The Washington Nationals will effectively end a largely unsuccessful partnership with Cuban right-hander Yunesky Maya on Saturday when the team designates him for assignment and clears room on the 40-man roster for infielder Jeff Kobernus. Kobernus will be promoted to the major leagues for the first time to serve as infield depth for the Nationals.
Manager Davey Johnson announced the moves after the Nationals’ 5-2 victory over the Phillies on Friday night.
The moves were hardly surprising. Johnson said earlier in the day that the team was planning to call up an infielder with second baseman Danny Espinosa requiring a few days of rest for a broken right wrist, and getting rid of their extra pitcher was the obvious way to do that.
“We’re already one player short with four players on the bench,” Johnson said Friday night. “I like to at least have five. And with Espinosa down, we can’t go with three.”
The decision to designate Maya for assignment, though, largely marks the end of the of the 31-year-old’s tenure in a Nationals uniform. Maya will be removed from the Nationals’ 40-man roster and the Nationals have 10 days to trade him, release him or place him on waivers. If he clears waivers, he can be outrighted back to Triple-A Syracuse if the team chooses.
For the Nationals, who signed Maya to a four-year deal worth between $6-8 million in July of 2010, hindsight will prove the deal to be a less-than-worthwhile one. Maya appeared in just 16 major league games for the Nationals. He started 10, finished three, and has a career 5.80 ERA in the major leagues.
It was not what the Nationals expected out of him when they signed him in 2010.
“We think he’s capable of pitching in the major leagues very soon,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters when the team announced the signing. “You’ve got an accomplished, major league-ready caliber pitcher that’s competed at the highest level.”
Maya was once considered the ace of the Cuban National team, better than even Reds’ closer Aroldis Chapman. He pitched for the Cuban national team in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics and was a winner of the Cuban equivalent of the Cy Young award in 2009. When the Nationals signed him, he was the marquee acquisition for a rebuilt international scouting department still trying to recover from the Esmailyn Gonzalez scandal.
The Nationals had very obvious high hopes for Maya and the contributions he could make to their organization.
Ultimately, though, Maya never made the Nationals roster out of spring training. He started 63 games in the minor leagues for the Nationals and had a 4.41 ERA.
Maya was summoned on Tuesday when the Nationals needed some long relief insurance with Zach Duke making a spot start. His last act will be serving up a walk-off home run to Pablo Sandoval on Tuesday night in San Francisco.
As for Kobernus, the Nationals did not protect the 24-year-old in last December’s Rule 5 draft, but they’ve always been high on the speedy infielder. Kobernus was selected by the Tigers as a Rule 5 pick and almost made their roster out of camp but was beaten out for the final spot by Matt Tuiasosopo and returned to the Nationals.
Kobernus gives the Nationals the insurance they need in the middle infield and he has also played some outfield, though the natural second baseman is a relative novice out there. He is hitting .333 with a .378 on-base percentage and a .420 slugging percentage in 43 games this season with Triple-A Syracuse and he’s already stolen 21 bases.