MLB Takes Away Prospects From Red Sox, Hammers Boston With International Penalties

Major League Baseball on Friday handed down unprecedented penalties to the Red Sox, removing prospects from their organization and banning the team from signing any international players during the upcoming 2016-17 international signing period, which opens Saturday.

According to the commissioner’s office, the Red Sox engaged in circumvention of the international bonus pools by signing several Venezuelan players in “package deals.” As a consequence, five Red Sox signings will become international free agents again, including 17-year-old outfielders Albert Guaimaro and Simon Muzziotti. Guaimaro ranked as Baseball America’s No. 15 international prospect last year and Muzziotti ranked No. 24. Shortstops Antonio Pinero and Eduardo Torrealba and righthander Cesar Gonzalez will also become free agents. All five players signed with the Red Sox last year on July 2 for $300,000 each, the maximum bonus the Red Sox were allowed to pay a player last year as a consequence for exceeding their bonus pool the previous signing period (2014-15) to sign players such as Anderson Espinoza, Christopher Acosta and later Yoan Moncada.

Those five players will be allowed to keep their bonus pool money—which essentially works out to a fine for the Red Sox—and will be subject to the 2016-17 international bonus pools, with one catch. Only the amount of money that the players sign for in excess of $300,000 will count against a team’s 2016-17 bonus pool.

So if a player signs with another club for $500,000, only $200,000 would count against that club’s pool. Buster Olney of ESPN and Jeff Passan of Yahoo were first to report the news of the penalties becoming official.

Behind the scenes, MLB has been working in cooperation with the MLB Players Association to help them select a new agent who is certified by the union to represent them in their upcoming contract negotiations. MLB is holding a showcase on July 5 at Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo. The players will also be allowed to hold private workouts for clubs. Instead of penalizing the Red Sox for the 2017-18 signing period, which would have had a more damaging effect on the Red Sox since that will be the next year they can sign players for more than $300,000, MLB’s decision to ban the Red Sox for 2016-17 signings leaves several amateur prospects in Venezuela out to dry.

Several 16-year-old Venezuelan players were expecting to sign with the Red Sox on Saturday, but those players are now scrambling to find deals with other clubs. Due to MLB’s timing, that could be difficult for some of those players, since the majority of teams have already committed their bonus pool money elsewhere with oral agreements for other players.

The most notable prospect who was expected to sign with the Red Sox is Venezuelan outfielder Roimer Bolivar, the No. 31 international prospect on Baseball America’s Top 50 international prospects list. Package deals are not uncommon among Latin American signings. The immediate concern among officials from other clubs are the unintended consequences that MLB’s decision could have on other players, ranging from 2015 signings to more established players who could come forward for a chance at a second payday, perhaps even at the advice of a former trainer in exchange for a commission. All of these five players (and the players who signed with the Red Sox from the same trainers’ programs) signed last year and had their contracts approved by MLB, with the knowledge that they were all coming from the same program.

In May, MLB officials went to the Dominican Republic and questioned players as young as 16 individually without their parents or any representation present. According to multiple sources, MLB officials threatened to suspend the players if they did not cooperate with their investigation, and some players broke down in tears. MLB officials denied any threats took place. During those meetings, however, MLB informed players that they have an obligation to be truthful or else they could be subject to disciplinary action, including a fine or suspension, and told the players to give them their banking information and said they were going to go through their bank accounts. MLB did not confirm or deny that when asked.

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