04/13/10 10:55 PM ET
Jays complete signing of Hechavarria
Toronto hopes Cuban defector will be long-term answer at short
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
"We're hoping that this is someone that can emerge and be a core piece for us," Anthopoulos said.
On Tuesday, the Blue Jays formally announced the signing of Hechavarria, who penned his name on a four-year Major League contract worth $10 million. The deal in itself served as a statement about the potential Toronto sees in Hechavarria. That does not mean the organization is necessarily going to bring him to the big leagues soon.
Right now, the Blue Jays' top priority is to get Hechavarria acclimated to life in the United States and Canada. Hechavarria, who will turn 21 years old on Thursday, arrived at Toronto's spring complex in Dunedin, Fla., last week and will remain at extended spring training for the rest of this month. While in Florida, Hechavarria will be enrolled in English courses.
Hechavarria -- a native of Santiago De Cuba, Cuba -- will also be spending time with Blue Jays Minor Leaguer, and fellow Cuban, Kenny Rodriguez. Between Rodriguez, other players and the members of Toronto's Latin American operations staff based in Florida, Anthopoulos believes Hechavarria will be able to quickly grow comfortable in his new surroundings.
"We feel there's a good support staff around him," Anthopoulos said. "We just want to get him comfortable at least for the first month and then we'll be able to begin to start looking at it from a baseball standpoint -- to move him up to a certain level."
The plan right now calls for Hechavarria to begin the season with high-Class A Dunedin after spending time in extended spring. From there, the hope is that the young shortstop will be able to climb as high as Double-A New Hampshire before the season is over. If Hechavarria performs especially well, Anthopoulos said a call to Toronto this year might not be entirely out of the question.
"I think we'd certainly be open to it," Anthopoulos said. "But it'd have to make sense from a developmental standpoint."
Anthopoulos first saw Hechavarria play during a scouting trip to the Dominican Republic at the end of February.
Toronto had Hechavarria at its academy in the Dominican for two full days, giving the club ample time to run the shortstop through a variety of workouts. In simulated games, the Jays had Hechavarria lead off in every inning. They watched him steal bases, had him face hard-throwing pitchers, tested him against curveballs and sliders and had him work through fielding drills.
Anthopoulos and a handful of Toronto's front office team also sat down for an hour-long question-and-answer session with Hechavarria. They wanted to learn about his background, his family -- anything that would provide them with insight into his makeup. In the end, the Jays decided Hechavarria was worth the lucrative contract.
"He did outstanding and it was good for us to get comfortable with him," Anthopoulos said. "These are the type of players we don't normally know a lot about. To be able to simulate games for two full days, and then also get a chance to sit down and talk to the player, it certainly gave us a greater comfort level to make this financial commitment."
Hechavarria received a $4 million signing bonus -- the largest in club history -- and will earn $500,000 during the 2010 season. Since it is a Major League contract, the Jays will need to use a player option to send the shortstop to the Minor Leagues this year. Hechavarria is then scheduled to earn $2 million in 2011 and $1.75 million in each of the 2012 and 2013 campaigns. Hechavarria also has the potential to become eligible for salary arbitration before his contract expires.
News of the signing spread midway through Spring Training, but there were logistical steps that kept the Blue Jays from officially announcing the move until Tuesday. Anthopoulos said the negotiations with agent Bart Hernandez did not take long, but the process of acquiring a working visa took a couple weeks.
After Hechavarria was unblocked by the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control in early March, opening the door for him to sign with any team, it was believed that the Yankees would land the shortstop. Reports have indicated that Hechavarria turned to the Jays after New York made it known that it planned on discussing a contract extension with shortstop Derek Jeter.
Hechavarria is 5-foot-11 and 178 pounds, drawing comparisons to a young Alfonso Soriano in terms of body type. Anthopoulos said the shortstop has great range and a strong arm in the field, adding that his offensive abilities will only improve with time. Anthopoulos said Hechavarria currently has an "inside-out" swing similar to Jeter.
"He's the total package," Anthopoulos said. "He's someone who we think the power is going to come. Once he learns to pull the ball, he'll start showing some home run power."
Hechavarria joins the growing list of young cornerstones for the Blue Jays' future.
In the trade that sent Roy Halladay to the Phillies over the winter, Toronto acquired highly-touted prospects Brett Wallace, Kyle Drabek and Travis d'Arnaud. Wallace is considered the first baseman of the future for the Jays and Toronto hopes Drabek and d'Arnaud will emerge as leaders down the road on the mound and behind the plate, respectively.
The Blue Jays already have young, talented players in place at the big league level in second baseman Aaron Hill, designated hitter Adam Lind and left fielder Travis Snider. With top catching prospect J.P. Arencibia and a number of young arms on the cusp of the big leagues, the Jays feel they have the makings of a strong foundation.
"We're very excited," Anthopoulos said. "This is a significant signing for us. It's certainly the largest bonus we've ever given to an amateur player before and that shows there's tremendous faith and support in the baseball operations team, but at the same time, also the commitment to try to make this team and this organization a lot better."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.