TODAY: The contract is expected to be worth around $500K, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez tweets.
MONDAY: The Mariners have reached an agreement with Cuban center fielder Guillermo Heredia, reports Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Terms aren’t yet known, and the contract is still pending a physical, according to Dutton. The 25-year-old Heredia is old enough and has enough professional experience that he is exempt from international bonus pools, so the Mariners are free to sign him for any length of time and any dollar amount.
Heredia played professionally in Cuba from 2009-14, amassing exactly 1400 plate appearances and compiling a .285/.376/.418 batting line. Back in late January, Baseball America’s Ben Badler wrote that while Heredia is a standout defender in center field with plus speed and a strong arm, there are significant questions about his bat. Notably, Badler pointed out that Heredia doesn’t chase many pitches off the plate but dropped switch-hitting (in favor of batting solely right-handed) in his final pro season in Cuba and doesn’t show much power. (He hit 23 home runs in his Cuban career.)
Questions about his bat or not, a young, possibly plus defender in center field with a keen eye at the plate fits squarely into the mold that Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has prioritized this season in placing an emphasis on outfield athleticism, defense and on-base percentage. Heredia may be viewed as more of a fourth outfielder than a starting option in center field, but such players have received fairly notable guarantees in the past, with Dian Toscano’s four-year, $6MM deal with the Braves serving as the most recent example. Certainly, that’s not said as a means of setting any type of expectation for Heredia’s ultimate contract — that will depend on how much the Mariners believe in his bat — but simply to illustrate that even a limited skill set can indeed bring in a relatively notable investment.
Given questions surrounding his bat and the fact that he hasn’t played regularly since the 2013-14 season due to his defection and lengthy free agency — Heredia was declared a free agent last July after defecting in January 2015 — Heredia could be ticketed for the minor leagues upon signing. Then again, if the deal is finalized and Heredia looks solid in camp, he could step in as a backup to countryman Leonys Martin in center field; Dutton writes that the Mariners have been seeking a viable backup option to Martin in center field, and Heredia’s strong defensive reputation fits that bill.
Heredia switched agencies this offseason, as Badler reports that he “recently” hired Magnus Sports — the same agency that has come under fire recently due to the human trafficking indictment of agent Bart Hernandez in connection with Martin’s free agency back in 2011. (Martin switched agents in 2013.) Heredia was also connected to the Cubs and Astros before reaching his apparent agreement with Seattle. Assuming a deal is completed, it’d mark the second Cuban free agent signed by the Mariners this month, as Seattle also inked infielder Dayner Moreira to a minor league deal on Feb. 1.