TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays believe Adeiny Hechavarria is the player who will eventually stop their revolving door at shortstop that’s been spinning for nearly a decade.
Any question about how strong their convictions are lie in the size of the contract they doled out to get the Cuban, a US$10-million, four-year deal confirmed Tuesday that includes a $4 million singing bonus. That trumps the previous team record for an amateur player, the $2.4 million handed to lefty Ricky Romero in 2005.
It’s a lot of money to spend on an unproven kid who won’t turn 21 until Thursday.
“There’s no question, the financial commitment speaks for itself, that we’re hoping this is someone who can emerge and be a core piece for us,” said general manager Alex Anthopoulos. “This is a significant signing for us, certainly the largest bonus we’ve ever given to an amateur player before.”
Hechavarria certainly fills the team’s most glaring organizational hole.
Until his singing, there was no shortstop of the future in the system and finding one was among Anthopoulos’s biggest off-season priorities. Since the first Alex Gonzalez (not the Alex Gonzalez manning the position now) was traded after the 2001 season, the Blue Jays have gone through the unheralded likes of Chris Woodword, Felipe Lopez, Mike Bordick, Chris Gomez, Russ Adams, Frank Menechino, Royce Clayton, David Eckstein, John McDonald, Ray Olemdo and Marco Scutaro at the key infield spot.
In Hechavarria, they landed a player who has been described as having a similar frame to Chicago Cubs star Alfonso Soriano with the potential to be a significant contributor both at the plate and in the field. One talent evaluator described him as raw, but the Blue Jays are in no rush with him.
He’ll start at the team’s extended spring camp in Dunedin, Fla., while he learns English and acclimates to North America, likely proceed from there to the single-A Florida State League, and, in an ideal world, finish the season in double-A.
While details on his back-story are hard to come by – his agent Bart Hernandez didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment – any young player who leaves Cuba has been through an ordeal. The Blue Jays won’t add to the burden by putting him in over his head on the field.
“He seems like he’s very close to his family,” Anthopoulos said. “And that’s something that, it’s hard to even relate to that, and what these players go through, wanting to play in the major leagues and bettering themselves financially for their families.
“And we asked him that, specifically. One of his goals is to get to the big leagues and to be able to bring his family to Canada.”
Still, Anthopoulos feels he will adapt to his new surroundings well.
“I think the fact that he’s 21 rather than 17 helps,” he said. “I think one thing that’s not talked about enough with the Cuban players is, these are educated players. It’s not the equivalent of taking a Venezuelan or a Dominican – who may have dropped out of school, or may not have gone to school – this is a player that’s a little more advanced. He’s done a lot of travelling with the teams in Cuba and so on.
“It is a concern. We want to make him as comfortable as we can, but it is maybe not as much of a concern if it was a younger player from another Latin American area.”
The Blue Jays earlier missed out on signing another Cuban, left-hander Aroldis Chapman, who inked a $30.25-million, six-year deal with Cincinnati instead.
These negotiations played out differently. The Blue Jays worked him out for two days in the Dominican in the spring, then sought to aggressively get a deal done.
It was agreed on last month, but it took several weeks to finalize the visa and arrange a physical, delaying the announcement.
The five-foot-11, 178-pound right-handed hitter spent last season in the Cuban league, batting .262 average with six doubles, two triples and one home run. In 327 1-3 defensive innings, he made five errors in 217 chances for a .977 fielding percentage.
“Really total package,” said Anthopoulos. “I think there’s some body comparisons to Soriano, he’s very wiry, very strong. From a defensive standpoint, we think he’ll have plus range, above average throwing arm, above average speed and he’s a guy who we think the power is going to come.
“It’s an inside-out swing right now, like a Derek Jeter type swing where he’ll drive the ball to right-centre and once he learns to pull the ball he’ll start showing some home run power.”