Cuban Righty Hector Mendoza Granted Unrestricted Free Agency, Cubs Could Be in Mix
This might be hard to believe, but Shohei Otani isn’t the only highly coveted foreign pitcher whose immediate signing was put at risk by MLB’s new regulations on minimum age and experience. It looked for a while as though Cuban righty Hector Mendoza, who will turn 23 on March 5 and has pitched for four years in Serie Nacional, would have to wait another year to come stateside.
While he’s old enough to clear the bar in that regard, his experience fell short of the five-year requirement imposed by the new CBA. But in a strange twist, Baseball America’s Ben Badler reports* that Mendoza’s time on loan to the Yomiuri Giants of Nippon Professional Baseball — Otani’s league — for parts of two seasons is actually being counted toward his total by the commissioner’s office.
Which is to say he’ll be free to sign after his 23rd birthday without being subject to international bonus restrictions. That, my friends, is some big news for Mendoza. And for a few MLB teams.
Not only do the smaller international pools mean less money for foreign players, but they also hamstring big-market teams and those that have exceeded their previous pool limits. And wouldn’t you know it, the Cubs fall into both of those categories. Ah, but none of that matters in light of this ruling.
Were I a punning man, I might call this a welcome occurrence of deus ex Mendoza.
But lest you go adding this guy to a list of the Cubs’ righty pitching prospects, allow me to flesh out the context of the situation a bit. Wait, did that sound kinda funny? Oh well. You see, the Cubs aren’t the only team whose spending is unfettered by this recent decision. The Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox (whose international signing ban doesn’t apply to free agents) are all in the mix now, too.
You also have to consider that Mendoza is still unready for MLB competition, particularly when it comes to being a starter. At 6-foot-3 and a couple Thickburgers shy of 200 pounds, he’s not exactly Carl Edwards Jr. He’s still got some room to fill out, though, both in terms of frame and stamina. There’s also the matter of adjusting to both the culture and competition of American baseball, something the Cubs are very well equipped to handle.
Durability has been a concern and Mendoza has been serving as La Isla de la Juventud’s closer, but evaluators say he has the stuff to eventually make it part of a big league rotation. Baseball America had ranked Mendoza as the No. 12 prospect in Cuba back in April 2015 and OnCuba.com’s Francys Romero had him at No. 2 in the top 25 he published just two months earlier. Romero noted that his list was based more on projection than immediate impact, but the island nation’s general dearth of arms no doubt contributed to Mendoza’s ranking.
As Badler wrote, though, the young man has serious stuff. Romero echoes that assertion, writing:
Mendoza was in Japan in 2014 and the Asian discipline has helped him a lot. He is a possible closer with a 98mph fastball and a violent slider above 84mph. His rivals only bat for .228 in Cuba with 1 HR in 4 seasons. His ability to maintain the ball inside the stadium will provide him more value in the near future.
Given their need for pitching after this season, an investment in a high-upside arm like Mendoza would make a lot of sense for the Cubs. But again, his potential and the team’s pursuit of it are far from sure things. Still a lot of fun to think about.
*That should be a free link to Baseball America, which is good because it means the author won’t follow me on Twitter in order to DM me a request to take it down, then immediately unfollow me.