Marlins shortstop admits to lying in Cuban smuggling probe

Marlins shortstop admits to lying in Cuban smuggling probe

MIAMI -- Miami Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria told a federal jury Friday he lied to investigators about knowing a key figure in an alleged Cuban ballplayer smuggling network linked to a Florida sports agent and a trainer.

Hechavarria testified in the trial of agent Bartolo Hernandez and trainer Julio Estrada, who are accused of conspiracy and alien smuggling. Hechavarria admitted lying to federal agents in a 2012 interview about knowing a man who helped organize smuggling trips and obtain Cuban player documents.

Hernandez acted as a translator in the interview for Hechavarria, who said he spoke almost no English at the time.

"I was a little nervous and I did not want to tell the truth. And I did not want to be a snitch," Hechavarria testified.

The man Hechavarria was asked about, Eliezer "Chicharo" Lazo, pleaded guilty to extortion charges in 2014 in a separate Miami case that involved Seattle Mariners outfielder Leonys Martin, who was also smuggled out of Cuba. Hechavarria testified Friday that Lazo introduced him to Hernandez and was a key player in the smuggling network based in Cancun, Mexico.

After the interview with investigators, Hechavarria said Hernandez asked him why he didn't admit knowing Lazo and that Hernandez had told him he must tell the truth to the FBI. Hernandez attorney Daniel Rashbaum said with jurors out of the room that federal prosecutors sought improperly to downplay those comments.

"The government is leading these witnesses to only tell part of the story," Rashbaum said.

Hechavarria will return Tuesday to continue his testimony. He was promised by the Justice Department in a letter that he would not face any charges in the smuggling case if he testified truthfully in the trial.

The Marlins obtained Hechavarria in a 2012 multi-player trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, with whom he originally signed after leaving Cuba for $10 million. He testified that 30 percent of that contract went to a Mexican-based sports academy called Baseball Stars that prosecutors say Hernandez and Estrada used as a smuggling hub. Hernandez himself got 5 percent as his agent.

The Cuban baseball players had to establish residency in another country such as Mexico in order to sign as free agents with a Major League Baseball team rather than going into the less-lucrative draft. They had to show they no longer lived in Cuba, where they were restricted by the U.S. economic embargo.

Prosecutors say the smuggling ring used falsehoods and fraud to obtain many of the necessary documents, such as putting fake jobs for the players on Mexican residency papers. Hechavarria, for example, was listed as an "area supervisor" for a Mexican company.

"Besides training for baseball, did you have any other job?" said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Davidson.

"Not as far as I know," Hechavarria responded.

Hechavarria also testified that after he arrived in the U.S., he paid another $10,000 to $12,000 to a woman who was part of the alleged smuggling operation to get his mother flown out of Cuba.

"How did you feel when you saw your mother again?" Davidson said.

"Well, you can imagine. Very happy. It had been a while since I last saw her," Hechavarria said.

Giants' outfield picture becoming clearer after latest round of roster cuts


Giants' outfield picture becoming clearer after latest round of roster cuts

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants moved closer to setting their opening day roster on Monday when they made a significant round of cuts to their spring training roster. 

A total of 15 players were reassigned or optioned, bringing the total to 31 players remaining in camp. Many of the players cut Monday entered the spring competing for jobs. 

In the outfield, Mac Williamson and Austin Slater were optioned to Triple-A and Chris Shaw was reassigned to minor league camp. Williamson had a huge spring and was the likeliest of the trio to push for an opening day spot, but he'll start his year in the minors. Steven Duggar was not among the cuts, and he remains an option to make the team, with the Giants also looking at Gregor Blanco, Gorkys Hernandez and Jarrett Parker for backup spots. Hernandez and Parker are out of minor league options. 

Tyler Beede was optioned and Andrew Suarez was reassigned to minor league camp, leaving three players vying for the final two rotation spots. Ty Blach and Chris Stratton have been the favorites all along, although both struggled the last time out and Derek Holland has had a strong spring. 

Both backup catchers -- Trevor Brown and Hector Sanchez -- were reassigned, along with Orlando Calixte, who saw time in the big leagues last year. Joan Gregorio, Jose Valdez, Justin O'Conner and Kyle Jensen were also reassigned. Chase d'Arnaud, who appeared to be making a strong push, was on the list, too, leaving Josh Rutledge as the only competition for Kelby Tomlinson for the final infield spot. 

Finally, Derek Law and Roberto Gomez were optioned to Triple-A. Josh Osich remains and appears the frontrunner for a bullpen job. Julian Fernandez, the Rule 5 pick, also remains in camp. 

The Giants break camp on Friday.

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.