The Diaz Deal


How an escape from Cuba and a December trade put the Rays in the ALDS

They hated the move in Tampa Bay. Hated it. The Rays shipped out Jake Bauers and $5 million to land a 27-year-old right-handed bat with just one home run in his first two seasons. That was last December, and that right-handed bat was Yandy Diaz.

Bauers was supposed to be part of the future. Diaz was all potential and little production. At least, not yet.

To understand the significance of last night’s moment, and the deal that brought Diaz to Tampa Bay, you need to know a little about Yandy…

The Cuban slugger was caught, arrested, and thrown in jail three times before the age of 20. A troubled teenager? No. Diaz was trying to escape the island for a chance at the majors. He spent months in a Cuban jail after each attempt to flee the country, but he made it on the fourth try.

Diaz recalls taking a glorified raft more than 12 hours across shark-infested waters to reach the Dominican Republic.

In 2013, he landed a deal with the Indians worth $300,000, and he split time between the minors and the big leagues beginning in 2017. He showed promise, dominating the strike zone and earning more walks than strikeouts in the minor leagues. Then came the deal.

Diaz was still largely unknown, but Tampa Bay and their low-budget, roster-building philosophy took a flyer on a potentially game-changing bat. Diaz’s current contract is still just $558,000. His salary ranks 23rd on the club that already tallies the lowest payroll in baseball.

After arriving in Tampa Bay last winter, Diaz only played half the season due to a foot fracture. He was activated for Sunday’s final regular-season game and went 0-for-3, but big players make big plays in big moments.

Fast forward to Wednesday night with Diaz leading off to open the AL Wild Card. Five pitches in, a leadoff homer set the tone. In his second at-bat, another identical blast over the center-field wall gave the Rays’ pitching staff enough run support to finish the job.

Yandy Diaz was the reward of a December deal that fans didn't understand. From Cuban runaway to Wild Card hero, the Rays made a deal for an underdog, and it paid off.

Jeff YoderOctober2019