A year or so ago, the Cuban government announced that it would allow its athletes to play overseas professionally without defecting. Cepeda is the first baseball player to take advantage of this policy. Given the current relationship (or more accurately lack of relationship) between the US and Cuba, I'm not surprised that it's a Japanese baseball team that is signing the first player.
Cepeda is not the first player that the Cuban government has allowed to play in Japan, however. Cuban legend Omar Linares spent three years with the Dragons back in 2002-04. At the same time, Antonio Pacheco and Orestes Kindelan played for Shidax, an industrial league team managed by the then-exiled Katsuya Nomura.
It'll be kind of interesting as the Giants already have a Cuban player - Leslie Anderson. Anderson was a teammate of Cepeda's on the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic teams but he defected in late 2009.
Cepeda has played for the Cuban team in all three WBCs and has a number of baseball cards in the various WBC sets. For the 2006 tournament, he had six cards - one in each of the "Inaugural Images", "World Future Stars", "All World Team", "WBC Moments", "Future Watch" and "Counterparts" sets plus at least one jersey card. For the 2009 edition, he again had 6 cards - one in the Topps 2 WBC insert set, one of the box toppers from the Allen & Ginters set, one in the eTopps set, one in the Topps Chrome WBC insert set, one in the Bowman Chrome WBC insert set and one in the Bowman Draft Picks WBC insert set along with a number of parallel and memorabilia cards. He also appeared in Konami's WBC Heroes set with both a regular and a "All Tournament Team" insert card. He did not have a regular card in last year's Topps Tribute WBC set but he has a number of memorabilia cards in the product.
Here's a bunch of his cards:
|2006 All World Team #AWT-12|
|2006 Counterparts #CP-5|
|2006 Future Watch #WBC-33|
|2009 Allen & Ginters #CB2|
|2009 Topps Chrome WBC #W29|
|2009 Konami WBC Heroes #W09R057|
It will be interesting to see what cards Cepeda will have with the Giants. His mid-May arrival should be just in time for him to make it into the BBM 2nd Version set. I have not seen any announcement for BBM's Giants team set yet so it may be published late enough that it will be able to include him. I wouldn't expect him to appear in a Calbee set until Series Three.
Of course, that's assuming that he's allowed to have cards. Omar Linares did not have any BBM cards until 2004, his final year in Japan and he never had a Calbee card at all. He had two cards in 2003 - one in the Konami set and one in an oddball Dragons deck of cards issued by Chunichi Sports.