The international signing period opened at midnight, but expect a strange July 2, even by Latin American baseball standards of strange.
International sources are saying the same thing over and over again: It’s a slow year, especially in the Dominican Republic. While the market appears to be coming together in Venezuela, it’s becoming clearer that the steroid problem in the Dominican Republic has become a colossal mess.
In the past, Major League Baseball has drug tested players when they sign a contract. Many teams in recent years have also started drug testing and doing background checks on players on their own rather than relying solely on MLB.
This year, however, MLB informed 40 of the top Dominican prospects in mid-May that they had to come in to the league's office in Santo Domingo and consent to a drug test as part of its inaugural registration program. Unlike players who are tested upon signing, the players among the 40 who tested positive for steroids will not face a 50-game suspension, though if they do sign they will be tested again, at which point they would be suspended should they fail that test.
Nobody outside of the commissioner’s office seems to know the exact number of players who tested positive for steroids, but word around Latin American circles is that somewhere around half of the 40 Dominicans who registered with MLB failed their drug tests.
“I don’t get it, I really don’t,” said one international scouting director. “Do these guys not understand that eventually they’re going to get caught?”
For confidentiality reasons, only general managers and assistant general managers have the ability to access the results of a player’s drug test upon request to the league. According to league sources, players and their parents or guardians would also be informed if they failed a drug test. Dominican outfielder Edwin Moreno, who might have been in line for a bonus of more than $1 million before he tested positive for Stanozolol, has been the highest-profile name to leak out, but international sources believe there will be bigger names testing positive as well.
While the news isn’t doing any favors to the image of baseball in the Dominican Republic, international sources say that steroid use is nothing new and that the problem is not just limited to the Dominican Republic. Due to a more challenging political climate in Venezuela, MLB can’t do as much in that country as it can in the Dominican Republic, but international sources say steroids are a problem in Venezuela as well—the difference is that Venezuelans aren’t tested on a pre-contract basis the way the 40 Dominican prospects have been.
“I don’t know where to start,” added a National League international scouting director. “The community down there is trying to understand what MLB is trying to do, and yet still in the back of their minds, they think this is all geared toward a draft, which will take money out of their hands. It’s hard for them to get on board when it means money gets taken out of their pockets.”
So while in most years there have been a rush of signings on July 2, expect a slower news day today, particularly out of the Dominican Republic. Aside from the steroid complications, MLB still hasn’t finished its investigations into the ages and identities of the 40 registered Dominican prospects. Heavy rain in the Dominican Republic for the last two weeks hasn’t helped anyone, while there also appears to be a severe disconnect between the prices many agents and trainers have for their players and what teams are willing to pay for a crop of players widely viewed as weak relative to last year and to the 2011 class.
“For me, it’s been slow here,” said an American League international director. “I don’t think talent is as good as it’s been in past years and the expectations from agents and buscones is unrealistic. There will probably be some guys who get their money, but I think a good number aren’t going to be too happy on July 2.”
Dominican shortstop Esteilon Peguero and Mexican righthander Luis Heredia, arguably the top two prospects on the market, do not appear to have deals in place yet, and Heredia won’t even be able to sign until he turns 16 on Aug. 16. Once those players have deals, the market could start to settle, particularly given that the Blue Jays are considered one of the favorites to sign Heredia (whose price tag could approach $3 million) and are expected to compete for several of the top prospects in Latin America.
So while it might be a slow news day for July 2 signings, today is just the first date upon which 16-year-old international prospects can sign, not the last. Once a player becomes eligible to sign he can sign at any point thereafter, and many teams are waiting until after the July 2 rush to see what players might become more affordable. Other players are likely to pop up and sign for big dollars, while many teams will be content signing other less visible prospects who they feel are just as talented as the high-profile names but come at a fraction of the price.
“It’s a down year for high-level guys,” added another NL international director. “It might end up being 10 years from now that it’s a great year. You just have to scout. There’s just not that many high-profile guys. There’s talent, but not everyone has them on their lists.”
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