, and was promoted just a few games later, due to a lack of 40-man roster alternatives. He made his MLB debut on April 15, as a pinch-hitter. But an injury to Jake Lamb quickly forced Yasmany to get his first start at the hot corner, and he was the everyday starter there until Lamb returned in early June. Thereafter, he played mostly right field, with some time spent also in left. Hope of a Rookie of the Year campaign faded, as his bat proved barely replacement level (an 88 OPS+). But it was the defense which proved severely problematic, and Tomas was worth -1.0 bWAR overall. This was a trend which would continue throughout his tenure.
The next year, Tomas hit .272 with 31 home-runs, which by old-school standards would have been a perfectly acceptable season. However, he walked just 31 times in 563 PA, and his OPS+ was only 108. That’s quite hard to do. Even harder, is to hit 30+ homers and be as far below replacement level as Yasmany managed, reaching -0.9 bWAR. Tomas’s defense managed it. It’s the fourth worst season in recorded baseball history by a 30-HR hitter. Above you’ll find some lowlights from his time in Arizona (note: Film Room limits me to ten...). It including perhaps the play which best summed up his time in the outfield, where he made a feeble attempt on a sinking liner, then just sat on his ass like a forlorn clown.
In 2017, his season ended on June 2. What was initially thought to be tendinitis was re-diagnosed a month later as a groin strain, and problems in rehab prevented him from returning, with surgery for a “core injury” taking place in August, then revisited in December. He ended the year with an OPS+ of 88 again, across a mere 47 games. Matters weren’t helped by the change in front-office, with GM Stewart being replaced by Mike Hazen, who had no vested interest in Tomas, except as a sunk cost. He was then arrested in January 2018 for criminal speeding in January, after being caught going 105 mph on the Loop 101. By this point, ESPN was calling Tomas the worst contract on the team.
It was basically the end of his time as a Diamondback. While healthy in spring training, he was sent to Reno and then waived entirely in April, to get him off the 40-man roster, and no-one was interested. Tomas languished in Reno for the remaining years of the contract, while earning $46 million - to nobody’s surprise, exercising the player option for the final two seasons. Even a move to 1B didn’t help Tomas: he spent less than a week in the majors past June 2017. That came at the end of July 2019, going 0-for-6 with three strikeouts. With the 2020 minor-league season canceled. he finally became a free agent at the end of the year, and the only player ever to receive a “Happy Contract Expiration Day” post on the SnakePit.
It ended with a total of 309 games played for Arizona, with a final line of .266/.306/.459, for an OPS of .765, or a 97 OPS+. Not terrible: good enough for an an oWAR of 1.3. If only there had been a full-time designated hitter during his time with the D-backs, he might have seen more action. But his dWAR was -4.9, leading to an overall value of -2.5 bWAR, making him the worst position player overall in franchise history, as well as the worst fielder. Indeed, he’s among the twenty worst major-league players for the last decade - though he’s not the only player connected to the D-backs to make an appearance on that list [I was also quite surprised who was #1...]
Since his contract expired, he got a minor-league deal with the Nationals, hitting .185 in AAA, but was unemployed entirely in 2022. He had a bit of a return to form this winter, batting .328 with 10 home-runs in 66 games for Caneros de Los Mochis in the Mexican Winter League, leading the league with 57 RBI. This prompted complaints [Spanish site] when he was left of the shortlist for the Cuban World Baseball Classic team. It’s reported [Spanish site] the Rays have been in contact with Tomas, but he also has offers from Japan. So it’s possible the final chapter in his story hasn’t been written. For the Arizona Diamondbacks, however, it’s not a volume they’ll be recommending.
Biggest lesson to be learned
Just because everybody else is signing the hottest new thing, does not mean you should rush out and follow suit.