Results tagged ‘ Washington Nationals ’

Where There’s A Wil….There’s a Way

 

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There are so many ways you can look at this 11-player trade that will be finalized between the Tampa Bay Rays, San Diego Padres and Washington Nationals.

images (1)Some will point out that this deal might center on 2 young outfielders, one getting a fresh start (Wil Myers) while the other (Steven Souza) finally can fight for a MLB Opening Day roster spot.

Myers who had a wrist injury setback in his second season never seemed to be at ease at the plate after he returned from injury and quite possibly the Rays are playing the risk management odds and trading Myers now while he is a viable trade commodity.

images (5)Souza (#5 Nats prospect) unfortunately would have seen little or no play as the Nats outfield trio of Span, Werth and Harper would get the lion’s share of starts and even a great spring might not secure him a 25-Man roster spot. In Tampa Bay he will not only get a chance to compete for a possibly 25-Man slot, but quite possibly have an opportunity to see ample playing time possibly platooning with David DeJesus in left field.

Oh, and Souza is a part of MLB history. His acrobatic catch with 2-outs in the 9th inning secured Jordan Zimmerman’s No-Hitter…….Impressive indeed.

images (4)Others will see the two catchers involved in this deal as critical parts of the whole thing. One (Ryan Hanigan) will  give his team some much needed financial room, saving his team close to $8 million over the next 3 seasons. While the other (Rene Rivera) will get a second chance for success and has a willing and able ex-MLB catcher (Kevin Cash) at the helm of his new team.

Hanigan is a master at framing pitches behind the plate. This in itself could pay huge dividends this spring as Hanigan could mentor Padres C and #1 prospect Austin Hedges about the art of framing.

downloadRene Rivera will immediately come to the Rays as their main backstop as the only other catcher on the Rays roster with any MLB experience will be Curt Casali who only caught 29 games in 2014. In Rivera’s early favor will be his arm as he caught 33 out of 58 base runners in 2014. Rivera also seems to have a bit more offensive firepower than Hanigan putting up a line of .252 average, 11HR and 44 RBI that easily overshadows Hanigan’s 2014 marks of .218 average, 5 HR, 34 RBI.

Sure only 4 MLB caliber players were included in this 11-player soiree, but do not discount any of the minor league pieces as each has the potential to make a mark in their new franchise’s farm systems.

The Padres will receive 2 pitchers from the Rays low level to complete their end of the trade.  LHP Jose Castillo and Gerardo Reyes are still young,18 & 20 yrs. old respectfully, and have more than a few seasons in front of them before they will begin their path towards the MLB.

download (1)Most Rays fans might remember Castillo’s as the young 16-year old Venezuelan left-hander who was signed by the team back in 2012 for $ 1.55 million.

He was considered the 6th best prospect on the International market that summer.  Castillo might be one of the dark horses of this trade as he has appeared in only 15 games the past 2 seasons all for the Rays Gulf Coast League (Rookies) squad.

download (3)Reyes spent his first professional season with the Rays Rookie short season team, the Hudson Valley Renegades and appeared in 20 games throwing 33 innings with a 2-1 record to go along with a 4.09 ERA and 39 strikeouts.

As you can see, both Reyes and Castillo will be in the Padres farm system for a few years before they even get a glimpse of the major leagues.

download (4)LHP Travis Ott was the second player sent by Washington to the Rays and has played a little over a season and a 1/3 for the Nats.

He started 13 games in the lower A levels in 2014 producing a 1-4 record over 44.1 innings while amassing a 3.93 ERA with 45 K’s. Ott will also have a get more than a few seasons under his belt before he reaches anywhere near the Rays AAA level.

The Rays will also receive from the Padres 2 players who might make a difference for the Rays in the next few seasons. One had a dark cloud over him during 2014 while the other advanced and could be a great addition to the Rays roister possibly in 2-3 seasons.

images (6)RHP Burch Smith (#16 prospect) is the player who had a dark cloud over him in 2014. He was shutdown with forearm tendinitis in April after only 2 starts at AAA El Paso. But before this setback he was streaming through the Padres system and even made his MLB debut during the 2013 season. He has a great fastball that can reach 97 mph with late cutting action that makes it extremely difficult for hitters to square-up on in the box. He has great secondary weapon in a clean change-up and curve, but the Rays might have him start in AAA to let him prove he is healthy and back on his game.

