One of Those Baseball Stories I Hate

Here’s a story by Ben Badler of Baseball America about how the New York Yankees screwed a 16-year old Dominican prospect.  It’s one of those stories about a rich team sticking it to a poor kid because MLB doesn’t really follow it’s own rules.

The story begins with the rules regarding when foreign amateurs can be signed.  The rule is they cannot be signed until July 2nd of the year prior to which they have turned age 16.  However, the teams don’t actually follow their own rules.  Instead, teams routinely reach verbal “hand-shake” agreements with prospects and their trainers before July 2nd and often well before the prospect has even turned 16.

In this case, the kid is named Christopher Torres.  He turned 16 in February, but the Yankees had a verbal agreement with him back in October of last year.  Part of that verbal agreement, Torres’ trainer contends, is that Torres would not (and did not) try out for other teams once he and the Yankees had agreed upon a bonus amount ($2.1 million).

The Yankees, of course, deny they had a verbal agreement regarding Torres.  However, they acknowledge that they had Torres working out at their Dominican academy and spending weeknights at the home of one of their scouts during the period following the alleged agreement.

According to the trainer, the Yankees didn’t work Torres out as much as they should have once they got a hold of him following the verbal agreement.  What appears more certain is that by Spring Training of this year when the Yankees brought Torres to Tampa, Florida, Torres had a sore arm, and the Yankees decided he wasn’t worth signing anymore.

According to the trainer, he had received a $1.6 million offer from the Seattle Mariners before agreeing to the Yankees’ higher offer, but that the Yankees waited until June of this year to tell Torres’ trainer that they would not be signing him after all.  By this time, most of the other teams had already committed all of their bonus pool money to verbal agreements with other players.

Needless to say, the teams, in accordance with the new capped bonus pool regime, want to figure out as soon as possible who they are going to be able to sign and for how much.  Thus, the verbal, hand-shake agreements, which shouldn’t be happening under the rules, are routinely made, because the rules are written by MLB for its own benefit and can be broken with impunity so long as the offending team (or teams) does not go over its bonus pool allotment.

Based on the information in the story, I strongly suspect there is more truth to Torres’ side of the disagreement than there is to the Yankees’, namely that there was a verbal agreement in place.  Torres’ trainer has filed a complaint with MLB, but I suspect that the only result of that complaint is that in the future trainers will put less faith in verbal agreements, either making sure their prospects try out for other teams or getting something in writing that can be enforced later.  Most likely the former, since teams aren’t allowed to enter into written agreements until July 2nd, and that’s a bright-line rule MLB is likely to enforce.

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