Jairo Beras Decision Leaves Unanswered Questions
When Major League Baseball announced its decision on Rangers outfielder Jairo Beras, it framed the ruling in a curious way.
It was unusual that MLB issued a press release at all, because it typically does not announce disciplinary action for players it has found to have used a false age. But with Beras being a high-profile case, it issued a public statement, leading with the decision to suspend Beras until July 1, 2013, for providing MLB with a false date of birth.
But for the Rangers, the player and other teams, the second sentence was the one that really mattered: the league had approved Beras' contract.
In prior cases where players have presented a false age, false identity or false paperwork, MLB has typically suspended the player, voided the contract and dissolved the team's rights to the player, in accordance with the major league rules. In another unusual move, MLB chose not to verify Beras' age, ruling his age undetermined and leaving it up to the Rangers to assume the risk that Beras may be older—a major boon for the player.
"I don't think we've had a case that presented this fact pattern before," said Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president of economics and league affairs. "The misrepresentation we were able to verify was the one that he gave when he initially registered.
"We were able to determine that that birthdate was not accurate and we suspended him based on that. The birthdate on the contract was undetermined. Therefore we approved the contract and allowed the club to assume the risk."
Rangers officials and Beras' representatives celebrated the decision. Others, both those who work for other teams and those who represent players, were less pleased. Some were ambivalent, some tipped their caps to the Rangers and many directed their dissatisfaction at MLB.
The most common refrain from teams is that, just as players want a consistent strike zone from umpires, clubs want the same from MLB in the international arena. Many teams feel that, right now, that does not exist.
"I'm not upset with the Rangers at all," said one international scouting director. "More power to them. But to me, the biggest thing we need internationally is just consistency in how things are determined and how we're going to follow through with them. Granted, every case is different, but we should have a pretty good idea of what the outcome is going to be."
After MLB has had to fire its own investigators on the international front amid allegations of corruption and bribery, many team officials lack trust in the league's office. The Beras decision has only reinforced those feelings. With international scouting directors having their annual meetings in New York this week, the Beras case could be among the hot-button issues.
"I know they're trying," said one executive, "but they're so overmatched down there. There's just so much inconsistency that it's really unbelievable."
While Beras became well-known to the public in February when he signed his $4.5 million deal with the Rangers, he had been a high-profile player in international scouting circles for far longer. A.J. Preller, who used to be the Rangers' international scouting director and now is the organization's senior director of player personnel, said the Rangers had followed Beras for at least two years. Preller said that every time he saw Beras, he was in trainer Carlos Guzman's program. Angel Santana, a former scout, had also represented Beras for more than a year, Preller said.
During that time, Guzman and Santana had presented Beras as being born Dec. 25, 1995, which would make him eligible to sign on July 2, 2012. He used that age to travel to Venezuela for the Junior Caribbean Series in April 2011. He attended an MLB showcase for 16-year-olds at the Mets' Dominican academy on Feb. 3-4, presenting himself to MLB and the 30 teams at the showcase as a 16-year-old. By the end of the month, however, he signed with the Rangers by claiming to be 17 with a date of birth one year earlier—Dec. 25, 1994—and thus eligible to sign immediately rather than having to wait until July 2.
The timing raised eyebrows because the new Collective Bargaining Agreement limited every team to a $2.9 million bonus pool for this year's international signing period. By changing his age from 16 to 17, Beras would not be subject to the restrictions, and he netted the second-highest bonus ever for an international amateur, excluding Cuban defectors. And for the Rangers, the money didn't count against their bonus pool.
From the start, it seemed obvious that Beras had used a false date of birth and violated major league rules. As Manfred said, Beras presented two birth certificates, so at least one of them had to be wrong. MLB determined that Beras is not 16, but it did not say that he is 17, which means it's possible that he is older. MLB rules a player's age undetermined when it either does not have enough evidence to verify a player's age or believes a player is lying about his age but does not have sufficient evidence to prove another age. Manfred said MLB ruled that Beras was using his true identity and found "no evidence of wrongdoing by the Rangers."
MLB gives "age undetermined" rulings to many players, so that in itself is not unusual. It's not clear why the league chose not to investigate Beras' age further, however, given the obvious red flags in his case and MLB's own history of taking far longer on other investigations. To cite one notable example, Dominican righthander Andres Serrano, who signed a $750,000 deal with the Cardinals last October, had his contract terminated in July when MLB said he failed his investigation for both age and identity. The way other teams look at it, Beras deceived MLB and is being allowed to get away with it.
"I was shocked, to be honest with you," a second international scouting director said. "That is ridiculous . . . He lied at a tryout. That's a rule of MLB. MLB can't have a workout for 16-year-old kids, have a guy come into the workout, lie about how old he is, compare himself to 16-year-old kids and allow that to go through. If he was such a great guy and he did nothing wrong, why didn't he just come to the workout as a 17-year-old?"
