The international market is an avenue for acquiring players that the Milwaukee Brewers have started to explore much more thoroughly in recent years under the Doug Melvin regime. The club made a big splash signing Gilbert Lara to a club-record deal in 2014 and was also heavily involved in the bidding for Yoan Moncada and Jose Abreu before they signed with their current teams.
It remains to be seen if Slingin’ David Stearns will continue that commitment to the international free agent market, though indications are that he will. If so, then one player who should definitely picque his interest is Cuban pitcher Yasiel Sierra, who was officially declared a free agent by Major League Baseball yesterday and is now free to sign with any team.
Now 24 years old, Sierra left Cuba in April 2015 after spending five seasons pitching professionally in the Cuban ranks. He won’t be subject to international spending guidelines because of his age and experience. He’s worked as both a starter and a reliever in Cuba, and according to Baseball-Reference he holds a 4.23 ERA in an even 300.0 career innings pitched with a 221:166 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Those somewhat middling results aside, the 6’1", 170 lb right hander is considered to be an excellent pitching prospect and was ranked by BA as the 14th best Cuban prospect. In a recent showcase in Florida, Sierra dazzled scouts by retiring all nine hitters that he faced (with four strikeouts) while displaying impressive stuff on the mound that Ben Badler described as "the best pure stuff" of any Cuban hurler. According to Baseball America, Sierra throws a mid-90s fastball that can reach up to 96 MPH to go along with a late-breaking 87 MPH slider. He’s also flashed a changeup, as well.
The young Cuban has worked especially hard on developing his secondary pitches of late. Following his showcase, he said through his translator "I worked 24/7 for my slider and changeup. I was very excited to throw my slider and changeup because they don’t throw that kind of pitch in Cuba."
Sierra is said to have a clean arm action and to repeat his mechanics well, intentionally throwing from multiple arm slots. He displayed excellent polish and command during his showcase, though his command and pitchability have been criticized previously due to his inconsistent performances while pitching in his homeland. Still, if it all comes together for Sierra he has the potential to become a mid-rotation starter in the major leagues. With his already "plus" fastball-slider combination, it’s quite plausible that he could serve as high-leverage reliever if that third pitch doesn’t quite come along.
Scouts appear to believe that Sierra will be able to contribute to an MLB team in 2016 and it will no-doubt take a major league contract to lure him to Milwaukee. An oft-cited contractual comparison is to the 7 year, $27 mil deal that the Reds brokered with Cuban import Raisel Iglesias last year. Inflation will likely push that figure up over $30 mil for Yasiel, but that hardly seems like an exorbitant sum for long-term control of a young, MLB-ready arm with mid-rotation potential, especially given the quickly escalating price of free agent pitchers. Using a conservative estimate of $7 mil per Win Above Replacement, it would only take a total of between 4-5 WAR over the course of a seven-year deal to justify that expenditure.
Stearns and the rebuilding Brewers have been working tirelessly this winter to add young, controllable talent to the pipeline and Yasiel Sierra would certainly fit that mold. He’s a risk in that his MLB success is not guaranteed, of course, but the tools are certainly there and the Brewers would be buying his prime years if they signed him. His contract demands won’t be outrageous and it could be the type of deal that eventually offers plenty of surplus value if he becomes a part of the next contending team in Milwaukee.