White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu left spring training this week and is expected to testify Wednesday in Miami in the federal trial of two men accused of illegally smuggling him and other Cuban baseball players to the United States.
Prosecutors called Abreu to testify in the trial of agent Bartolo Hernandez and trainer Julio Estrada, who have pleaded not guilty to the allegations they were heavily involved in funneling Cuban baseball players here for lucrative contracts.
Federal authorities say Abreu, 30, paid close to $6 million to people who helped him defect from his native Cuba in 2013. The men also helped smuggle players' family members or girlfriends, according to the indictment.
Lawyers for Hernandez and Estrada say they ran legitimate businesses that helped obtain major-league contracts for Cuban players. They deny any role in falsifying travel documents or smuggling players.
If convicted of federal conspiracy and alien smuggling charges, Hernandez and Estrada would face lengthy federal prison terms. Both men are free on bond as the trial enters its fourth week.
Abreu left Sox camp after Monday's game against the Cubs, and the Sox said only that he had to tend to personal matters in Miami. Sox manager Rick Renteria said Abreu was expected him back at some point Wednesday, but he said he would not plan to use him in Wednesday's game against the Diamondbacks at Camelback Ranch.
Abreu hit the first Sox homer of the spring Monday against the Cubs. He has gone 2-for-5 in two spring games.
Abreu has declined comment in recent months about the trial, but when Hernandez was indicted last February, he said they had a "respectful relationship." Abreu signed a six-year, $68 million contract with the Sox in 2013 when represented by Praver Shapiro sports agency, which worked with Hernandez and his company, Global Sports Management. But he switched agencies in 2015.
"When I made a decision to leave the agency, it was because I saw a better opportunity with my new agents, not because I had any trouble with them," Abreu said early in spring training last year. "Our relationship was good."
Back at it: Sox reliever Zach Putnam pitched in a game for the first time Tuesday since he had surgery to remove bone fragments in his elbow midway through the 2016 season. He entered with a Reds runner on base in the second inning and gave up a single and a sacrifice fly. He also issued a walk over 1 1/3 innings.
"The first one for me, especially after a nine-month layoff, was just getting re-acclimated to doing it," Putnam said. "I felt like the command could've been better. Definitely a few things to work on, but a pretty good start for me."
Extra innings: Left-hander Carlos Rodon is expected to throw his first bullpen of the spring Wednesday or Thursday, Renteria said. … Outfielder Charlie Tilson is expected to begin throwing again soon as he is recovering from a stress reaction in his right foot.
Paula McMahon of the Sun-Sentinel contributed.
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