The highly disappointing and somewhat mysterious Dodgers career of Cuban pitcher Yadier Alvarez came to a sudden and surprising end Saturday when the team reinstated the 23-year-old right-hander from the restricted list and designated him for assignment.
The Dodgers invested $32 million in Alvarez in 2015, signing him for $16 million and paying a $16 million tax penalty for exceeding the international signing cap that year. The potential Alvarez flashed with his 100-mph fastball, though, was offset by control problems and behavioral issues.
Alvarez made two starts for double-A Tulsa last season before leaving the team because, as he said in Spanish this last week, “I didn’t feel like I wanted to play baseball anymore.”
The Dodgers placed Alvarez on the restricted list in September. Alvarez sought psychiatric help over the winter and rekindled his desire to play. He was invited to big league camp with a 30-day window to show the Dodgers he was fit to pitch.
“I saw him throw,” manager Dave Roberts said. “His stuff is really good.”
Alvarez was scheduled to make his Cactus League debut Friday against Milwaukee but was scratched when he felt discomfort in the back of his right shoulder, an injury that could sideline him for several months.
Because Alvarez has no major league service time, the Dodgers had the right to part ways with him before the 30-day window closed.
“Yeah,” Roberts said when asked if he was disappointed how Alvarez’s tenure with the team ended. “We put a lot a lot time into Yadi. … I don’t know what the next step is. I just know that I like him and want the best for him.”
Alvarez had a strong pro debut, going 4-3 with a 2.12 ERA in 14 starts in the Arizona rookie league and at Class-A Great Lakes in 2016, striking out 81 and walking 21 in 59 1/3 innings.
He advanced to double-A Tulsa in 2017, going 2-2 with a 3.55 ERA in seven starts there to end the season, after which MLB Pipeline ranked him the No. 3 prospect in the organization.
But his command wavered in 2018, when Alvarez went 1-2 with a 4.66 ERA in 17 games for Tulsa, striking out 52 and walking 43 in 48 1/3 innings. The frustrations mounted in 2019, when Alvarez was hit hard in his only two starts for Tulsa.
“There are times when something goes wrong for you in a game and you think, ‘Man, with all that training, all those things go wrong in games for me, forget this, I don’t want to play anymore,’ ” Alvarez said. “You think that sometimes. Baseball is like that, but I couldn’t deal with it. I acted like a child.
“At the end, I wasn’t working hard. I didn’t put in the effort. And it hurt my velocity. And when things went wrong I’d say, ‘All that work for nothing.’ And it was all a lie. I wasn’t putting in the work. I didn’t have the focus at the ballpark.”
Alvarez left the team without speaking to the Dodgers.
“I just left without thinking,” he said. “I ran out and left.”
Alvarez spent time in Miami, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, and sought advice from trainers, current players and former players.
“They asked me the same question: Why did you leave? What happened?” Alvarez said. “I explained to them and they said it was immaturity. They explained why I should return to baseball, but they told me not to come back like this, that I should see a psychiatrist first.”
Six therapy sessions “opened my eyes more,” Alvarez said. He informed the Dodgers he would like to play again.
“They always talked to me, always counseled me,” Alvarez said. “They always left the door open for me.”
That door shut Saturday with yet another failed investment in a Cuban player for a team that has virtually nothing to show for the $136.5 million they spent on Alex Guerrero, Hector Olivera, Alvarez and Yasiel Sierra from 2013 to 2016.
Guerrero, a third baseman-outfielder who signed a four-year, $28-million deal in 2013, played 117 games for the Dodgers in 2014 and 2015 and was released in 2016. Olivera, an outfielder-third baseman who signed a six-year, $62.5-million deal in 2015, was traded to Atlanta and played only 30 games in the big leagues.
Sierra, a right-hander who signed a six-year, $30-million deal in 2016, has been limited by shoulder injuries to three games in the last two seasons.
“It’s tough, it is,” Roberts said of the big swings and misses, “but when we’re talking about things like that, we’ve hit on some other guys too.”