It’s no secret that, over the last half-decade or so, Cuban players have been making a huge name for themselves in the league. From Yoenis Cespedes to Aroldis Chapman to Yasiel Puig to Jose Abreu to Yoan Moncada, defectors have become highly coveted players to teams around the league. Most of the time, they’ve come over in the middle or towards the end of their careers, making their signings win-now moves. Once in a while, you get a prospect like Moncada, around whom you can hope to build your team for a long time. Unfortunately, those players also count against the international amateur hard cap that is being instituted this year. The latest Cuban to be declared a free agent, Hector Mendoza, was just announced a couple of days ago.
Mendoza is an interesting case, as he’s waiting until March to officially enter the market. This isn’t a coincidence, as that’s when the pitcher turns 23 and can therefore avoid the international amateur market. This is the best of both worlds for teams, as they can sign a young arm with whom they can get an entire prime while also signing him to a deal that won’t count towards their hard cap. It’s also good for Mendoza, of course, since he doesn’t have is earnings capped by an outside force. As of now, the Red Sox haven’t been connected to Mendoza in any sort of rumor, but should they start to get involved?
First, a little history on the pitcher. The fact that he’s right on the edge of being eligible for the international amateur market is interesting enough, but it’s not the only interesting fact about him. The righty has already left Cuba to play professional baseball elsewhere, playing limited action in two seasons in Japan. He was just on loan from his Cuban team, and only pitched in a combined five games over the last two years according to Baseball-Reference, but that can be valuable experience. Baseball in Japan is the closest comparison to baseball here in the states, and having that under your belt can only help in the difficult transition to playing in America.
Mendoza spent most of his Cuban career in the bullpen, which is obviously a scary thing for such a big free agent. Should the Red Sox really be willing to spend such big money on a reliever? Well, for one thing, he has all the skills to be an elite one. His fastball works in the mid-90’s, and he also features an average curveball and a changeup that’s a work in progress. It doesn’t sound overly exciting, but it comes with youth, ability to improve with better coaching, and solid control and command.
Even better, scouts think he’ll be transitioned to a starting role when he comes stateside. He has the repertoire with it, boasting at least three average-or-better pitches. The durability is the one question mark, as he hasn’t really had to survive over such a long season in the past. However, that is something that can easily be worked on at such a young age, and this is a rare chance for the team to get someone with the potential at being a mid-rotation starter for his prime.
The Red Sox have a full rotation right now, and for the next couple of years, but the depth behind that isn’t great. Roenis Elias, Brian Johnson and Henry Owens could still emerge as solid depth, but there’s reason for doubt with all of them. Adding some talent to that pool could prove a prudent move. After that trio, there isn’t much pitching talent until you go down to the lower minors. Mendoza could be a way of bridging that gap. Worst case, he could be transitioned back to the bullpen, where one can always use more depth.
Realistically, the Red Sox aren’t going to make this kind of deal. They’re already close to the upper-limit of their budget, and Mendoza’s upside and age could make him expensive. Still, the Red Sox have a gap in pitching talent in their minor-league system, and adding the Cuban pitcher could help hide that gap a little bit longer. At the very least, they could leak out some rumors about their involvement to get us through this dead period.