SEE ALSO: Venezuela’s State of Misery
For international scouts, criticizing the commissioner’s office is a common occurrence. One of the most frequent and accurate criticisms that scouts direct at Major League Baseball is its creation of rules that are detached from the realities of what’s involved in signing Latin American players.
This year, MLB is moving its annual Venezuelan national showcase to Panama, a sign of the widespread safety concerns of traveling in Venezuela, including concerns held by local Venezuelan scouts themselves. While scouts said they were pleased that MLB moved the event out of Venezuela, the decision magnifies their frustration with the disconnect between how the league handles its own Venezuelan showcase and the restrictions it places on team officials who fear for their safety in Venezuela.
Two years ago, MLB banned international players from MLB facilities until they turn 16 or are six months away from being eligible to sign, which is Jan. 2 for most players who become eligible to sign on July 2. It’s a terrible rule that’s wildly unpopular, both among teams and trainers. It limits the ability of teams to scout players in an environment many club officials feel is optimal for their evaluations. Players born in September and October get an unnecessary advantage in the process because they’re able to enter a team’s academy months before players born in March and April, even though they’re competing for the same bonus pool money.
Teams are also prohibited from paying for a 2017 Venezuelan player—the same ones who will be at MLB’s showcase in Panama—to travel to another country such as the Dominican Republic or the United States to evaluate him in an environment that isn’t a safety risk. Once a player is no longer banned from MLB facilities, teams can reimburse his airfare to travel out of Venezuela, but that only affects players who turned 16 since Sept. 1 and does nothing for the majority of players until January.
When an international director goes to Venezuela, he’s technically not allowed to coordinate a workout for a group of Venezuelan players from different trainers’ programs that he wants to see. Instead, other than showcases organized by trainers, teams are required to travel from program to program.
“MLB’s rules that limit our ability to travel a Venezuelan guy to the Dominican Republic, that limit our ability to get them in a complex at different ages, all these rules are solely contributing to the risks that all of us are taking traveling from complex to complex, facility to facility in the streets,” said one international director. “Someone is going to get killed. It’s just a matter of time, and it’s on MLB when it happens, because they’re the ones who created these rules. They haven’t thought this through to any degree where they have any regard for the human lives of scouts.”
There are already some teams paying for players’ travel arrangements, even if MLB isn’t catching them, so allowing teams to pay for travel would level the playing field for teams that prefer to follow the rules. Teams aren’t looking to use paid travel arrangements as a way to pay players or their trainers under the table; there are much more efficient ways to do that. What scouts say they want is to be able to build a longer history of looks at Venezuelan players, the same way teams scout high school players the year before they draft them, without having to jeopardize their safety in the process.
“We’re already making mistakes on 16-year-old kids,” said another international director. “Now you’re closing the window on the evaluation period and you’re telling me, in theory, I can only see players (on a team facility) from January through July 2? It increases our chances of failing. Our odds go from bad to worse on these guys. We’re making multi-million dollar decisions on young kids. From a business standpoint, it’s not helpful to us when you have to make a business decision based on less information.”
Life right now is difficult for many Venezuelan people. MLB talks a big game about wanting to change the prohibitive cost of youth baseball for many kids in the United States, about growing the game internationally and becoming a more global sport. How about helping the people of Venezuela in a country where baseball is already entrenched, where the talent level is only rising as desperation for a better life increases, where the players truly need help alleviating the costs of not only playing baseball but living day to day?
If Venezuela is too dangerous for the commissioner’s office to go there, it’s time for the league to show some empathy for the players in Venezuela and for the scouts who feel their safety is at risk because of MLB rules.