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.

MLB free agency debate: Where will Nathan Eovaldi sign this offseason?

MLB free agency debate: Where will Nathan Eovaldi sign this offseason?

Editor's note: Each day this week, Giants insider Alex Pavlovic and A's reporter Ben Ross will debate where one of the top five free agents might land this offseason. Thursday's free agent to discuss is Nathan Eovaldi, a veteran right-hander with World Series heroics but just decent regular-season numbers.

ALEX: Ben, I'm fascinated by Nathan Eovaldi. He pulled a Yusmeiro Petit, except he did it while throwing 100 mph during a World Series game.

The Madison Bumgarner comparisons -- in terms of doing whatever it takes to help your team get to that final World Series win -- are there, too. In an age of guys babying their arms, it was so impressive to see a starter go out there and just let it all hang out even though he knew he'd hit free agency just a few days later. You hope that his arm is OK, and that someone will reward him for that effort.

BEN: I don’t think any free agent earned himself more money during the playoffs than Eovaldi did. He had a decent regular season (3.81 ERA and 1.13 WHIP), but his postseason was legendary. He earned $2 million in each of the last two seasons but now is looking at around $15 million per year.

I thought the A’s would have interest, but his postseason probably priced them out of contention. I have to think Boston is the front-runner to re-sign him. Where else could he land?

ALEX: I've got some thoughts, but first I want to go back to your team. Have they indicated what their price range is? I agree that Eovaldi probably is out at this point, but was he in range before the postseason? It's amazing what they did with castoffs last year, but they have to get a couple more dependable arms in that rotation at some point.

BEN: Agreed. Even Billy Beane acknowledged that last month. The A’s haven’t indicated a specific price range, but it's not their MO to spend big money on free agents, especially when a lot of their current roster will be getting pay raises next year. To me, Eovaldi would’ve been a realistic target at around $8 million per year, but he's not at $15 million.

ALEX: He could be a fit for the Giants, and he's certainly the type that Farhan Zaidi might have targeted in Los Angeles. But I think others will be more aggressive after Eovaldi's postseason. MLB Trade Rumors listed half the league, practically, as potential fits: Red Sox, Astros, Yankees, Rangers, Braves, Phillies, Nationals, Dodgers, Angels, Giants.

BEN: He has certainly become a hot commodity. I think the Yankees and Astros make a lot of sense, as do the Giants. But ultimately, I think he'll stay in Boston. The Red Sox know how valuable he was to their World Series. What’s your pick?

ALEX: I'm going off the board a bit, to a team that really needs some frontline starting pitching. The Angels -- for four years and $64 million -- are my pick for one of the stars of the postseason.

BEN: Interesting. The Angels definitely make sense with their lack of starting pitching. But I’ll say Eovaldi gets four years, $60 million from the Red Sox.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Thursday is dedicated to free agent pitcher Nathan Eovaldi.
Will the Phillies be in the Eovaldi mix?
How Eovaldi set himself up for big payday
How does Eovaldi fit the White Sox?

Farhan Zaidi says it's 'not absolutely necessary' for Giants to hire GM

Farhan Zaidi says it's 'not absolutely necessary' for Giants to hire GM

Farhan Zaidi knows what makes a great GM in Major League Baseball. He might not be looking at a mirror and asking, "Who in this land is fairest of all?" but it could be close. 

The Giants have their new man in charge with Zaidi as the president of baseball operations, yet as the hot stove heats up, the team still is without a GM. It doesn't sound like they're in a rush, either. 

"That process is on-going," Zaidi said Thursday morning on KNBR. "Obviously, it's tricky getting permission for top front-office talent. We're working on a number of fronts on that. And we want to make sure we find the right person. ... We're taking our time, we're vetting candidates, and again, the permission process isn't always straightforward." 

[PAVLOVIC: Will Giants take shot at Nathan Eovaldi, another risky starting pitcher?]

As the Giants take their time searching for the right candidate, the team might be without a GM for the near future and beyond. Though he's new to the organization, Zaidi is putting his trust in the structure of San Francisco's front office. 

"At the end of the day, it's a position obviously we'd really like fill," Zaidi said. "But there's a very competent, skilled front office in place. So, it's not absolutely necessary if we don't feel like have the right person."

[PAVLOVIC: Manny Machado doesn't fit with Giants even if they clear infield space]

Zaidi spent the past four seasons as Dodgers GM. The team won the NL West all four years and made the World Series twice. While it would be ideal having a pairing of Zaidi in the higher position with a GM working with him, he's the right man to handle duel duties for now.