Jake Bauers might be  a guy who could rise through the Rays system and make a late 2015, possible 2016 appearance at the MLB level.  Sure the left-handed hitting 1B only rose to full-season Class A in 2014, but the Rays have a First Baseman weak system and if he has any success could find himself at Double-A easily in 2015.

download (5)Bauer played in 112 games for the Ft Wayne TinCaps of the Mid-West League last season with a .296 average with 5 HR and 64 RBI. plus 5 stolen bases. Recently Bauer drew comparisons to Blue Jays 1B Daric Barton, which could be a great thing for the Rays.

Scouts say he has a compact swing right now that as it expands will provide more power to go along with his great defensive skills at First Base. The key for Bauer now is to improve his hitting at each level and he could within 2-3 seasons fight for a Rays roster spot.

The last 2 pieces of this trade puzzle would have made their way to Tampa Bay if the Rays did not spin them on to the Nationals for Souza. Both RHP Joe Ross (#8 prospect) and SS Trea Turner (#5 prospect) might not make an MLB impression for 3-4 years with Ross being possibly the first of the pair to make his MLB Debut.

images (7)Ross, who is the younger brother of Padres hurler Tyson Ross advancing to the Double-A level in 2014 and posting an overall 10-6 mark in 22 starts with a 3.92 ERA and 106 K’s over 121.2 innings.

Turner is listed on the trade as the “Player To Be Named Later” only because he was drafted in 2014 with the 13th pick but has already played in 69 games at the Class A full season level.

images (8)He has blazing speed, a few years extra experience having played baseball at North Carolina State and could develop into a great top of the lineup hitter posted 23 stolen bases in 69 games in the minors this past season. He also put up a .323 average with 5HR, 2 Triples and 24 RBI splitting time between Eugene and Ft Wayne.

Still, the trade is in the books, physicals arranged and soon this trade will not only be put to bed, but be firmly in the Rays rearview mirror.

Let’s hope this one doesn’t end up stinging the Rays in the end….Only time will tell.

Nationals Player Should Only get Part of the Blame

With the recent revelation that the Washington Nationals got bamboozled by a young Dominican player in such an elaborate scheme that the player received a $ 1.4 million dollar signing bonus in July 2006.
What is more surprising is the fact that his age was not the only falsehood that escaped the Nationals security background check on the player. His name was also misrepresented to the team, they thought they had signed a 16-year old prospect named Esmailyn ” Smiley” Gonzalez when in fact he materialized into a 23-year old player who real name was Carlos David Alvarez Lugo.

This has not been the first time when a Dominican player has been found out, or even admitted to an advanced age than has been reported on birth certificates given when they signed their first contracts. In the Dominican Republic one need not ask its children what they want to be when they grow up- the answer is always pelotero.

The relationship between  young Dominican boys and baseball is one that transcends simple sentences and abstract thoughts, it can be traced back to simple life changing moments and making a family more secure in their lives.  Yet  the basics of life in the Dominican Republic can be altered forever if a player can get that first shot at baseball, and the professional teams are not wary at first glance when they see a promising prospect on the clay fields.

Dominicans love and pursue baseball with the passion and yearnings of an adolescent boy dreaming of being at the plate in the bottom of the ninth, with the scored tied in the 7th game of the World Series. Young Dominicans boys do not “play” baseball because is not a game, but is something on which their livelihoods often depend on.
Can it be true that there is a tropical island of palms and warm tides that revolves around  America’s favorite pastime that has made me happy and sad in ways no other thing or person has in life?  But that’s not quite the whole story, is it? There is passion, but there is poverty. There is triumph and fortune to be had for the few, but there is failure and a per capital income of $1,600 a year for most of this impoverished country.

I have to think about that for a moment. That would not even equal the cost of my Tampa Bay Rays Season Ticket seat in the Lower Box area of Tropicana Field for a year. And yet, there are people living and eating on that amount every day in the Dominican.
I can not even fathom that thought process of living on so little, but hoping to produce so much out of an amount most of us make in a month in the United States. And we wonder why these players go to any length to fabricate a living and a dream in the same motion. I do not agree with the falsehoods, but I can respect the action to make their families lives more secure and financial matter disappear for their parents and siblings.