The Rangers said they believe Beras did not know his true age when he was at the MLB showcase. Others are skeptical, not only because of the contract he signed three weeks later, but also because sources said his representatives had been telling teams before that they had an offer in the neighborhood of $5 million.
When MLB suspended Beras for one year but chose to approve the contract, the reaction around the industry was that MLB was giving Beras preferential treatment. If a player provides false information about his age, as Beras did, teams generally are not allowed the right to retain the player.
"The difference is the information submitted with the contract was actually accurate," Manfred said. "There seems to be no reason to penalize the club. The club found out the birthdate the kid had given us was inaccurate. Given that the inaccuracy was in the registration process as opposed to the contract process, it seemed unfair to us to terminate the contract. It's only a penalty to the club at that point."
The Giants had a $400,000 contract in 2011 with Dominican righthander Simon Mercedes until MLB suspended him for one year. Mercedes signed with the Red Sox for $800,000 this year, using the same age and identity and just received a visa from the U.S. Consulate. The Braves lost Dominican righthander Manolo Reyes, who signed with the Yankees in June for $600,000 using the same name and age. The Diamondbacks and Yankees both lost the rights to Juan Carlos Paniagua. While Paniagua had used a different last name to sign with the Diamondbacks, he used the same age and identity on his Yankees contract that he used to sign a $1.5 million deal with the Cubs last month. Dominican righthander Rafael DePaula, now with the Yankees, had never signed a contract or gone through any registration process when MLB suspended him for one year in 2009.
"How can teams trust MLB," asked a third international scouting director, "when they make a decision such as Beras? MLB is supposed to be looking out for all 30 teams, not one. So how is it that the teams are going to trust that the MLB investigation process is going to be legitimate, justified and consistent?"
Other teams also say that Beras isn't being punished in a meaningful way. When other players have been suspended and had their contracts terminated, they are not allowed to go to a major league complex during their suspension. Beras will be allowed to work out at the Rangers' Dominican academy and play in an unofficial league for July 2 signings over the summer. Then he will go to Arizona for instructional league, participate in the team's Dominican winter program and go back to Arizona for spring training. He can play in spring training games and extended spring training games.
Beras will have to sit out until July 1, a date Manfred said was fair based on the circumstances of the case. If Beras follows the path of Ronald Guzman and Nomar Mazara and goes to the Rookie-level Arizona League—which opened this year on June 20—the total time missed compared to players who signed during this year's July 2 period will be about a week and a half worth of games.
"They didn't do anything," said a fourth international director. "Not a thing. He's still at their complex right now, he's still taking at-bats and playing in games (in the July 2 league). He's suspended for a year, but in that situation, what's the big deal? If you told me he was not allowed to enter the complex, OK, but there's really no negative to this. There is no penalty, the way I look at it. There really isn't."
Added the first international director: "All we're trying to do is discourage fraud. But the kid got nothing. There is no penalty. It's the same bonus and really no time missed. You can say, 'OK, he missed playing this year,' but if he had presented himself as a 16-year-old—which he was doing—he wouldn't have played this year anyway. It's just a disappointing thing."
The Rangers disagree, noting that as a 17-year-old, Beras should be allowed to play immediately in the Dominican Summer League this year. They also felt like they received an unofficial punishment from MLB.
"We were not able to participate in the July 2 market," Preller said. "OK, we got the player, we were able to spend (our $2.9 million). Every other team was able to sign their top talent on the international market, but at the time, we were not able to do that."
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The Rangers had coveted Beras for years. They had him ranked as the No. 1 player on their board for July 2, 2012. He played on their unofficial July 2 league team last July and August so they could scout him in games, and their scouts also built a close relationship with Beras. Last Christmas—Beras' birthday—international scouting director Mike Daly went to the Dominican Republic to spend the day with Beras and his family.
Team officials also met with Harold Herdocia, who is Beras' father. Herdocia, who said he has lived in Richardson, Texas, since 2001 and owns Harold's Moving & Delivery, said Beras first contacted him last November. Preller said he met with Herdocia in January. In addition to wanting to check Beras' timeline, the Rangers said they wanted to make sure they had a good relationship with his father. To sign Beras would require the signatures of the player, his mother and his father because Beras is a minor. In the past, teams have reached deals with players, only to see them never become official because the parents would not sign the contract. While the identity of Beras' father was never in dispute, Herdocia took a DNA test for MLB after Beras' signing that confirmed their relationship.
