Dodgers finalize deal with Cuba's Arruebarrena
Defensive-minded shortstop could make impact on 2014 team
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Dodgers finally announced the signing of Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena on Saturday, and designated infielder Justin Sellers for assignment.
Arruebarrena had reached a preliminary agreement with the club for a five-year, $25 million deal 10 days ago, but the signing couldn't become official until he passed a physical exam and cleared several international legal hurdles.
It is not known when Arruebarrena will join the Dodgers, because he still has not received a work visa and is training in the Dominican Republic. He received a Major League contract and will start the season in the Minor Leagues, but the club doesn't expect him to be there long.
"We think it definitely wouldn't be a surprise if he could affect our club this year," said general manager Ned Colletti. "We'll get him here as soon as we can get him here. We need to see him on an everyday basis, watch him play and adapt to a new country and culture."
Arruebarrena, 23, posted a .276 batting average with 67 doubles, 25 triples, 27 homers and 171 RBIs in 437 career games in six seasons for Cienfuegos in the Cuban Serie Nacional from 2007-13.
"His offense is still a work in progress," Colletti said. "He's got power. [Offense] is part of his game that probably needs to get better. Maybe there's more in there. His defense is worth signing him, knowing he can play in the middle of the diamond at a very high level."
Dodgers vice president of international scouting Bob Engle and his staff have been high on Arruebarrena for three years. Rick Ragazzo and Vance Lovelace, Colletti's top talent evaluators, also scouted Arruebarrena over the winter.
"Maybe I'm dating myself, but defensively the 'A-Man' is like Mark Belanger," Engel said, drawing a comparison to the eight-time Gold Glove winner of the Baltimore Orioles who finished his career with the Dodgers.
"He's instinctive with a nose for the ball. He can make the routine play, and the spectacular. He has a plus arm, soft hands and, defensively, he's Major League ready right now. He could be very exciting almost immediately."
Colletti said he didn't hesitate signing another middle infielder, because where the Dodgers usually draft, good ones aren't often available.
Colletti added that Hanley Ramirez is "open minded" to changing positions at some point, implying that recent talks about a contract extension have included such a move. Before a deal is struck, however, Ramirez needs to show the club he can stay healthy after playing only 86 games last year.
Arruebarrena is the latest of an ever-increasing emphasis by the Dodgers to sign international players in general and Cubans in particular, especially after the stunning success of Yasiel Puig. The Dodgers now have one scout based in Florida, Mike Tosar, whose special assignment is Cuba alone.
The Dodgers last year signed Cuban Alex Guerrero, who they penciled in to start at second base this year, although the natural shortstop has struggled in his transition to the other side of the bag.
Arruebarrena is also a natural shortstop whom Colletti said will likely stay at that position. He has six seasons of professional experience in Cuba, so he was not bound by international salary restrictions.
"We are excited to sign Erisbel, who we've scouted in international competition for a long time." Engle said. "He brings another superb glove to our organization."
Unlike Guerrero, who is considered an offensive middle infielder, Arruebarrena is known for his defense and figures to need Minor League seasoning to bring his bat to Major League caliber. He was a teammate of Puig with Cienfuegos in 2010-11 and Colletti said he talked to Puig about Arruebarrena and Guerrero.
Arruebarrena adds to organizational depth in the infield, which had been lacking until the drafting and progression of former first-round pick Corey Seager, currently a shortstop in a third baseman's body.
"Signing Arruebarrena gives us another very good middle infielder, who is an outstanding defender," Colletti said. "It continues our efforts internationally to add talent that can positively affect the Major League club -- be it immediately or in the very near future."
Sellers was the club's Opening Day shortstop last year. By taking him off the Major League roster, the Dodgers have trimmed the competition for second base to five -- Guerrero, Dee Gordon, Miguel Rojas, Chone Figgins and Brendan Harris.
"It was tough on him," manager Don Mattingly said, after meeting with Sellers. "Justin tried really hard and he wanted to fight for a spot. It was not an easy conversation."
The move also suggests that Chad Billingsley might return in less time than originally thought, because a roster spot could have been made for Arruebarrena by placing Billingsley on the 60-day disabled list.
"We're not prepared to put him on a timetable that exceeds 60 days," Colletti said.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.