Ever since the early 1950’s, the United States have traveled to see the Dominican players that have embraced the American sport and they have been rewarded by it in return. In 1987 there were approximately fifty Dominicans playing in the major leagues, as of today over 1,443 Dominican players are signed to professional contracts.

In addition, as Latinos obtain more ownership and management positions within Major League Baseball, issues regarding the treatment of Latin players will likely become a greater priority for the League. Anaheim Angels owner Arte Moreno, baseball’s first Latino majority owner is a prime example of this as his team was built around Dominican powerhouses like Bartolo Colon, Jose Guillen and the 2004 recipient of the American League Most Valuable Player Award, Vladimir Guerrero. 

It is easy to see how the system can be manipulated and certain deficiencies of the process evolve simply by the way in which Dominican recruits come to play for Major League Baseball.  There is a huge contrast to the process in which American players become part of the League. In the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, teams may not sign high school players, making the effective minimum signing age 18 years.
If an amateur athlete enters the Draft from college he is afforded additional protections by various rules and regulations of the National Collegiate Athletic Association ( NCAA ) that prevent professional teams and agents from taking advantage of him.

Once a player enters the Draft by asking that his name be placed on the Draft List, he is protected by the provisions of the current Major League Baseball Collective Bargaining Agreement. Upon signing with a Major League team the player is bound to that franchise for a term of six years and guaranteed a minimum salary.

These protections are guaranteed by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, also known as the Players’ Union,  and they believe these rules needed to be enacted for a fair playing field between teams and players in labor relations.

These devices and rulings are in place to guarantees the rights of players and draftees have earned through negotiations with the League. These rules are considered vital in maintaining  a stable balance to teams and athletes during the process of signing American, Canadian and Puerto Rican players to fill Major League rosters. Drafting guidelines  currently apply only to the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

But can these same ruling be adopted or even expanded to include the Caribbean countries and maybe even spawn as far south as South America?   But getting back to the Dominican situation, Dominican recruits are not sheltered by the same protections and the process by which they come to play for Major League teams. 
There is a huge gap in the same rules and protections that are currently afforded to their American counterparts, despite the close geographical locations of the two nations. These differences in the treatment of Dominican versus American athletes by Major League Baseball has raised two main identifiable issues in the past:

1)  Is the signing of a 16-year old from one of these Caribbean countries also a violation of the MLB ruling that players must be at least 17 before they can enter into a contract with the MLB or any of its team?

2)Is the presence of buscones and the out-of-sight, out-of-mind policing of existing  MLB regulations by the buscones in the Dominican Republic bring into the foresight  the simple birth certificate forgeries or even alterations to benefit the only those who scout select individual  Dominican players.
According to Major League Rule 3(a)(1)(B), a player not subject to the Draft may be signed at age seventeen, or at age sixteen, providing he will turn seventeen prior to either the end of the baseball season in which he is signed or September first of the year in which he is signed. If the national medias coverage of underage signings is a reflection of widespread practice, then over the past seven years such deceptions have become almost passe. 
The Los Angeles Dodgers  have been rocked by this practice in the past when it was learned that Adrian Beltre was signed illegally and knowingly at age fifteen when a Dodgers scout altered Beltre’s birth certificate with white-out to make him of signing age.  

A similar indiscretion in 1997, plagued the Florida Marlins  when they signed a Dominican pitcher Ricardo Aramboles for $5,500.

However, a disgruntled US agent leaked information to the Commissioner’s office and it was proven Aramboles was only fourteen years of age. Aramboles was  immediately released from his contract. But teams centered in areas of high Latin populations are not the only culprits in this type of 3-card Monte.

The Cleveland Indians also violated Major League Rules by signing fifteen-year-old Laumin Bessa, dating relevant documents in advance so as to appear that they were signed after Bessa’s sixteenth birthday. 

In addition to the signing of underage players, teams have been known to hide prospects as young as fourteen years old at remote Dominican training facilities to prevent the children from signing with another team.  

