Andy Ibáñez spent 3 seasons in the Cuban National Series and was a member of Cuba’s 2013 World Baseball Classic squad. 2013 although just a decade ago feels even further when viewed through the prism of Cuban baseball. Ibáñez assuming that role again shouldn’t be so surprising except for the journey he has taken since. A journey so many Cubans have taken. It appears he’ll be the first to come back and represent Cuba in the World’s preeminent baseball competition.
Ibáñez at one point represented the most tantalizing of Cuban talents. He was just 20 years old on a deep and veteran Cuban squad. Although not considered Cuba’s best WBC entry it was likely the last great Cuban squad. That team still had José Abreu, Yulieski Gurriel, Guillermo Heredia and Raisel Iglesias. Those are just the names that are currently active in MLB. Yasmany Tomas and Odrisamer Despaigne would also either sign big deals or at least appear in the Majors. 2013 proved to be the springboard to the defection and signing bonanza we would see through the rest of the decade. Andy Ibáñez to many had the highest ceiling or at least the longest runway.
He would leave Cuba in 2014 and his method out was eerily similar to that of fellow countryman Yoan Moncada. I previously went in depth on Moncada’s journey via the video below. Speculation is that Ibáñez might have been the original target of Nicole Banks. It seems he even mirrored Moncada’s method out. He would retire from the National Series and later rediscover his passion once he found his way stateside.
The Texas Rangers would sign Ibáñez for $1.6 Million in 2015. Even if not considered the pure prospect of Moncada or a true international free agent due to his young age, the sum seemed a pittance. Especially compared to what other Cubans were receiving. Perhaps also due to the dizzying number of large contracts handed out in this time frame Ibáñez faded from the spotlight and wouldn’t make his MLB debut until 2021.
Andy Ibáñez although far from the biggest name in the Cuban sphere might soon become the most important. At least to those clamouring for a unified Cuban baseball squad. Also to the Cuban Baseball Federation who are struggling to keep baseball thriving in Cuba. In the spring of 2022 I wrote a piece detailing the politics and the roadblocks preventing MLB’ers from representing their home land. Initial reports also indicate pitchers Yoan Lopez who has appeared with multiple MLB squads and Elian Leyva who played in the Braves system will be part of the selection process.
Will we see the biggest names from Cuba play for their country again? José Abreu has stated he would gladly represent his home nation again but it isn’t a guarantee just yet.
Was this a war of attrition to arrive at these names? Reports had suggested The Cuban Baseball Federation had reached out to many higher profile players to gauge their interest. Dayan Viciedo spent time with the White Sox and has become a top slugger in Japan is one such name rumoured to have declined the invitation. Many players are split on the topic. Some have publicly avowed never to don the Cuban jersey or return to the island. Others frequent during the offseason and would love to sport their nation’s jersey again.
The announcement of the inclusion of current MLB’ers even though not the names most would have hoped is still a big step forward. Communism is supposed to be built on equality. But not all defecting baseball players are viewed equal by the powers that be in Cuba. Ibáñez is again a bit of a surprising choice. Even though he hasn’t been as high profile or outspoken on Cuban matters his method out would seem as if it would not please those in charge. Perhaps for once petty politics are being put aside. Hopefully for the betterment of the product on the diamond and what it means for the Cuban psyche overall.
There is still much time between now and the World Baseball Classic in March and we have seen many promising announcements in the past. All to say until Ibáñez is lacing it up in Taiwan this could fall apart. It could also be the Lynch pin to a Cuban squad that can go toe to toe with most other baseball nations. Even if we’re not sure what it means completely it is still exciting news and hopefully evidence that Classic Cuban business is changing to a more worldly approach.