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Monday, July 23
Updated: July 30, 3:39 PM ET
Cuban defector comes to contract terms with Red Sox

By Tom Farrey and Willie Weinbaum

Cuban defector Rolando Viera agreed in principle Monday to a contract with the Boston Red Sox, bringing a close to an intriguing courtship since Major League Baseball's amateur draft in June.

Rolando Viera
Rolando Viera, the Cuban southpaw, is a rare commodity in the Boston Red Sox organization.
The Red Sox selected Viera, at 27 the oldest player taken in the draft, with a seventh-round pick despite knowing little about the left-handed pitcher, a former Havana Industriales teammate of New York Yankees pitcher Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. Viera's situation was also complicated by the fact he is suing Major League Baseball to be declared a free agent.

Viera has agreed to sign a minor-league contract that includes a $175,000 signing bonus, according to his agent, Joe Kehoskie. He said the the Red Sox agreed to provide $60,000 of that bonus within 15 days after Viera's contract is approved by MLB, with the remainder payable next year.

The Red Sox originally offered a bonus to be paid next year, after Viera's federal discrimination lawsuit against baseball is likely to be resolved. Viera and Kehoskie rejected that offer, arguing that as a recent U.S. immigrant, Viera needed the bonus for living expenses until then.

Viera is to report to Class A Sarasota, but receive a Class AAA minimum salary of $2,100 a month. The Class A minimum is $850 a month.

Despite signing with the Red Sox, Viera will continue to pursue the lawsuit against baseball, Kehoskie said. Viera is challenging baseball's policy of placing Cubans in the draft. Viera has said he hopes his case will change the way baseball treats all Cubans, who are unlike other foreign players with the exception of Canadians. Cubans often avoid the draft by acquiring legal residency in a third country.

Witness to a Defection's Tom Farrey traced Cuban defector Rolando Viera's footsteps -- from his days with Havana Industriales to his federal lawsuit with Major League Baseball over free agency to his first workout with the Boston Red Sox -- in an exclusive, three-part series earlier this month.

ESPN's Outside The Lines also devoted its monthly hour-long show with behind-the-scenes footage as the story unfolded. The show, "Witness to a Defection," will re-air on Tuesday, July 24 at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN.

In 1993, at age 20, Viera was the youngest pitcher on an Industriales staff that included legendary Cuban players such as Hernandez and Lazaro Valle. Viera played sparingly in 1993, then sat out much of the '94 and '95 seasons with hepatitis. In 1999, his first full season as a starter, Viera was 10-4 with a 3.08 ERA. Viera was 8-6 with a 3.16 ERA in 2000, but was banned from the team after the season when Cuban baseball officials learned he had won the right to acquire a U.S. immigration permit.

Viera left Cuba on April 24 but had not been seen by pro scouts in the U.S. when he was drafted June 5. One Red Sox scout that day told ESPN he had seen Viera play in Mexico three years ago, though that appears to be a case of mistaken identity. Viera said he had never left Cuba until he came to the U.S. this year. Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette later said the Red Sox had never seen Viera pitch.

Team officials finally got to see the player on June 20 when Viera threw in the bullpen before the Red Sox's game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Tropicana Field. A week later, Viera, who has a 90 mph fastball, threw in a simulated game in Fort Myers, Fla., where he gave up one hit in three innings against minor-league batters.

Ben Cherington, the Red Sox's coordinator of international scouting, said Viera is not expected to be in shape to help the major-league club this season. But he joins an organization that is low on left-handed pitching. Cherington told ESPN Monday that the Red Sox will invite Viera to participate in major league spring training in February and that he expects Viera to be placed in the offseason Arizona Fall League.

Viera, who has been living with relatives in Miami, must pass a physical examination for the contract to be finalized.

Tom Farrey is a senior writer with Willie Weinbaum is a producer with ESPN.

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 Outside the Lines
The Red Sox thought they knew what they were getting when they drafted Rolando Viera. But did they?
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