Washington Nationals' general manager Mike Rizzo and his front office have a pretty solid record in terms of signings and acquisitions since taking over in the nation's capital in 2009. 31-year-old right-hander Yunesky Maya, at least thus far in his major league career, has been one notable misstep. Signed to a 4-year/$8M dollar deal as an international free agent in 2010, the Cuban-born starter was introduced to the nation's capital as, in Rizzo's words, the Nats' "first major international signing."
"In accordance [with] what we preached two years ago when I took over as the general manager," Rizzo said during an introductory press conference in August 2010, "our international efforts, run by Johnny DiPuglia, our Director of International Operations, along with his staff and a deep scouting effort has brought us our first major international signing that we think is going to impact our major league ballclub immediately...We'd like to welcome to Washington, D.C., Yunesky Maya, right-handed pitcher for the Washington Nationals."
The Nationals conducted what Rizzo explained was a "very thorough evaluatory process" before signing the then-29-year-old right-hander after he'd defected from Cuba following a strong season in the Cuban National Series in which, as the Nats' press release on the signing noted, Maya had, "... earned Cuba's equivalent of the Cy Young during his final season in his homeland, going 13-4 with seven complete games and a 2.22 ERA."
"He was seen I think by five separate scouts on separate occasions," the Nationals' then-second-year-GM explained, "during international competition over the years, most recently during the World Baseball Classic and we had multiple reports on him and we scouted him very in-depth in the Dominican Republic once we got over there."
A little over a month later, after just a few minor league outings, Maya made his major league debut on September 7, 2010, giving up five hits and four runs, all earned, in a 4-1 loss to the New York Mets. Maya finished out the campaign in the majors, but posted a 5.88 ERA with opposing hitters posting a .294/.371/.461 line against the right-hander in the first 26 innings of his major league career.
"It probably wasn't the best way to handle Yunesky Maya last year," Rizzo would later tell reporters, "but he was very driven and impatient to get to the big leagues and [we] probably put him in a position that was difficult for him to succeed, so I'll take that one on my back." Heading into Spring Training in 2011, the GM said that the Nationals, "... assess him going into Spring Training as we saw him at the time that we signed him. We think that he's a very capable starting pitcher in the major leagues. He was the no.1 starter on a really good Cuban national club, [and] has proven that he can compete at the highest level."
Maya spent most of the 2011 season at Triple-A Syracuse in the Nats' system where he had a 5.00 ERA, a 3.86 FIP, 28 walks (1.94 BB/9) and 98 Ks (6.80 K/9) in 22 starts and 192.2 IP. In 10 games and five starts with the Nationals in 2011, Maya had a 5.23 ERA and a 4.40 FIP. The right-hander spent the entire 2012 campaign with the Nats' top affiliate, going (11-10) with a 3.88 ERA, 4.52 FIP, 40 walks (2.16 BB/9) and 89 Ks (4.80 K/9) in 167.0 IP. Maya started the year in Syracuse again this season, but was called up last weekend to help out in an injury-riddled bullpen, but after just one relief appearance, in which he surrendered a walk-off home run by the Giants' Pablo Sandoval, the right-hander was designated for assignment last night.
The move was made to make room on the Nats' 40-Man roster for infielder Jeff Kobernus, who was called up from Triple-A in light of the recent injury diagnosis on infielder Danny Espinosa's right wrist. The Nationals' bench was short as Nats' skipper Davey Johnson explained after last night's game, so a move was necessary.
"We're going to make a roster change," Johnson told reporters, "[Assistant GM Bryan Minniti] isn't here, but I think we're doing something with Maya and [we're] calling up [Jeff] Kobernus. We're already one player short with just four men on the bench. I like to have at least five and with Espinosa down for a number of days, we can't go with three."
"I think Maya is going to be designated for assignment," Johnson continued, "I talked to Maya and I said that he would probably have to stay around here. I'm not sure exactly what the contract status is going to be until Bryan Minniti assures me that's what the move is going to be tonight, but that's what I believe it to be." The move was officially announced this afternoon:
#Nationals select INF/OF Jeff Kobernus from Syracuse, designate RHP Yunesky Maya for assignment. Kobernus will wear #26.— Nationals PR (@NationalsPR) May 25, 2013
The move doesn't necessarily mean the end of Maya's time with the Nationals. He will hit the waiver wire for a seven-day period that began whenever the move was officially made and if he isn't claimed or traded Washington can then either release the pitcher or send him back to Triple-A.