With all of the new rules in place this year on international amateur signings under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, international scouts have plenty to talk about.
Yet with the opening of the international signing period a little more than two months away, nearly everyone in Dominican baseball seems to want to steer the conversation to a player who has already agreed to a deal: Jairo Beras, a 6-foot-5 Dominican outfielder.
Until Feb. 29, Beras had presented himself as a 16-year-old who was born Dec. 25, 1995, which would have made him eligible to sign on July 2 and subject to the new restrictions on international amateur spending. Then news broke that Beras agreed with the Rangers on a $4.5 million deal, now presenting himself as 17.
The signing generated an outcry across the industry that the Rangers and Beras were attempting to circumvent the new rules, which essentially restrict teams to spending around $2.9 million on international amateur players each year. By getting the deal done in Feburary, Beras lands a bigger bonus and the Rangers save money against their 2012-13 bonus pool.
Now MLB.com is reporting that the league has concluded its investigation into the Beras case and could make a decision soon, though the Rangers say they have not heard whether the league's investigation is complete. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels told Baseball America correspondent Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "If he's 17, we're confident the contract should be approved. But right now we're just waiting for MLB's findings."
While Rangers officials won't talk about it on the record, sources say their assertion is that they simply outworked other clubs.
Questions about Beras' age focus on the identity of his father, whether his papers say he's 16 or 17, and whether other teams knew about the papers that say he's 17.
But that's not the central issue. What Major League Baseball is no doubt wrestling with is that at some point, Beras presented false information to both MLB and its clubs. The question now is what to do about it.
According to major league Rule 3 (A)(1)(E), no player is allowed to present to MLB or any team any false information about his age, identity, citizenship or scholastic standing, either directly or indirectly, in connection with the player signing with a club. Any player who does so can be declared ineligible to sign for one year, though the league also has the discretion to impose lesser penalties in some circumstances.
It is not in dispute that Beras in the past reported his birthdate as Dec. 25, 1995. He did so as recently as an MLB-sanctioned showcase in February for players who would become eligible to sign July 2, 2012. Rafael Perez, MLB's director of Dominican operations, confirmed to MLB.com that Beras "presented to us officially" that he was 16.
Beras can argue that he did not present false information "in connection with the player signing" with a major league team. He could say that, yes, he did once present himself as a Dec. 25, 1995, birthday, but when he actually signed with the Rangers he provided his true birthday. He may have a case there, but MLB has disciplined other players for presenting false information about their ages or identities without ever having signed a contract, most notably in 2009 with Dominican righthander Jose Rafael DePaula, who is now with the Yankees.
And as several sources have pointed out, if Beras just made an honest mistake, why did he not openly disclose it to MLB?
"The last thing you want to do is get MLB against you," one international scouting director said. "Texas should have gone to MLB and said, 'We have this situation, what do you suggest?' Had they done that, they would've been a lot better off. I wouldn't be surprised if they penalized Texas."
However, other sources said they would not be surprised if MLB allowed Beras to sign without any sanctions. Beras' representatives are well connected and have strong relationships not only with people in the Dominican baseball community but also with people who work in Organized Baseball. Carlos Guzman, Beras' trainer, has represented such high-profile players as Astros outfielder Ariel Ovando (who signed for $2.6 million in 2010), Cardinals third baseman Roberto De La Cruz ($1.1 million in 2008), Padres third baseman Duanel Jones ($900,000 in 2010) and Red Sox shortstop Raymel Flores ($900,000 in 2011). Another of Beras' representatives, Angel Guzman (known in the Dominican as Aroboy), formerly worked for the Dodgers and Nationals as a scout.
Whatever the outcome, many in the international community regard the Beras case as important for baseball in Latin America because it will show how serious MLB is about enforcing its rules.
With a comprehensive set of regulations being applied to international signings for the first time—presumably as a precursor to an international draft—teams and people who represent players in Latin America are already talking about ways to potentially get around the new rules. MLB says it will clamp down on anyone who tries to do that with strict penalties, and many people consider this their first big test. Whether it's fair or not, Latin America's reputation is one of a lawless frontier, so many people are skeptical of whether MLB will be able to back up its assurances of enforcement.
"It's interesting," said one Latin American director. "I'm sure Jon Daniels and those guys did their homework, but if you're trying to solve a situation, if you're trying to be part of the solution, you shouldn't contribute to the problem. I don't think anybody was going to beat Texas (to sign Beras) at the end of the day. Maybe somebody would have, but you can't try to sneak a guy in . . .
"If MLB is trying their hearts out to do this thing right, according to MLB, then you can't just go ahead and knowingly sign this guy when they know this guy was presented to everyone as a 16-year-old kid. They had to know there were going to be repercussions over the situation. They had to know this was a difficult situation."