Reds sign Cuban pitcher Iglesias to seven-year deal
Signing of 24-year-old right-hander follows that of Cincinnati closer Chapman in 2010
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Reds are going big once again on a Cuban defector, and they announced on Friday that they have signed right-handed pitcher Raisel Iglesias to a seven-year contract through the 2020 season.
According to industry sources, the contract is worth $27 million and came with a $5 million signing bonus. It is a Major League contract, and Iglesias is waiting for his visa before joining the organization.
"This was really a team effort in getting this deal done, because it was a lengthy process," general manager Walt Jocketty said. "There were a lot of people involved and a lot of clubs involved."
Iglesias, a 24-year-old reliever who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, threw for big league scouts, including the Reds, last month in Haiti. Cincinnati scouts -- including Tony Arias, Mark Snipp and Miguel Machado -- returned to Haiti a second time to see him pitch again.
Iglesias defected from Cuba in November after a failed attempt in September.
The organization believes that Iglesias has the makings of a big league starting pitcher. Besides throwing a 94-96 mph fastball, he also has a slider, a curveball and recently developed a changeup.
"They felt he had four quality pitches," Jocketty said. "They felt he could be a starter and be a starter very soon. They've seen him pitch several times three innings of relief, and when we get him to the United States and a little bit stronger, we feel he'll be a starter in the next year or so, hopefully."
Iglesias pitched three seasons for Isla de la Juventud in Cuba's Serie Nacional, the island's top baseball league. He had a 1.68 ERA with 20 walks and 50 strikeouts in 15 games (two starts) during a span of 53 2/3 innings, during the first half of the 2012-13 season, but he struggled with his command in the second half and finished with a 3.29 ERA.
Iglesias also shined for the Cuban national team at the World Port Tournament in the Netherlands and during Cuba's five-game series against the U.S. college national team last summer.
Iglesias gave up two runs and three hits while striking out over 4 2/3 frames in five games during the World Baseball Classic for Cuba in 2013.
Because he is at least 23 years old and has played at least three seasons in a Cuban professional league, Iglesias was not subject to the new international signing guidelines established by the Collective Bargaining Agreement that go into effect on July 1. And as a Major League deal, it does not affect the Reds' limit on international signing bonus money.
As part of the negotiated deal, Iglesias still retains his rights to salary arbitration when he has the service time to become eligible. He also did not give up any free agent years. Because this is a midseason signing, Iglesias won't have the required six years of Major League service time for free agency until after the seventh year of the contract is completed.
Once Iglesias and the Reds reached a deal, the club sent a medical team to Haiti to examine the pitcher, which included MRI tests and blood work. Once completed, the information was brought back to Cincinnati and reviewed by team medical director Tim Kremchek.
"Kremchek reviewed everything and was satisfied this guy was in tip-top shape," Jocketty said.
In January 2010, the Reds won a bidding war for the services of left-handed pitcher Aroldis Chapman when he was signed to a six-year, $30.25 million contract.
"[Reds vice president of scouting and international operations] Bill Bavasi was the guy who orchestrated everything from our ballclub with [agent] Barry Praver and his group of representatives," Jocketty said. "It was really based on the valuation of our scouts. It's the same group of guys that went to see Chapman. I guarantee you that they saw [Iglesias] more than any other club."
Once Iglesias has a visa, Cincinnati expects he could first be sent to the organization's academy in the Dominican Republic to get acclimated. Where he will begin in the Minor League system has yet to be determined, but he could be sent to the Arizona Fall League after this season.
"We'll see. We'll try to progress to that point," Jocketty said.
As a smaller-market club, the Reds have long avoided making significant free-agent expenditures, but they have not been afraid to get creative to find talent like Iglesias and Chapman.
"It's the way we feel we have to do our business. It's why it's important we have the strong scouting staff that we have," Jocketty said.
If he can transition successfully to a starting role, Iglesias will be part of a deep talent of young pitching in the organization. The system already has top prospects such as right-handers Robert Stephenson and Michael Lorenzen, as well as the University of Virginia's Nick Howard, who was selected in the first round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft and has not yet signed. There is also left-hander Tony Cingrani.
At the big level, the club already has Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Homer Bailey. Cueto, Latos and Leake are nearing free agency, while Bailey was signed to a six-year, $105 million deal in February.
"Starting pitching depth is a plus to have," Jocketty said. "The more pitching we get, the deeper we get, the more flexibility it gives us going forward."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.