The illuminated monitor inside a press conference room at Marlins Park said it all — “Bienvenidos a Miami” followed by the names Victor Victor Mesa and Victor Mesa Jr.
After a year in which the biggest news involving the Marlins under new owners Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman were the high-profile stars they sent packing last winter in a rapid-fire series of trades, the formal introduction of the two highly touted Cuban prospects on Monday marked the first major signing splash under the new regime.
“The bottom line is we feel as though we got two of the top players on the international market,” Jeter said. “Historically, this organization hasn’t really invested in the international market. But that’s something we wanted to do moving forward. We want Miami to be the destination for top international talent.”
The Mesa brothers — 22-year-old Victor Victor and 17-year-old Victor Jr. — are both outfielders the Marlins are banking on in their attempts to help turn around a struggling franchise that hasn’t produced a winning season in nine years and a playoff participant in 15. Of the two sons of Cuban baseball legend Victor Mesa, Victor Victor is the most advanced, the No. 1 unsigned international free agent at the time the Marlins acquired him.
Though lacking in home run power, he is regarded as a potential leadoff hitter who can defend, steal bases and hit for average. He has been compared to Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora.
“He doesn’t have Giancarlo [Stanton] power,” said president of baseball operations Michael Hill in making a comparison to the Marlins’ former slugger who was traded last December. “But he has power.”
As such, the Marlins awarded Victor Victor a bonus of more than $5 million, the most spent by any Major League team on an international free agent during the current signing period. Victor Jr. is receiving a signing bonus of just under $1 million. The Marlins, through a series of recent trades, increased their spending position for the Mesas and outbid the Baltimore Orioles, who had the most money allotted to acquire international free agents.
The Marlins held one other advantage in the wooing process: its strong Hispanic flavor and proximity to Latin America.
“It’s not a secret,” Victor Victor Mesa said through a translator of his decision to sign with the Marlins. “There’s a lot of Latinos here, a lot of Cubans, so we feel like home here.”
Both he and his brother are expected to start out in the minors, though Victor Victor will receive an invitation to the Marlins’ spring training camp and could reach the majors as early as next season if he develops as the Marlins hope.
Monday’s signings fit not only with the Marlins’ rebuilding efforts to strengthen their system with foreign players, but also with their marketing strategy to appeal to the local Hispanic community. The Marlins ranked last in the majors in attendance last season and are hoping to attract new fans from communities surrounding the team’s Little Havana ballpark.
“This is a baseball move first and foremost,” said Chip Bowers, Marlins president of business operations. “It’s great that they’re Cuban. But this is very much in line with our ongoing strategy.”
Bowers said it’s uncertain how and when the Marlins will market the Mesa brothers as part of that strategy.
“I think we want to let the game speak for itself initially,” Bowers said. “The goal for us is to make sure these guys get ingrained in our culture, and they feel welcome, before we start thinking about how best to market them.”
The significance of the signings to the Marlins was demonstrated by the team’s large turnout of high-ranking business and marketing executives at Monday’s formal announcement. When the Marlins signed 16-year-old Miguel Cabrera out of Venezuela in 1999, arguably their last great international signing, the news was announced in a printed release. There was no enws conference.
Part of Monday’s contingent included salsa singer Marc Anthony, who is a partner in the agency that represents the Mesa brothers.
For that matter, the media turnout on Monday was far greater than it was when the historically frugal Marlins signed Stanton in 2014 to a $325 million contract extension.
“This is a rebuilding team and I’m very proud to be part of the organization, to be part of the city, all the Latinos, all the culture here,” said Victor Victor Mesa.