I sort of figured that my sporadic presence of late would eventually come around to bite me, and yesterday ended up being that day, as I spent the better part of the day wholly disconnected from the latest reported developments in the unusual case of one Jairo Beras. To make a long story short(er), Texas signed the electric but raw Dominican teenager to a near-record $4.5 million bonus yesterday, the rest of the league threw a screaming fit because they were operating under the belief that Beras wasn't signable (eligibility-wise, at least) until this July 2nd, and now Major League Baseball has launched an full investigation into the matter, with possible disciplinary action forthcoming against Beras and/or the Rangers.
That snapshot explanation hardly even begins to scratch the surface of the bizarre and nuanced circumstances in play here, though. Earlier Wednesday, Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan tweeted that one source who had been in contact with the Rangers said that "other teams" actually were aware of Beras' revised age (which, according to some irritated baseball observers, magically shifted ahead one year in the span of just one month, making him 17 years old instead of 16 and therefore immediately signable), but Passan's actual story on the Beras situation made no mention of this, and in fact quoted one MLB official who plainly stated that the league was in possession of a birth certificate showing he was 16 years old.
To make matters worse for Texas, Beras apparently furnished documentation as recently as this month -- in connection with a Dominican showcase sponsored by MLB -- indicating that his birthday was December 25th, 1995, rather than the year-1994 birthday that would be necessary for his deal with the Rangers to approved. Baseball America's Ben Badler reported that Beras also indicated a year-1995 birthday during an international tournament in Venezuela last April, and according to Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein, Beras told multiple teams that he was born in 1995 and consequently not signable until July 2nd during a series of private workouts at various Dominican baseball complexes over the last few months.
Goldstein continued onward with this dire prognosis for the Rangers and, more significantly, Beras: "No matter how the limited facts in this case are interpreted at this point, nearly every interpretation ends with what would be referred to legally as deception. If the player presented himself to be 16 years old—and such a birth certificate submitted to Major League Baseball would be the smoking gun—then the player has misrepresented his age. If Major League Baseball agrees, then his contract with Texas would be voided, and the player would likely be suspended from signing for a period of one year."
If I were an aspiring lawyer rather than an aspiring accountant, I'd say something about how it sounds as though the Rangers/Beras are adhering to the letter of the law on this matter as opposed to its spirit, and then I would suddenly hear the doink-doink scene-transitioning noise from Law & Order in my head, and then Sam Waterston's disembodied head would appear before me asking whether I'd like to meet God right now, and then I'd run out of my apartment screaming. Since I'm not an aspiring lawyer, though, I can safely stick with that first point and roll with it -- not that it really does much to clarify one of the stickier Dominican age controversies of the last few years, mind you.
According to Goldstein (and others), the Rangers are in possession of official documentation from Beras that conveys a year-1994 birthday; furthermore, Beras was not required to submit paperwork to the commissioner's office for the purpose of verifying his July 2nd eligibility until today (which I interpret to mean that the paperwork MLB holds showing a year-1995 birthday technically cannot be used to kill this signing), and with specific regard to the age misrepresentation issue, baseball's international signing rules only state that a player cannot lie about his age upon signing with a club. As Goldstein remarks, if Beras truly is 17 years old, then there's no literal violation of the rules governing the process, and following that logic, the commissioner's office should be obligated to green-light the Beras acquisition.
That, I think, captures the essence of the letter-of-the-law argument. The spirit-of-the-law argument is that Beras and his agent either (a) knowingly circumvented the process by way of age misrepresentation for the purpose of extracting a bonus far above and beyond that which would have been permissible under the new $2.9 million-per-team international signing cap, or (b) unwittingly deceived most, if not almost all of the teams in baseball and the league itself by way of untrue statements and conflicting documentation. Maybe this is scenario (a) in action, and Beras and company knew exactly what they were trying to do here, and maybe the Rangers saw what was going on and attempted to capitalize upon what they viewed as an exploitable loophole in the system.
Or maybe this is scenario (b) unfolding, and Beras, as Goldstein suggests, didn't actually know he was 17 years old until some point in the last week or three, and/or didn't have access to the valid year-1994 supporting documentation until the very recent past, and the Rangers were the first team to acquire that information and utilize it to such a productive end -- all of which would leave the cavalcade of seething scouting directors with little in the way of recourse. If it's (a), Beras is kind of screwed, and the Rangers probably don't end up looking real great for their part in the controversy, even if they were conducting business fully above board and shared no complicity in any type of age cover-up. If it's (b) ... well, Beras is probably still somewhat screwed, but at least he merely looks like a poor, dumb kid as opposed to dishonest.
The big problem, though, is that the commissioner's office appears slow-witted at best and incompetent at worst if it allows a Dominican teenager to pull the wool over its eyes in such a perceived manner (never mind letting him get away with it) -- and that's before acknowledging the swarms of unhappy baseball people who feel that Beras and/or the Rangers just cheated the system, and who believe that league approval of this signing would be tantamount to signaling to every other team that it's okay to go ahead and cheat the system some more, because the Rangers and Beras managed to do it without facing any repercussions.
The literal interpretation of the rules seems to favor the Rangers and Beras and a happy rainbows-and-sunshine ending where the Rangers claim perhaps the best talent in the 2012 international amateur free-agent class for what could end up being a relative pittance, but MLB is the entity charged with interpreting the rules, and that almost certainly means that MLB can do whatever it wants to do here. I'd like to think this signing will be rammed through, and perhaps I'll wake up later this morning to find that it was rammed through, but I'm not going to count on that any more than I'm going to count on there being another opportunity to use Sam Waterston's photo in a front-page post.
See what I did there?