The Blue Jays indirectly dipped into the Cuban market last week by signing free agent shortstop Javier Monzón to a minor league deal.
There’s under the radar moves, and then there is the Blue Jays’ first dabbling in the Cuban free agent pool in six years.
On February 8th, the Blue Jays bucked their recent trend of signing increasingly younger Latin American pitchers to minor league deals by signing Cuban shortstop Javier Monzón to a minor league deal instead. The 23-year-old has been training in the Dominican Republic in an attempt to showcase his talents to major league teams for the past two seasons.
Havana native Monzón didn’t follow the traditional path his compatriots traveled to get to this point. At 17, Monzón joined his mother in Spain via family reunification. Once settled, he joined División de Honor club CB Viladecans, spending three seasons with the New York Yankees of Spanish baseball. He left Spain to for the Dominican Republic with the goal of earning a major league contract. After watching fellow defector Odrisamer Despaigne pass through Viladecans on the way to a $1M signing bonus with the San Diego Padres, Monzón moved to the Dominican in an attempt to earn the same deal, still working on his hitting, as his YouTube channel “javicuba12” indicated at the time. Last season, he held a showcase in April that garnered some interest from the Padres and Cardinals, but in the end, it’s the Blue Jays who will attempt to reap the benefits of what Monzón has to offer.
In Spain, Monzón established himself as a contact hitter who is above average in the field and with his arm. The profile is very similar to the previous Cuban signing the Blue Jays made. Adenny Hechavarria worked out very well for the Blue Jays, rocketing through the system within three seasons and being used as trade bait in the mega-Marlins deal in 2012. Monzón is older than Hechavarria was, and with Troy Tulowitzki in the fold, Monzón will not be rushed up to the majors as he develops.
There is an interesting side note to Monzón’s signing process. The Blue Jays announced his deal on the 8th, two days after Monzón’s birthday. However, according to Monzón’s Facebook profile the Cuban was aware enough that this deal was coming to officially change his employment to “Toronto Blue Jays” on the 5th, backdated to the 1st. This deal was secure enough that Monzón made it public before the team made it official. Why would they do that? Signing Monzón immediately would have cost the Blue Jays signing bonus money from their 2016 draft pick pool. As a 23-year-old, his signing bonus is merely included in his contract. A shrewd move by the Blue Jays front office trying to restock the minors after last season’s talent spending spree. Being patient means they have more capital to work with.
Monzón will likely not have an immediate impact on the Blue Jays. Hechavarria did take three years to appear on the synthetic RogerSkydome field. A similar time frame is projected for Monzón to step onto the dirt in Toronto. One thing he may have to watch in the Blue Jays organization is his futbol allegiances. Despite residing in A Coruña, and playing three seasons on the outskirts of Barcelona, Monzón is a Real Madrid fan. If he makes it to the big leagues, Jose Bautista may try to convince him to switch sides come Classico season.
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