And although Major League Rules prohibit the signing of a player under the age of sixteen, there is no prohibition against academies hosting children between the ages of twelve and sixteen for Instructional purposes.

It has been suggested by past media coverage that the practice of signing underage players is widespread. This assumption is based on the belief that the player’s incentive to lie and the team’s incentive to accept that lie are too great for either party to avoid.

It is important that while this could be an accurate description of the widespread practice, there is to my knowledge, no empirical data or research of any other kind that suggests this is so.  

While the problem of signing or dealing with children under the age of sixteen is perhaps the most vital age-related issue for the Dominican Republic and Major League Baseball, there also exists the problem of players presenting fraudulent documentation to appear younger than their true age in order to avoid seeming “past their prime” and less attractive to Major League scouts.

The enormous rampant practice of this tinkering was exposed during an immigration crack-down that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001. While deception regarding one’s age is recognized as a survival tactic for impoverished Dominican players anxious to make a living, it is also a clear violation of United States immigration law and persistent violations by Dominican citizens could cause strife between the two nations.

Have you ever noticed the difficulty of some players getting out of the Dominican Republic for Spring Training in recent years. Forced to stay behind  in the country while their Visa is analyzed and finally granted permission to travel to the United States to perform their jobs.

A second major difference between the way in which domestic, Canadian and Puerto Rican prospects are signed, as opposed to Dominican prospects, is that while draftees are protected by state laws and NCAA regulations regarding the acquisition of agents, Dominican players are offered no such protection and thus find themselves at the mercy of buscones, or “finders” who take large portions of their signing bonuses as fee for getting them into the major leagues.  

In fact, a Dominican player can expect to part with as much as fifty percent of his signing bonus, in contrast to the three to five percent commissions that sports agents in the United States receive.  

While there is no written accounts of the misguidance by buscones is rampant in the Dominican, the story of  current Ray infielder Willy Aybar bring out into the light the problems of informal representation. Enrique Soto, one of the most famous Dominican “finders”, discovered Aybar at age thirteen and molded his development as a player.

Upon signing with the Dodgers, the team released the first half of Aybar’s bonus, $490,000, to Soto, who deposited the check in his personal bank account. Soto then paid the American agent, Rob Plummer, who negotiated the contract, $35,000, and finally awarded Aybar’s family a lump sum of $6,250 and a stipend of roughly $ 2,000 a month.

Although Soto returned roughly $185,000 to the Aybars it is believed he is still in possession of over $200,000 of Aybar’s signing bonus. While Aybar received a signing bonus of $1.4 million, most Dominican players receive substantially less. Because non-draftees are treated and signed as free agents the player may go to the team with the highest bid for his services.

There are also no guidelines or even a unwritten rule for what a team may offer, and signing bonuses for Dominican and Latin players are small in comparison to those draftees receive. For instance, in 2000 the Cleveland Indians signed forty Latin American players for approximately $700,000.

Their first draft pick, an eighteen-year-old pitcher from the United States, was paid more than one million dollars above that price. So do not be too quick to judge in this case of the falsehood of this player signed by the Nationals. He was scouted and recommended by a member of the Nationals  staff, Jose Rijos to be the “real deal.” 

Because of the financial collapse of world wide currencies, Latin players, and also Dominicans will be quick to move towards falsifying and altering documents to get a shot at the big times. But that is just the world we set up for them.

MLB  set up an office in the city of Santo Domingo in 2000 to try and stop the practice of doctoring documents for players seeking to play in the US.  In the last crackdown on the Latin players in the major leagues in the early 2000’s , the MLB  found at least 550 players had altered their documents to gain access to the baseball league.

In one case, the player was actually one year younger than was stated on his documents. That player was Jesus Colome, currently a Spring Training invitee to the Nationals camp. So as you can see, a majority of Latin players might have a hidden agenda for getting to the majors and enjoy the lifestyle they could only dream about in their country.

What we need to do is try and develop a  player draft system that will also incorporate the Latin countries and other nations not covered currently by the CBA. This will not this influx of mystery and misguided intentions completely dormant, but at least we might be able to celebrate a real birthday with a player, instead of always wondering just how old he really is……….or if that is his real name.

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