This week in “Last Week in BizBall”, MLB vs. the Dominican buscones, plus a LOT of tidbits
DOMINICAN BUSCONE CHARGED WITH FRAUD
LWIB saw one of the most prominent “buscones” in the Dominican Republic charged by Dominican police with committing fraud and falsifying documents. It is alleged that Victor Baez, “…gave new identities to his players to make them appear younger - and therefore more appealing to major league teams - to obtain professional contracts.” We all know that age and identity fraud amongst Dominican baseball prospects has been rampant for decades. Most of us pundits believe that MLB always understood this but ignored the situation until recently when signing bonuses for international free agents skyrocketed. The corruption in player development and recruitment in the DR is not restricted to the buscones as evidenced by the dismissal of some MLB employees charged with profiting from bonus skimming/kickbacks of signing bonuses awarded to Dominican players. As discussed here and here, last year saw MLB put “boots on the ground” in the DR with the goal of reforming the buscone system of player development. Both MLB’s Department of Investigations and Scouting Bureau had a significant impact on last year’s International Free Agent market (de facto, the Dominican free agent market). In May, Ben Badler reported for Baseball America:
The biggest date on the international baseball calendar is July 2, the opening of the signing period and the first date upon which 16-year-olds outside of the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico can sign.
This year for the first time, MLB selected 40 of the top unsigned Dominican prospects—a group compiled with input from various sources, including the bureau—who will have to register with MLB in what Alderson dubbed a pilot program for 2010. By 2011, the league is aiming to expand registration to virtually all players in the Dominican Republic.
MLB contacted the 40 players and gave them around seven to 10 days to go to the league's Dominican office with their representation and parents or guardians, provide biographical information, consent to an age and identity investigation and to a drug test. Alderson said 31-32 players registered on the first day, and the league was expecting the rest to register soon. If a player among the 40 selected does not register, Alderson said he would be subject to a one-year suspension. Players registering also were photographed and fingerprinted. (At that time, now Mets GM Sandy Alderson had been assigned by MLB to reform player development in the DR)
I’m not a buscone watcher per se, but it is very likely that no buscone was affected more by MLB’s intervention in the International Free Agent market than the aforementioned Victor Baez. LWIB, Michael S. Schmidt reported on the charges brought against Mr. Baez and noted that, “In 2010, Baez had 5 of the top 40 prospects who were eligible to sign with teams after July 2, and all five tested positive for steroids as part of their registration with Major League Baseball. Baez said the positive results were because of a tainted protein shake he had given his players.” Testing positive for a PED as part of MLB’s registration process in the DR does not prevent a player from being signed. Ben Badler noted LWIB that, “Baez's two most prominent prospects who signed last year were outfielder Edwin Moreno, who signed with the Padres for $500,000, and third baseman Hector Veloz, who signed with the Orioles for $300,000. While Moreno and Veloz tested positive for stanozolol, sources with knowledge of the signings said that both players passed investigations into their ages and identities, and have already been paid their bonuses.” In October, Michael S. Schmidt reported that MLB’s interventions in the player evaluation/signing process in the DR last year resulted in both fewer players signed and smaller signing bonuses. In that report, Mr. Baez was very critical of MLB’s activities in the DR:
Dominican trainers, who had had little oversight from their government or baseball, say Commissioner Bud Selig and Sandy Alderson, whom Selig appointed to revamp operations in this country, are trying to push down the cost of players and have, in effect, shifted the market to Venezuela, where there is less oversight.
They point out that bonuses for Venezuelan prospects reached a record high this year, with the average about $292,000, up nearly $100,000 from 2009.
“Venezuela had nothing, and all of a sudden, they have something and have all these big bonuses,” said Victor Baez, a trainer with five of the top 40 Dominican prospects. “Teams don’t want to see the truth, and it’s easier there, so they go to sign players there.”
Baez said that after teams learned of his players’ positive tests, their offers dropped by more than half, costing him more than $2 million, if he were to accept them. “They said there would be no consequences, no suspension, nothing,” Baez said.
“I’m going to quit because of Sandy Anderson,” he said. “I spend $13,000 a month here to run my academy and because of him, I’m not signing anyone. I’m in debt.”
