After the news broke a week ago, the Mariners have announced the signing of 25-year-old Cuban outfielder Guillermo Heredia to a Major League contract.
PEORIA, Ariz. — After three days of standing on the side in street clothes and watching, Guillermo Heredia can now put on a Mariners’ uniform and step on the field to participate in drills with his new teammates.
The Mariners announced the signing of the 25-year-old Cuban outfielder to a Major League contract on Tuesday afternoon. To make room on the 40-man roster for Heredia, catcher Jesus Sucre, who is likely to miss the whole season following offseason ankle surgery, was placed on the 60-day disabled list.
Heredia arrived to the Mariners complex three days ago after his representatives reached an agreement with Seattle on a deal that features a signing bonus of $500,000. After undergoing the Mariners’ extensive physical, Heredia had to wait for additional paperwork with the U.S. government and Major League Baseball to clear before the contract could be finalized.
He defected from Cuba in January of 2015 and was declared a free agent in July. Heredia has played in one official game in the past two seasons. He didn’t partake in formal competition in 2015 because of the defection and played in just one game for Matanzas of the Cuban National Series (CNS) in 2014 after being suspended. Rumors of a possible failed defection were reported to be the reasoning for the suspension.
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Following his defection, Heredia took up residence in Miami and worked out for several teams in multiple sessions. Mariners’ general manager Jerry Dipoto watched a showcase for MLB teams in Boca Raton during general managers meetings in November.
Heredia was an outstanding player in Cuba. He played 1,400 career games in the CNS (Cuba’s professional league) from 2009 to 2014. He was a career .285 hitter with a .376 on-base percentage. Thera are questions and concerns as to whether he will be able to hit big league pitching. But the Mariners’ scouts and baseball operations staff like his ability to control the strike zone and approach to get on base. He drew 141 walks and struck out 143 times in his CNS career.
Defense and speed are Heredia’s biggest assets. He’s can play all three outfield positions and is considered an exceptional defensive center fielder with plus speed to run down balls in the outfield. He was the recipient of multiple defensive awards equivalent to the Gold Glove in Cuba.
“He’s a speed-defense first,” manager Scott Servais said. “He’s a plus defender. There was some switch hitting, but I don’t know if he’s still doing it. I don’t know a ton about the player. I know our scouting is really high on him. I believe that Jerry has seen him in a workout setting. We’ll just have to see how it plays out.”
With the long layoff, the Mariners will ease him into baseball activities this spring. But he will be in big league camp and participate in Cactus League games. He’ll likely start the season with either Class AAA Tacoma or Class AA Jackson. A big league call-up is unlikely.
“It’s a lot to put on a player,” Servais said. “This is his dream to get an opportunity like this, to get in a major league clubhouse, get around Robbie Cano and our team. I’m not looking for a high expectation level right out of the chute. It takes a while for people to get comfortable. I think we need to have realistic expectations in this camp for him. And he probably hasn’t played competitive ball for a while either.”
Sucre, 27, was injured in a slide while playing winter ball in the Venezuela on Jan. 17, breaking the fibula in his right leg and tearing ligaments in his ankle.. He underwent surgery to repair damage in the ankle on Jan. 26, 2016. He spent most of last season with Seattle, hitting .157 (20×127) with six doubles, a home run and seven RBI in 50 games.