Leonys Martin might not be a Ranger anymore — he was signed early in the 2015/2016 offseason by the Seattle Mariners — but the Cuban center fielder's saga continues to be one of the most interesting things about the team. Friday morning Martin's former agent Bart Hernandez was arrested on federal human trafficking charges in Miami for allegedly bringing Martin to the United States illegally and for financial gain.
In 2010, Martin defected from Cuba on a yacht headed for Mexico. His path — he wanted to play baseball in the United States — was dictated by arcane Major League Baseball rules. Cuban players who defect directly to the United States are forced to enter the MLB draft. If a player can establish residence in another country, however, Cuban players are treated like any other international free agent. They can sign with the team of their choosing for however much that team is willing to pay, leading players like Martin to make a pit stop on their way to the U.S.
For Martin, the trip to Mexico was more than intermission. According to a lawsuit he would later file against the group that helped him defect, Martin and his family were taken not to Cancun, where they believed they were going, but a mattress-lined house elsewhere in Mexico. Once there, they were guarded by two armed men, according to Martin. One of the men, Eliezer Lazo, told Martin why they were being held, according to federal court records.
"You are worth a lot," Lazo said, according to the suit. "I am not going to let you go."
Eventually, Martin's family was taken across the border and to Miami, where they stayed at an apartment owned by Lazo. Martin was moved to a complex in Monterrey, Mexico, where he trained in front of Major League scouts.
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Before Martin signed his $15.5 million, Hernandez-negotiated contract with the Rangers, he says he was forced sign an agreement with a Lazo-fronted company promising 30 percent of his future earnings to the company. Martin eventually paid Estrellas del Beisbol more than $1 million, before being sued for violating the contract he signed with the group.
Lazo was eventually convicted in 2015 of violations related to human trafficking and extortion and got 14 years in prison. Now Hernandez, the agent with whom the Rangers worked to land Martin, could be headed the same direction.
The Rangers, through spokesman John Blake, declined to comment for this story. Jeff Marcus, who represented Hernandez at his Monday bond hearing, did not respond to an interview request.
Hernandez faces up to 20 years in prison. Monday, his bond was set at $300,000.