Latino pitchers cash in on free-agent spending spree

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Johnny Cueto leads a class of Latino pitchers that is making a mint this offseason.

Teams have been overly aggressive in the free-agent pitching market this winter, shelling out incredible sums of money for the likes of David Price and Zack Greinke. This perfect storm also has allowed a few Latino pitchers to seize the moment, although it remains to be seen how lucrative these investments will pan out.

I have to admit it shocked the hell out of me when durable Dominican Johnny Cueto turned down a six year, $120 million deal from the Arizona Diamondbacks, especially after his inconsistent September and playoff performances. As it turned out, the deceptive, shimmy-shimmy Luis Tiant reincarnation played his cards perfectly. When the Snakes later regrouped and grabbed Greinke in a package exceeding $200 million, Cueto had the necessary leverage to improve his previous offer with the division-rival San Francisco Giants.

Marco Estrada was smart as well in assuming that Price, the Toronto Blue Jays ace, would be flying to a fluffier nest. The Mexican-born Estrada had a career year in Canada last season, so he decided to accept the Jays qualifying offer of $15.8 million for 2016, earning a net raise of about four times his prior salary. The kicker, though, was when the 32-year-old right-hander was awarded an extra layer of security to his pact for 2017. Obviously, that was a huge development for Marco, an eight-year veteran with a record barely over the .500 mark.

Next of latino pitchers set to enhance his fortune will likely be Yovani Gallardo, who hopes to pick up a four-year, $60 million package. That’s because Gallardo is known as a caballo, or horse if you prefer. The Texas-bred, Michoacan native has thrown at least 180 innings in each of his last seven seasons. And even though Yovani has lost a bit of life off his fastball, he compiled some nice numbers with the Texas Rangers last year, including a 3.42 ERA in 33 starts. The former Milwaukee Brewer, who turns 30 next month, made $14 million in Arlington during the final year of his deal, and any new team will have to surrender a blue-chip draft selection. When compared to a guy like Estrada, however, Gallardo has clearly had better success, and a marriage with the Houston Astros or Kansas City Royals would make perfect sense. Both clubs could use a grinder rotation guy and have assembled rosters heavy with Hispanic talent.

Speaking of the world champions, I was pleased to see a Royals reunion with Joakim Soria, known as the “Mexicutioner” during his heyday as the bullpen closer in Kansas City. Soria understandably rejects that nickname now with all the cartel violence in his country, and will fall into a low profile setup role with Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera basking in the spotlight. Nonetheless, it was a classy gesture by the Royals to bring the “Joakman” back where he belongs, especially with a generous three-year agreement worth $25 million. While that’s not out of line for an experienced late-inning reliever, Soria is now 31 and has been the victim of two Tommy John procedures.

Then there’s the good fortune of Oliver Perez, the crafty lefty specialist who will be pitching in Washington D.C. for the next two campaigns. Perez is from Sinaloa, and while not as famous or wealthy as El Chapo Guzman, he remains a Mexican treasure on the ball diamond. The lanky Perez continues to reinvent himself as he heads into his 14th big league season, proving that there’s always a job in the pen for a southpaw capable of getting a crucial out late in the game. What’s more, the Nationals will be giving Oliver a substantial raise for his limited services. The payout calls for $7 million through 2017, much more handsome than his single-season guarantee in Arizona and Houston over 2015. And since Perez normally pitches to only one batter per frame over an average of about 40 innings a year, that makes for a pretty sweet gig.

Hey, if the Boston Red Sox want to give David Price an annual salary of $30 million, good for them. And if another team lures Yovani Gallardo for $15 million as a number three starter, I’m cool with that as well. These guys have earned their dues and as everyone knows, it’s hard to win without good pitching. But it’s also true that fans often struggle to stretch out their entertainment dollar. So, to get my baseball fix from now on, I’ll probably be attending fewer games, and a lot more time sipping a cold beer in my living room in front of the tube.

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