When the international signing period opens on July 2, Dominican shortstop Obispo Aybar won’t be signing for the seven-figure bonus he had been expecting.
Aybar, a toolsy Dominican shortstop, has told Major League Baseball that he has been using his younger brother’s identity, presenting himself as 16-year-old Obispo Aybar when he says he’s really 19-year-old Cecilio Aybar. As a result, MLB declared Aybar ineligible to sign for one year.
So given his situation, why didn’t Aybar try to follow in the footsteps of Jairo Beras?
Beras is the Dominican outfielder who had presented himself as a 16-year-old eligible for July 2, 2012, then signed a contract with the Rangers in February 2012 for $4.5 million. Beras claimed he was really 17, thus eligible to sign immediately and sidestep the $2.9 million bonus pools that would go into place that year on July 2. On July 12, MLB announced it had approved Beras’ contract and suspended him through July 1, 2013, a major win for Beras and anyone else who had a percentage in his contract, as well as a highly controversial decision across the industry.
MLB informed Baseball America on Wednesday that the league had declared Aybar ineligible to sign until April 26, 2014, but neither Aybar’s camp nor major league clubs had been informed of the disciplinary action. Even before Aybar’s admission that he was using a false identity, he could have tried to follow Beras’ precedent, signed with a team immediately as a 19-year-old and hoped the league would approve the deal. There are even teams that had expressed interest in signing Aybar immediately.
While Beras undercut MLB to sign with the Rangers before disclosing his situation to the commissioner’s office, Aybar opted not to go that route and instead hoped his cooperation with the league’s investigation—albeit after he had already knowingly submitted fraudulent documents to MLB—would lead to a more favorable decision.
Even if he were to have tried to sign immediately, however, Aybar would have faced a challenge that didn’t impede Beras. Starting last year, MLB implemented a registration system for international players. As part of the registration process, a player must provide legal proof of his age and identity and consent to an MLB investigation into his age and identity.
To be eligible to sign on July 2, a player must be registered with MLB by May 1 of the preceding signing period, so anyone who signs during the current 2012-13 signing period is required to have registered by May 1, 2012. Otherwise, according according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, he “will not be eligible to be signed during the next signing period unless the Commissioner determines that the player has a compelling justification for his failure to register.”
Aybar did register for the 2013-14 signing period that begins on July 2—although he did so under a false identity—but he’s not on the list of players registered to sign during the current signing period. In February, after BA learned that one team had tried to convince a July 2 player to say he was older to sign immediately, an MLB official said the league would be inclined to invalidate such a signing, both because the player would not be on the list of players registered to sign during the current signing period and as a policy matter to prevent players from gaining an advantage from engaging in fraud.
Baseball’s signing bonus pools add another wrinkle that would have affected teams’ pursuit of Aybar. Each team has a $2.9 million international bonus pool for the 2012-13 signing period, which ends on June 15. After a two-week “closed period,” new signing bonus pools kick in on July 2. There’s no carrying over pool space from one signing period to another, so once the current signing period ends, any pool space a team still has free disappears and the new bonus pools begin on July 2.
With five weeks left in the 2012-13 signing period, many teams have already used up the majority of their pool space. A team that does have enough money left in its pool could have seen Aybar as an unusual circumstance of a player worth trying to fight for to push through the system if it could change his mind about signing now. Yet a team might also be hesitant to commit to a player whose contract MLB might tear up after June 15, which wouldn’t cost the team any money but would prevent them from being able to have used their 2012-13 pool space on other players.
If Aybar would have tried to copy Beras, it appears unlikely that MLB would have approved his contract. Then again, major league rules indicate that the league shouldn’t have approved Beras’ contract either, so while it probably would have been a longshot, it’s hard to say for certain that it wouldn’t have worked.