Herdocia is a former minor leaguer from Nicaragua who signed with the Giants in May 1990. He played in the Dominican Summer League that year in San Pedro de Macoris, where Beras is from, and hit .283 in 145 at-bats. He was released, then signed with the Angels in April 1992 and reached the Arizona League in 1993. According to an Angels media guide published before the 1993 season, Herdocia had been living in San Pedro de Macoris, which the Rangers confirmed.
They checked MLB's contract database, which all teams have access to, and saw that Herdocia was released by the Angels in 1994. Herdocia told them he returned to Nicaragua after his release, so the Rangers determined that Beras could not have been born in 1995.
"We were convinced that he was (born in) '95 for a long time," Daly said. "As we kind of got to know the father, when we looked at his timeline, which basically said he was out of the Dominican in the spring of '94, it just didn't make any sense how he could have been born in '95. That kind of led us to say, 'OK, we need to investigate this more.' "
The Rangers said they went to the hospital in San Pedro de Macoris where Beras was born and found a birth certificate that said he was born on Dec. 25, 1994. It's not clear why Beras ever believed he was born on Dec. 25, 1995, or how he acquired a birth certificate with that date. The Rangers say that's the age that Beras had always been told he was by his mother.
It's also not clear why neither Guzman nor Santana, despite their extensive familiarity with both Beras and the Dominican baseball landscape, apparently never went to acquire Beras' hospital papers, a standard procedure for Dominican trainers, especially for a high-profile prospect like Beras. Given that one of the basic steps of an MLB background investigation is to go to the hospital where a player was born, it would be a glaring oversight.
Guzman has been the trainer for some of the most expensive players on the international market in recent years, including Astros outfielder Ariel Ovando ($2.6 million in 2010), Cardinals third baseman Roberto de la Cruz ($1.1 million in 2008), Red Sox shortstop Raymel Flores ($900,000 in 2011) and third baseman Duanel Jones, who originally signed with the Giants for $1.3 million in 2009 but had his deal voided when he tested positive for steroids, then later signed with San Diego for $900,000.
Santana, known in the Dominican Republic as "Aroboy" (or "Attaboy" by American scouts), had previously worked as a scout for the Dodgers and most recently the Nationals while general manager Jim Bowden and his special assistant, Jose Rijo, were in Washington. In January, the Praver Shapiro Sport Management group, which represented Cuban outfielder Leonys Martin when he signed with Texas for $15.6 million in 2011, hired Scott Bronstein, who had also been working with Beras. His representatives did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Fake birth certificates, school and hospital records, passports and other documents can all be acquired on the black market in the Dominican Republic. Could Beras have been an older player pretending to be 16 before the new CBA came into effect, only to then acquire new documents showing he was 17 and thus both eligible to sign immediately and still be young enough to have a team justify paying him $4.5 million?
Preller said the Rangers also wondered whether Beras had been trying to circumvent the new rules, but that based on the research done by him, Daly, Latin America crosschecker Roberto Aquino and Dominican program coordinator Danilo Troncoso, they are confident that Beras is 17. The school records that Beras has presented all say he was born in 1995, which the Rangers said is because that's what Beras had always used and had believed was accurate. Once the Rangers became convinced that Beras was 17, they signed him to a contract.
Some around the game wondered why neither the Rangers nor Beras' representatives went to MLB to explain the situation, rather than signing the deal and trying to push it through.
"In the spirit of competition, we felt like it was within the rules to sign the player," Preller said. "At the end of the day, we felt like there was competition. We know that other teams knew that the age—the Dec. 25, 1995, age—was not accurate. We felt like we had other teams that told us point blank that knew he was older, and we don't think that's our responsibility."
The Rangers also pointed to an article written on Nov. 10 by Edgard Rodriguez, a Nicaraguan journalist who also works as a part-time scout for the Yankees. In the article in Nicaragua's "La Prensa," Rodriguez referred to Beras as a 17-year-old, which the Rangers cite as evidence that the Yankees knew he was older.
However, when the article was written, Beras would have believed he was 15, according to the Rangers, and if he were born in December 1994, he would have been 16 at the time. The article doesn't quote Beras regarding his age, but he is quoted in the story and is referred to as Veras, a spelling that was also used on a roster at the Junior Caribbean Series. A senior Yankees official said that neither Rodriguez nor anyone else in the organization had knowledge at the time that Beras was using a false age. The Yankees official noted that the team was operating off the official documentation that Beras had presented to MLB that he was born in 1995.
The Rangers made Beras' contract contingent upon his acquisition of a work visa from the U.S. Consulate, which he has received and will use to travel to Arizona next month for instructional league. MLB's confirmation of his identity was likely important, because the Consulate cares more about the accuracy of a person's identity than his age.
"Do we feel confident? Yeah, we do feel like his age is Christmas Day 1994," Preller said. "We have two governments supporting that decision—U.S. and Dominican governments—which makes us feel comfortable."