Yariel Rodriguez of Cuba reacts after his withdrawal in the fourth inning during the World Baseball Classic quarterfinal between Australia and Cuba at Tokyo Dome on March 15, 2023 in Tokyo, Japan. Rodriguez is one of 51 professional baseball players to abandon the Cuban program in 2023. (Photo by Kenta Harada/Getty Images)
By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
Cuban pitcher Franky Quintana left the Verdanza Hotel in Carolina, Puerto Rico, on Thursday morning, prior to Cuba’s rained-out game against Curacao at the Caribbean Cup.
He didn’t just leave the hotel. He left his team and his life in Cuba behind, and is expected to seek a contract to play professional baseball elsewhere.
His departure makes the 28-year old Quintana the 51st player from Cuba to leave the island or leave a Cuban team at an international event this year, abandoning his contract with Federación Cubana de Beisbol, Francys Romero of beisbolfr.com reported on Thursday.
World Baseball Network spoke with Cuba outfielder Roel Santos about Quintana leaving the Cuban national team.
“I really think that people have ownership over their choices and their lives,” Cuban outfielder Roel Santos told World Baseball Network prior to Cuba’s scheduled game against Curacao. His words were translated from Spanish. “We are focused on the tournament and are determined to give our best in every game.”
Quintana was on the preselection roster for the Cuban national team for the 2023 World Baseball Classic, but he only appeared in exhibition games in Japan and Taiwan prior to the start of Pool A at Taichung Intercontinental Stadium.
“It would be great if Cubans could go play in other leagues openly. That way, what happened with Franky wouldn’t happen again the way that it did,” Santos said.
Quintana appeared in 15 games during the first season of the Elite League in 2022-23 with the Tabacaleros, going 1-0 with a 1.16 ERA in 15 games out of the bullpen, recording two saves and throwing 31 innings while allowing 23 hits, four earned runs, no home runs allowed, 12 walks, and striking out 29 batters with a 1.129 WHIP.
During the 2023 Central American and Caribbean Games, where Cuba won silver when the gold medal game against Mexico was rained , Quintana made three appearances out of the bullpen, throwing three innings with a 2.33 ERA, recording one save, allowing three hits, one earned run, walking one batter, and striking out two.
Mexico won gold at the Central American and Caribbean Games as they had the best overall record in the tournament.
Miguel Rodriguez of Pelota Cubana USA said about Quintana, “His fastball remains above 90 mph, something that he combines with an excellent slider that can help him develop his career in the Caribbean Leagues.”
Quintana will be missed by his teammates.
“That was a tough choice for him and his family. He was also our teammate, so yeah, it would be great if more doors opened for us. Baseball unifies cultures from different places, and it’s a shame that we are still restricted the way that we are. (I am) hoping that the situation improves for Cuban ballers so that we can openly play in any professional leagues,” Santos told World Baseball Network.
Cuba has had several players that left during international club and senior events this year, starting with catcher Ivan Prieto at the 2023 World Baseball Classic, who left from the Ritz Carlton on Key Biscayne, Florida. Pitcher Yariel Rodriguez left Havana for the Dominican Republic after the WBC in late March, and pitcher Javier Mirabel bailed for Mexico after the 2023 Central American and Caribbean Games in San Salvador, El Salvador. All are seeking free agency in Major League Baseball.
According to Pelota Cubana USA, Cuban national team first base coach Armando Ferrer, who manages Matanzas, had listed Quintana as a reinforcement in the coming 2023-24 Elite League season.
“We are unaffected by this, and we hope that we can continue playing. We hope that the weather allows it and that we have a great tournament. The best is to remain focused, and there won’t be any problems with that. We are aiming to get satisfactory results from our play here,” Santos said.
Just a few days prior at the 2023 Baseball Champions League event in Merida, Mexico, Yobanys Milan left the 2022 Serie Nacional champion Alazanes de Granma on Sunday afternoon, walking away from the team’s hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn. Millan went hitless in two at-bats as a pinch-hitter at the Baseball Champions League, making appearances against the Caimanes de Barranquilla and the Leones de Yucatan.
According to Pelota Cubana USA, Cuban pitcher Yuniesky García was removed from the rosters of the Alazanes de Granma at the Baseball Champions League and the 5th Caribbean Cup because Cuban authorities did not want him to defect.
Another notable Cuban defector, ace pitcher Yariel Rodriguez, was released today from his contract with the Chunichi Dragons in Nippon Professional Baseball. The Dragons placed him on the restricted list in late March after he left from Havana.
Rodriguez started two games during the 2023 World Baseball Classic, recording a 2.45 ERA and throwing 7.1 innings, allowing five hits, two earned runs, walking six batters, and striking out 10 with a 1.50 WHIP.
In the 2022 season with the Dragons, Rodriguez appeared out of the bullpen in 56 games, going 6-2 with a 1.15 ERA, throwing 54.2 innings and allowing 32 hits, seven earned runs, no home runs, 18 walks, and striking out 60 batters with a 0.915 WHIP.
During his three seasons in NPB, Rodriguez posted a 10-10 record with a 3.03 ERA, throwing 175.1 innings and allowing 138 hits, 59 earned runs, 12 home runs, 77 walks, and 188 strikeouts with a 1.226 WHIP.
Sports Agent Edgar Mercedes, who is represented by Rodriguez, will help him apply to free agency in the next few months so that he can be eligible to sign with a Major League Baseball organization.