Right-hander Hector Mendoza has been declared a free agent and can now sign with any club, reports Jorge Ebro of El Nuevo Herald. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez adds (via Twitter) that the 22-year-old Cuban hurler is expected to wait until his 23rd birthday (March 5) to sign, as he’ll be exempt from international bonus pools at that point. Per Ebro, Mendoza is being represented by Wasserman.
Mendoza was pitching for the Yomiuri Giants in Nippon Professional Baseball but left Japan last October in order to pursue Major League free agency. There’s been little word on him since that time, but given the fact that he’s been declared a free agent, it’s safe to assume he’s established residency in a new country in the four months since that report.
While Mendoza falls shy of the required five pro seasons in a foreign professional league to meet the standard requirement for bonus pool exemption, Baseball America’s Ben Badler writes that the Cuban baseball federation’s decision to loan Mendoza to the Yomiuri Giants for parts of two seasons constituted an additional season of professional work. Ebro also notes that Mendoza was on his Cuban roster but didn’t pitch in the 2015-16 season, which added to his case. (The recent collective bargaining agreement stipulated that players must be at least 25 years of age, but that rule will not come into effect until the 2017-18 signing period.)
As Badler points out, had Mendoza fallen under international bonus pools, he’d have been ineligible to sign with the Cubs, Dodgers, Yankees, Angels, Blue Jays, D-backs, Giants, Rays and Royals due to the fact that each substantially exceeded their allotment in one of the two previous signing periods. Those teams, now, will of course be eligible to sign him once March 5 arrives.
Badler lists Mendoza at 6’3″ and 195 pounds and notes that he’s worked as a closer during his career in Cuba but has a starter’s repertoire and could develop as such with a big league team. In 149 2/3 innings as a pro in Cuba and Japan, Mendoza has a 2.95 ERA with 6.6 K/9 against 5.3 BB/9. Badler has previously rated Mendoza as one of the 15 best prospects in Cuba (subscription required and strongly recommended), writing back in April 2015 that he has a 90-94 mph fastball and good in-zone command and strike-throwing ability. (Much of Mendoza’s struggles with his control came earlier in his career when he was a teenager.) He’s also displayed a solid-average curve and was working on a changeup as of that report from Badler.
Certainly, given the lengthy absence from a game setting (the 2014-15 season was his last full campaign), Mendoza will require some additional time in the minor leagues before he’s ready to help a Major League club. Exactly how much time will be dependent on whether the team that ultimately signs him views Mendoza as a starter or reliever, and the interest in him in those various roles figures to become clearer over the next five weeks as his 23rd birthday approaches.