By Yusseff Díaz
Before becoming an MLB pitcher, Raul Valdes was a legendary Cuban pitcher with a rubber arm. Here’s what else you need to know about Valdes.
Former MLB pitcher Raul Valdes defected from Cuba in 2003 ending a career that saw him pitch five years for the Havana province Cowboys and saw him win 48 games during that span.
In 1999, Raul Valdes pitched two innings in an all-star game in Pinar del Río and struck out all six batters he faced. Valdes seized the right movement to depart considering the market on Cuban players was about to open up
The Major Leagues
The former MLB pitcher signed with the Chicago Cubs as a free agent in 2004 but never made it to the big league level. He was released by the ball club in 2006 and many thought this was the end of the road for the lefty.
Man, were they wrong. This was the beginning of a storied career that would span over a few leagues and continents.
Valdes was awarded a World Series ring by the Cardinals in 2011 although he finished that season with the New York Yankees.
In a Major League career that spanned five seasons with the Mets, Cardinals, Yankees, Phillies, and Yankees as primarily a lefty specialist, he compiled a record of 7-7 and an ERA of 5.13.
A successful Nippon incursion
After the 2014 season, the crafty lefthander was signed by the Chunichi Dragones of the NPB and pitched three years in the league.
Although he had a 17-24 record during his time with Chunichi he posted an ERA of 3.49. A lot of his losses were more due to lack of run support than because of bad pitching.
Valdes made an appearance in the 2017 Nippon league all-star game. That year he compiled a record of 6-9 and earned run average of 3.76.
“Starting an all-star was astonishing. I felt very happy and it gave me great pride. It was the first time I have pitched in an all-star game in my career outside of my native Cuba.”
A Dominican Winter League Legend
Raul Valdes has been a stalwart in the Dominican Winter league over the last ten years. Over that span of time, he has won 45 games in the circuit and three Caribbean World Serie titles.
He has earned the nickname “rubber arm” in the circuit due to his durability. The Cuban has pitched in total 20 years in organized baseball, approximately 2,611 innings pitched without having any major arm surgery.
When I asked him how he feels about his career in the DR, ” I’m happy to be considered by some as the best pitcher in the Dominican Republic over that last ten years. One tries to prepare every year properly to give their best effort. My objective has always been to give my team the best possible start I can offer and help my team win championships.”
Valdes who has played 14 years in the league and the last 11 with Eastern Toros is an elder statesman and a clubhouse leader with the club.
A career that is winding down
Valdés is revered and respected in the Caribbean circuits and has pitched the last two years in the Mexican League with Saltillo Saraperos and the Tijuana Toros and done fairly well.
During that span, he has a record of 9-3 and a 3.62 earned run average, but as of press time he has yet to receive an offer from a summer league ball club.
When I inquired how much longer he wants to pitch he quipped, ” I will pitch as long as my body allows me to.”
In total and in various leagues the Cuban has a record of 159-147 and earned run average of 3.70. If former MLB pitcher Raul Valdes were to retire tomorrow one could definitely say that he has had a successful career.