Should Victor Baez be convicted of the charges brought against him, the message to the buscone community will be unmistakable. Authorities in the DR are decidedly onside with MLB’s efforts to curtail age and identity fraud and should you not work within the new rules you will be punished according to the rule of law. As I’ve written many times, we won’t know for years what the eventual outcome will be of MLB’s intervention in Dominican baseball. From the outside looking in, the buscone culture is ugly. Steroids, fraud, bonus kickbacks…But will MLB eventually regret dismantling this system? After all, it does produce a lot of baseball players and the corruption and exploitation inherent in it wasn‘t an issue with MLB until the signing bonuses got out of hand. Will the next blow to the buscones be the long discussed expansion of the Rule 4 draft? If mandatory “slotting” is part of the Rule 4 expansion, will it result in less money for the buscones as they will be unable to “auction off“ their assets (players)? Unlike American prospects, teenage Dominican players will not have the negotiating leverage of foregoing signing a professional contract in favour of playing in a college or junior college program. In order to implement the Rule 4 in the DR, MLB will require the cooperation of the Dominican government. MLB’s ability to demand that Dominican players submit to fingerprinting and drug testing, combined with the charges brought against Victor Baez last week indicate that the government isn’t likely to oppose the introduction of the amateur draft to their country. The buscones, at least in their present form, appear headed toward extinction.
SELECT READ MORE TO SEE THIS WEEK'S PACKED LIST OF "TIDBITS"
- The headline is Baseball HOF calls financial outlook strong. But after reading Eric Fisher’s report in the SportsBusiness Journal I don’t know how the HOF gets to that conclusion. I suppose they can’t say otherwise. “The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum posted a net loss of $4.3 million in 2009, according to its recently filed tax return, its sixth such loss in eight years as the baseball shrine grappled with declining donations, attendance and overall revenue.”
- I either didn’t know, or had forgotten, that the Red Sox had plans to expand the Fenway Park bullpens. The bullpens expansion would have resulted in the right field fences moving nine feet closer to home plate. Evidently that is no longer in the cards because the Massachusetts Historical Commission decided that such changes would result in the Red Sox losing tax credits they currently receive for their ongoing (is it complete now?) renovations of Fenway Park. Or something like that. See Ballpark Digest and Field of Schemes if you are interested.
- Coming off their 09 WS Championship, the Yankees’ RSN YES had their best revenue year ever last year. So says Terry Lefton of the SportsBusiness Journal. Terry also reports that ad sales for Yankees on YES this coming season are booming, with 8 sponsors already renewed. According to Howard Levinson, senior vice president of ad sales,…YES Network's ad sales figure is easily double digits ahead of last year at this time.
- The Cleveland Indians are offering a LOT (you should read the link) of very valuable perks to season ticket purchasers. Joel Hammond reported that for Crain’s Cleveland Business. Joel notes that, “The lateest offers continue the team's effort to drive back north its full-season-equivalent ticket base, which dropped to a post-Municipal Stadium low of 8,000 last season. The Indians finished last in attendance, at 17,395 per game, or 1.39 million overall. That's a decrease of nearly 28% from 2009 and a decline of almost 64% from 2007, when the Indians advanced to the American League Championship Series.” On his blog, Joel addresses the question of “price integrity” and the Indians offering.
- The Indians aren’t the only club offering innovative inducements to purchase tickets. Don Walker reported that purchasers of Brewers ticket plans of 20 or more will be eligible to win some pretty novel prizes. “The prizes include running the Klement's Famous Sausage Race at a Brewers game, signing a major-league contract for a day (including big-league pay) and sliding down Bernie's slide.”
- I’m Canadian and as such it was impossible not to know that HBO’s most recent instalment of their 24/7 program featured the NHL’s Penguins and Capitals. Is MLB next in line for 24/7? According to Richard Sandomir, HBO was happy with the results of their NHL version of 24/7 and are considering expanding it to other leagues and sports. “…a Major League Baseball spokesman said it would be interested in exploring opportunities with the network.” Both Rex Ryan and Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau have garnered much attention for their extensive (excessive?) usage of the F Bomb in separate instalments of 24/7. Does this make Ozzie Guillen a natural fit for 24/7?
- A few years back I discussed the trend of MLB franchises acquiring and moving their minor league affiliates nearer to the parent club. The trend has continued. Most recently, the Padres acquired their Triple A affiliate and will eventually relocate it in the SD suburb of Escondido. LWIB the Rockies purchased their Pioneer League (Rookie level) affiliate and if Ballpark Digest is correct they have plans to move it to Colorado.
- Adam Kilgore reported that F.P. Santangelo will be the new analyst for Nationals games on MASN.
Pete Toms is senior writer for the Business of Sports Network, most notably, The Biz of Baseball. He looks forward to your comments and can be contacted through The Biz of Baseball.
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