Agent Sues MLB, Criticizes System For Signing Mexican Players

Adrian Gonzalez was one of the bright lights for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, but his father is taking on the Mexican League and accusing it of conspiring with Major League Baseball to limit the ability of Mexican players to sign with major league teams.

David Gonzalez, who works as a player agent in Mexico, alleges that Mexican League officials and MLB are unfairly preventing lefthander Daniel Pesqueira from signing a contract with the Red Sox. He and Pesqueira filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Diego¬†against MLB and Minor League Baseball last fall, alleging that Pesqueira is being tied to the Mexico Red Devils (and the Mexican League) by a fraudulent contract. They ask for the court to confirm that Pesqueira is not bound to the Red Devils and free to sign with any club, as well as to award them monetary damages “in excess of $1 million.”

MLB filed its answer to the lawsuit on March 18, producing copies of Pesqueira’s contract while arguing that the lawsuit cannot properly go forward in a U.S. court when two of the main parties to the dispute–the Mexican League and the Mexico City-based Red Devils–are Mexican entities.

Minor League Baseball apparently has never been served with notice of the lawsuit, and neither the Mexican League nor the Red Devils are listed as defendants. The Mexican League and the Red Devils are members of the National Association (the corporate name for Minor League Baseball), though this connection is never mentioned in Gonzalez’s complaint.

Attorneys for MLB referred a request for comment to the commissioner’s office, and a spokesman for MLB said the league would not comment on active litigation. An attorney for Gonzalez and Pesqueira did not respond to requests for comment. The Mexican League and the Red Devils also did not respond to interview requests.

The dispute centers around the status of the 18-year-old Pesqueira, a Mexican lefthander who MLB has said is under contract to the Red Devils of the Mexican League and thus ineligible to sign as a free agent. In their complaint, Pesqueira and David Gonzalez argue that Pesqueira does not belong to the Red Devils and that documents with his signature have been forged.

In their lawsuit, Gonzalez and Pesqueira say that Pesqueira’s parents hired Gonzalez to represent their son on April 1, 2010, in exchange for 30 percent of his signing bonus. In February 2012, the Red Sox invited Pesqueira to work out at their spring training complex in Fort Myers, Fla., the suit says, but in March, Red Sox international scouting director Eddie Romero told them that MLB had advised the Red Sox that Pesqueira’s rights belonged to a Mexican League team. That would mean the Red Sox would have to work through that team to sign Pesqueira.

Gonzalez and Pesqueira claim that MLB's instructions "were founded upon false information and resources" and that Pesqueira was not under reserve to a Mexican League club. According to the complaint, when Gonzalez requested proof, MLB sent him a two-page contract between Pesqueira and the Red Devils. The plaintiffs claim that neither Pesqueira nor his father (because Pesqueira would have been a minor) actually signed the contracts.

MLB's response to the lawsuit includes several pages of documentation noting Pesqueira’s ties to the Mexican League, though only one document with Pesquira's signature–a contract dated March 21, 2011, between Pesqueira and the Red Devils, which is also signed by Roberto Mansur, president of the Red Devils. MLB also included a copy of the Mexican League's uniform professional services agreement, a September 20, 2011, letter from Mansur to Pesqueira in which the Red Devils invite Pesqeuira to training camp and inform him that they will be offering him a contract for the 2012 season, and a copy of the reserve list maintained and distributed by the Mexican League that includes Pesqeuira's name.

The thrust of MLB’s argument, however, is that it is not the proper party for the dispute, and that Pesqueira and Gonzalez’s quarrel is with the Mexican League. So in addition to its response to the lawsuit, MLB has also filed a motion asking that the suit be dismissed. That motion is scheduled to be heard on April 22.

In its motion to dismiss, MLB argues that "even if Plaintiffs were somehow to succeed in obtaining the declaration of contractual rights they seek, the Red Devils could still sue others in the Mexican courts and elsewhere for wrongfully interfering with its contract with Mr. Pesqueira. This action will not have any binding effect on the Red Devils unless the team is made a party to this case." MLB argues that Gonzalez and Pesqueira "can pursue their contractual invalidity claims against the Red Devils directly in the Mexican courts or through arbitration pursuant to the Mexican League regulations."

As leader of the Mexican League’s flagship franchise, Mansur is one of the most powerful people in Mexican baseball. International sources have described Mansur and Gonzalez as bitter rivals, and Gonzalez apparently has been trying to represent Mexican players along the lines of the trainer-organized system in countries like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

While Gonzalez's son has a $154 million contract with the Dodgers, the Red Devils are owned by Alfredo Harp Helu. Forbes Magazine currently ranks Harp as the 13th-richest person in Mexico, with an estimated net worth of $1.5 billion. His cousin, Carlos Slim Helu, is the world's richest man, according to Forbes, with an estimated net worth of $73 billion.

Gonzalez’s lawsuit includes bold language and strong accusations about the relationship between MLB and the Mexican League. The plaintiffs claim that "in the hierarchy of Major League Baseball, there are a select and corrupt few individuals that are receiving kickbacks and benefits from this exclusive relationship," although the claim did not name anyone specifically.

The lawsuit says in part, "The Mexican leagues benefit from this corrupt, self-serving and exclusive relationship because they can force these young, talented and qualified baseball players to sign up with the Mexican teams under obscene and unconscionable commission structures without having to make any capital investment whatsoever towards the training, nurturing, compensation and support of these players. In essence, the Mexican leagues have unfettered opportunity to lock in the Mexican talent without any investment in that talent and without any fear that these Mexican players will look for better financial options and opportunities through the use of more honest and supportive independent agents.

“Young, talented and qualified Mexican baseball players are forced to contract with the Mexican leagues and cannot directly sign with Major or Minor league baseball simply because the Mexican leagues want to exclusively get their fingers into the pie and secure unwarranted, obscene and excessive commissions when these players are sold to Major League Baseball."

Mexican players are not required to be affiliated with a Mexican League club before signing, though it is definitely the custom, and if a player signs directly with a major league team then he is banned from playing in the Mexican League. The Phillies, for example, signed catcher Sebastian Valle directly. However, most Mexican signings are done through a Mexican League team, which typically keeps as much as 75 percent of the player's bonus. Blue Jays righthander Roberto Osuna, Dodgers lefthander Julio Urias and Padres outfielder Jose Urena are among the notable prospects the Red Devils have sold to major league teams. Pirates righthander Luis Heredia, who signed for a Mexican record $3 million, had been with Veracruz.