Alvaro Aristy signed with the Padres three years ago for
$1 million. Neither his name, his age nor his talent has proven to be legitimate.
The Padres signed the player known as Aristy out of the Dominican Republic when the international signing period opened on July 2, 2008, believing he was 16. In reality, his name is Jorge Leandro Guzman, and he's nearly two and a half years older than he said—two weeks away from his 19th birthday when he signed.
Dan Mullin, the vice president of Major League Baseball's department of investigations, said MLB got a tip about Aristy's identity in January 2010. Investigators brought Guzman into their offices the next month and confronted him with the evidence, and Guzman admitted his true age and identity. MLB intended to suspend Guzman for a year, but due to an administrative error he did not serve a suspension.
Randy Smith, Padres vice president of player development and international scouting, said the team was surprised to learn of Guzman's fraud before spring training in 2010. "We had no reason to be suspicious," Smith said. "From our information and him being cleared the first time, we were comfortable with MLB's investigation."
MLB launched its department of investigations in 2008 in response to recommendations from the Mitchell Report, but Mullin's team didn't take over age and identity investigations of Latin American players until July 2009. Prior to that, teams contracted out background checks of Latin American players—including Guzman's—to independent investigators, a system that team officials often complained was ineffective and at times outright corrupt.
Mullin said MLB terminated its contract with Arismendy Feliz Bello, who originally investigated Guzman in August 2008, when Mullin's department took over investigations in 2009 (before MLB learned of Guzman's fraud).
Guzman, now 22, is a righthanded hitter listed at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds. He came to Arizona in 2008 on a travel visa for instructional league, but Smith said he hasn't been back to the United States since. In three seasons in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, Guzman has batted .169/.309/.240 in 110 career games. He has never ranked among San Diego's Top 30 Prospects.
This is the second time Guzman has been in the news since he signed. MLB suspended him for 50 games in July 2009 after he tested positive for a metabolite of Nandrolone, an anabolic steroid commonly sold as Deca-Durabolin. Many Latin American players have taken steroids prior to signing to try to boost their market value, and at the time Guzman signed, MLB did not drug test international prospects before they signed. According to several steroid resources, Nandrolone is a substance that can remain in the system for 11-18 months.
Despite Guzman's fraud, Smith said the Padres were able to recoup about 90 percent of their $1 million investment thanks to an insurance policy the team took out with a private firm. Smith said the claim, which was paid this summer, was made based on Guzman's fraud, but the insurance coverage was an umbrella policy for multiple players rather than one specific to Guzman. Guzman and the people who had a financial stake in his signing were likely able to keep their money.
Jorge Leandro Guzman was born in Bani on July 15, 1989—not December 9, 1991, as he had used to pass his initial background investigation with MLB. According to Mullin, Guzman grew up with his mother, Carmen German, and his sister, Carmen Guzman. His father, Cruz Guzman, was a police officer who died three years ago from diabetes and had been separated from Carmen Guzman for more than 13 years.
Mullin declined to get into the specifics of how Guzman committed the fraud and how he was caught. Sources with knowledge of the case said the scheme was elaborate, with Guzman's family, the Aristy family, neighbors and school officials all participating in the deception. Several sources agreed that Guzman looked young physically, and some thought he shared a physical resemblance to his fake family.
Guzman's trainer was Basilio Vizcaino, known in the Dominican Republic as Cachaza. Vizcaino is the same trainer who handled Carlos Alvarez, the Dominican shortstop who signed with the Nationals as Esmailyn Gonzalez for $1.4 million in 2006 before investigators found out he had lied about his identity and his age by four years.
Vizcaino is one of the most prominent trainers in Latin America, with a
program that recruits from the southern part of the Dominican
Republic. High-profile Dominican trainers often recruit players to their programs by working with lower-level trainers, much like bird-dog scouts. Trainers will often sell the rights to a percentage of a player's future signing bonus to a more prominent trainer, in hopes the better-connected trainer can land him a higher bonus. The higher-level trainer provides the player with coaching and sometimes housing in an agreement that sometimes includes an up-front cash payment to the lower-level trainer, and to the family as well.
Alvarez's original trainer was a Bani-based man known as Chiquillada, whose real name according to a Washington Post story in February is Oriter Soto Peguero. Peguero told the Post that he knew of Alvarez's real age and identity before he signed, but that he did not tell Vizcaino about the fraud.
In addition to Guzman and Alvarez, Vizcaino has worked with some of the most
expensive signings in the Dominican Republic in recent years, including Yankees
catcher Gary Sanchez ($3 million in 2009), Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesi
($2 million this year), Yankees third baseman Miguel Andujar ($700,000 this
year) and Yankees shortstop Christopher Tamarez ($650,000 in 2010).
Guzman's agents were Mejia and Ulises Cabrera, who were with the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) at the time. Mejia said Vizcaino brought Guzman to them around November or December 2007, and they began representing him in exchange for 3-5 percent of his bonus. They were not involved with Alvarez.
"To our knowledge, he was Alvaro Aristy," Mejia said. "We took him to the States (for a spring training workout) and everything. That's who he was."
The Padres were enthusiastic about the potential of Aristy/Guzman when he signed. Paul DePodesta, a special
assistant at the time who now serves as the Mets' vice president of player development and
amateur scouting, wrote
on his blog on July 2, 2008:
"Alvaro Aristy is a 16-year old SS who draws comparisons to a young Tony Fernandez. A slick fielder with a strong arm and vacuum-like hands, Aristy projects as a true shortstop. His superior hand-eye coordination also serves him well at the plate where he has the ability to consistently put the barrel on the ball. With the inevitable increase in size and strength, we believe his skills will play offensively as well as defensively. ESPN ranked Aristy as the #2 overall position player prospect in the Dominican. He is easily the best defensive middle infielder among the amateur ranks that I saw this year."
Baseball America's pre- and post-July 2 scouting reports on Guzman were not as glowing. While scouts noted that Guzman had smooth actions in the field and a strong arm, he was a below-average runner and several scouts doubted his ability to hit. "He doesn't really jump out at you as anything special with the bat," an international scout said in BA on June 26, 2008. "He seemed all right, but I wouldn't have thought he would get $1 million."
Smith said that no Padres scouts lost their jobs as a result of the Guzman deal. Mullin said that when MLB reinvestigated the signing, Guzman told investigators that "there was no kickback to any MLB or MLB club official," and Mullin added: "MLB verified that Alvaro Aristy was considered a top July 2nd prospect in 2008."
In another twist to the story, while the real Jorge Guzman was pretending
to be Alvaro Aristy, another player tried to use the identity
of Jorge Guzman to sign. On Aug. 3, 2006, a shortstop whose real name is
Carlos Puello Martinez presented himself using Guzman's identity and
signed with the Indians for $50,000. Martinez failed his
age and identity investigation that year.
As for the real Guzman's future, Smith said he will participate in the Padres'
Dominican instructional league this winter.
"We're obviously evaluating where he is," Smith said. "He still shows really good hands and hand-eye coordination. His bat and body have not come along as how we projected back in '08, but we still like the defense and the arm strength, those things, so we'll take a look at him in instructional league in January. Whether he comes over (to the United States) remains to be seen."