Heading into the 2017-18 offseason, the Rangers had one big goal on the personnel front: signing Japanese two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani. The team, still a few years away from anything beyond fringe contention, wasn't interested in any of the big domestic free agents and showed as much, electing instead to sign spare parts like Mike Minor and Matt Moore in hopes that they might live up to their largely unfulfilled potential. While the Rangers missed out on Ohtani, they were left with about $3 million in their international bonus pool when he decided to sign with the Los Angeles Angels. Tuesday, the club figured out where they wanted to spend the cash, agreeing to give newly defected 21-year-old Cuban center fielder Juan Pablo Martinez a $2.8 million signing bonus, according to multiple media reports.
Martinez left Cuba and established residency in November, immediately petitioning Major League Baseball for free agency. On Feb. 20, the league granted Martinez's request, making him eligible to sign with any team on March 6. As Martinez waited for the go-ahead, the Marlins, Yankees and Rangers emerged as favorites for his signature, with the Rangers having a leg up thanks to cash in their bonus pool. For Martinez to have signed with New York or Miami, he would've had to wait until July, when pools reset across the league.
According to Baseball America, Martinez, a 5-foot-10-inch left-handed hitter, has the potential to develop a similar skill set to former Tigers, Yankees and Mets All-Star Curtic Granderson. Martinez is faster than Granderson, but has similar bat speed and power. In the Cuban league last year, he walked more than twice as often as he struck out, but scouts say he'll need to shorten his swing to make consistent contact in the big leagues. Martinez is expected to start the season with one of the Rangers' Single A clubs but could advance through the team's minor league system quickly.
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As soon as Martinez gets his bonus check from the Rangers, he'll have to fork over $100,000 to MLB, thanks to a fine he received from the league last month stemming discrepancies on his application for free agency. In a letter to Martinez, the league claimed that his application "contained incomplete and inaccurate information regarding time you had spent in the United States and Canada," following his decision to leave Cuba. Martinez chalked the errors up to having a bad memory.
"I'm sorry," Martinez told Baseball America. "I want to let MLB know that I didn't do anything on purpose to mislead them."
The information was important, because players who defect directly from Cuba to the United States are required to enter the MLB draft. Players who establish residence in another country first are eligible for free agency and can sign with whatever team they want. In the end, the league accepted that Martinez established residency in Haiti, saving him from a harsher penalty like being forced to sit out a year before signing a contract.
Martinez comes to the Rangers with a similar scouting report to former Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin, who the team signed from Cuba in 2011. Despite flashing good defense and a tremendous arm, Martin failed to win over fans or team management during his time in Texas, eventually leaving for Seattle before the 2016 season. If Martinez lives up to his hype, he'll join Leody Teveras as the second premium outfield prospect in the Rangers organization. If everything goes to plan, they could both be starting for the Rangers when the team opens its new stadium for the 2020 season.