Yesterday marked the beginning of the Rangers' Cactus League campaign, which gave everyone some cause to feel good because we're symbolically distancing ourselves to an even greater extent from the World Series (or so a lot of people would tell you) and because the dulcet tones of Eric Nadel's voice are back and because, well, it's baseball. Then the game started, and the cross-complex Royals thrashed Michael Kirkman and Colby Lewis, and Ian Kinsler committed two errors, and the only Texas hitter who actually brought his bat along to the game was Mitch Moreland ... and you began to recall why spring training devolves from a welcome sight into such an exercise in tedium each and every year.
With that being the case, and with plenty of time left to obsess over such matters as the back end of the Rangers' bullpen and the center field situation and Michael Young's perfectly groomed coiffure, we can momentarily divert our attention back towards the Jairo Beras situation. It was exciting at first because of the Rangers' apparent outwitting of the entire league in claiming a prized international prospect, and then it was concerning because of the rumors of age misrepresentation and multiple scouting directors calling foul, and now it's looking like a disappointingly open-and-shut case against Texas. Well, I think. Even if you do regard this as a guaranteed void, though, there's still ample reason for confusion.
A number of you wondered aloud last week why Major League Baseball would kill this signing even if Beras did not directly violate the major rules governing the process of signing international free agents, and perhaps with good reason, as it wasn't explicitly stated whether there was any sort of precedent for punitive measures being taken against other age-misrepresenting amateurs. Baseball America's Ben Badler has authored a new post examining this issue in particular, and explaining why the league would be well within its rights to put the kibosh on the Beras signing:
If Beras is now using a new birthdate, MLB rules and precedent would seem to indicate that MLB will not approve the contract and will not allow him to sign for six months to a year, a typical penalty for any player who misrepresents his age or his identity. [Editor's note: Badler further clarifies this as follows: "Any player submits false information or documentation, either directly or indirectly, to a team or to MLB, is subject to a one-year ban from signing."] Several international sources say they believe that is what will happen and that the deal will end up falling apart. If the league upholds the contract, sources with several teams have said they will be furious.
“They can suspend him for providing false documentation and representing himself as a July 2 player this year, and in doing so providing false documentation for all of MLB’s activities in the Dominican,” said one international scouting director.
Badler further mentions that the league has granted leniency to some players in the past who willingly disclosed their correct age or identity, but suggests that is not the case here, as "MLB officials and many teams contacted by [Baseball America] were still under the impression that Beras was 16 and would not be eligible to sign until July 2[nd.]" That doesn't necessarily contradict Jeff Passan's remark about several teams actually being aware of Beras's revised age ahead of time, but it does further perpetuate the idea that there was some broad amount of deception on the part of Beras and/or his buscone, Carlos Guzman, who was prominently featured in a copy of ESPN The Magazine several years back.
In addition, baseball did set a precedent for punishing age-misrepresenting players of the unsigned type when the league's vetting process uncovered irregularities around the birth dates of two high-profile Dominican prospects back in May 2009. Both were hit with one-year suspensions, and one, right-hander Rafael DePaula, eventually signed a $500,000 deal with the Yankees that remains unrealized due to his inability to acquire a visa. The upshot, then, is that Beras apparently won't get scot-free off just because he was straightforward about his age with the Rangers, as his punishable offense occurred before the date of his signing and was not amended by disclosure of his true age to the league.
Now, here's what's still bugging me some four days later: Given the existence of that precedent and what they presumably knew about the likelihood and degree of the potential risks/rewards, exactly what was it that gave the Rangers enough confidence to try and hammer this one through? They presumably knew that this signing would be subject to wide exposure, that it would create substantial negative buzz around the game and attract the evil eye of the commissioner's office, and that baseball already had the grounds to wipe this one out, so what was it that made them feel as though they had at least a decent chance of pulling it off?
And as for the aforementioned Carlos Guzman, Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein mentioned that he is a major player in the Dominican Republic baseball scene, and that he "knows the entire system inside and out." One could understand why Texas would be amenable to giving this a shot (bad P.R. if it went awry, but likely no direct repercussions from the league), but what would compel Guzman to knowingly endanger the professional livelihood of one of his star pupils and/or his relationship with MLB in this way?
The easy answer is "money, duh," but the short-term incremental gains on Guzman's end -- probably a 30-35 percent cut of Beras' pending $4.5 million deal, less the same-sized cut of bonus money that Beras would have secured under the forthcoming $2.9 million-per-team cap -- seem heavily outweighed by the consequences this debacle could have for Guzman's business, and, again, on the surface, the odds appear thoroughly stacked against the Beras/Guzman/Rangers camp. What, then, was it that infused Guzman with enough confidence to take this gamble, knowing that if anybody was going to suffer baseball's wrath on this, it would be him and his teenaged client?
This probably isn't the post you wanted to read this morning, as I'm assuming you wanted to read something about how Mitch Moreland is in the best shape of his life or David Murphy's laudable humility or Colby Lewis's fake hip. I can see that point, but we do still have an entire month to comb through every conceivable storyline out of Surprise, and the Beras imbroglio may not have much more life to it ... and with that being the case, I'm okay with deferring a riveting Joe Beimel discussion for at least one more day.