Jorge Soler may be a free agent, but the way in which he became one has raised eyebrows around the industry.
Soler, a 20-year-old outfielder, left Cuba last year and arrived in the Dominican Republic, where he has been living and working out for teams. However, according to a memo that Major League Baseball sent to teams, Soler is residing in Haiti.
Due to federal regulations governing American companies and Cuban citizens, Soler’s agents must present either an unblocking license from the U.S. Office Of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) or two permanent residency documents from a new country before Soler can enter into agreement with a team. Soler’s agency, Praver Shapiro Sports Management, has told teams that Soler has the two permanent residency documents. Soler’s agency has not responded to requests for comment.
While age and document fraud are rampant among players in the Dominican Republic, several sources in the international market have said that Haiti is a place perhaps even more notorious for shoddy paperwork and record keeping. As a result, some agents who have worked with Cuban players have said they would never consider trying to have one of their clients gain residency through Haiti. Multiple international sources have indicated that some Cubans may be having a more difficult time gaining residency in the Dominican Republic in recent months.
Since MLB has already declared Soler a free agent, it may not matter, though an MLB official contacted would not say whether MLB has already investigated and approved Soler’s residency documents.
There is a rush for the 20-year-old Soler to sign before July 2, after which he would be subjected to new rules that limit teams to spending $2.9 million on international free agents, with a few exemptions that allow teams to go up to $3.2 million without penalties. However, before July 2, teams can sign Soler or any other international free agent for any amount without it counting against their international signing bonus pools. Soler’s agents told teams they must submit their bids for Soler by yesterday.
Expectations are that Soler’s deal could surpass the $15.6 million package the Rangers gave Cuban center fielder Leonys Martin last year. Soler is not as advanced as Martin, who was a standout in Cuba’s top league, Serie Nacional, and had
played on the Cuban national team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic when he was 21. While Soler has almost no experience in Serie Nacional, he was one of Cuba’s up-and-coming young power hitters as a star on Cuba’s national junior circuit and on the junior national team.
Haitian papers would be another red flag in the Soler saga. On Feb. 13, the Chicago Tribune reported that the Cubs had an illegal deal in place with Soler prior to him being declared a free agent or receiving an OFAC unblocking license. The Cubs privately denied the report but declined Baseball America’s request to go on the record at the time. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer emphatically disputed the report six weeks later.
The Praver Shapiro group is also involved in representing Dominican outfielder Jairo Beras, another player with paperwork questions. Beras had presented himself to MLB and teams as a 16-year-old, then signed with the Rangers for $4.5 million in February as a 17-year-old with a new birth certificate. The deal is currently pending MLB’s investigation.