The St. Louis Cardinals have come to terms on a four-year deal with free agent Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz, reports Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com. The contract is worth less than $20 million overall, according to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports.
Diaz is expected to report to spring training on Monday and will likely be immersed into full-scale drills quickly as part of an effort to prepare him for the upcoming season.
Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com reports the deal is a Major League contract, though that won't preclude the Cardinals from sending him to the minors if they decide he needs more time. It would be a similar situation to Yasiel Puig, who began the 2013 season in the Dodgers' minor league system.
The Cardinals do not have an immediate need for a middle infielder at the Major League level and may prefer to have Diaz play every day if he does not earn a starting spot. The club signed Jhonny Peralta to a four-year deal this offseason to take over at shortstop, so Diaz will likely not find playing time there soon. However, many scouts see his defense at short as iffy and believe he is a better fit at second base, anyway.
Unfortunately for Diaz, the Cardinals have been planning on playing top prospect Kolten Wong at second. Wong will have to show more than he did in a 32-game stretch in 2013 to hold on to the position, though.
The former first-round pick hit just .153/.194/.169 in 62 plate appearances and generally looked out-of-sorts against big league pitching. So far, he has collected three hits in 15 spring plate appearances. If Wong continues to struggle and Diaz plays well, it would not be difficult to see Diaz taking over at second full-time.
Diaz had been suspended from signing for several months due to his falsifying his age in order to be exempt from MLB's international signing bonus restrictions. He claimed he was born on Jan. 8, 1990 when in reality he appears to have been born Aug. 1, 1990. That age difference would have allowed him to sign as a regular free agent. The irony of the situation is that after his suspension was lifted in February, Diaz legitimately did qualify for exemption from the bonus pools.
Scouts believe that Diaz could grow into an impact bat at the big league level. During the 2011-12 season -- his last in the Cuban Serie Nacional before defecting -- Diaz hit .315/.404/.500 with 12 home runs. He is projected to have good contact skills with the potential for developing power, perhaps in a similar mold to new teammate Matt Carpenter.