It’s not uncommon for Major League Baseball teams to sign international players at a young age. While there are certain restrictions in place to prevent teams from signing Americans until they’ve turned 16, international players are under fewer restrictions. Players in countries like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela have been signed as young as 12. This has been standard practice in MLB for decades, but now it could be coming back to bite the Los Angeles Angels in the hindquarters.
This story follows two Dominican prospects — Willy Fañas and Keiderson Pavon. You see, the two players agreed to deals worth $1.8 million and $425,000, respectively, to play for the Angels a few years back. However, when it came time for the Angels to present formal contracts, less than a month before the international signing date, Jan. 15, 2021, representatives for the team informed Fañas and Pavon that they were backing out of the deal.
There was never a written agreement between either player and the Angels. According to ESPN, it was a verbal agreement, which would be much harder to prove actually happened, if there wasn’t a video floating around of the agreement being made between the Angels and Pavon.
Broken deals aren’t abnormal in MLB contract settings. Several big-name players have turned down previously accepted offers in order to secure a bigger payday with a different team. However, what makes the cases for Fañas and Pavon more interesting is that Dominican Republic law greatly values verbal contracts, much more than the American justice system does. The video of Pavon agreeing to terms with the Angels is a huge advantage for Pavon and could get the Angels into trouble overseas.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, if a D.R. judge were to rule these contracts to be binding, it would change MLB as we know it. Teams would be less inclined to offer anything to foreign players for fear of having to pay out those contracts even if something were to happen to the player involved.
In my opinion, this is great news. I hope the judge does find those contracts binding. It would, at the very least, limit MLB teams from taking advantage of young children before they even reached their teens. Furthermore, it would push MLB closer to an international draft. The presence of a draft would alter how teams go about recruiting international talent, and while a deal between MLB and the MLB Players’ Association has not yet been reached, there were talks of introducing one during the lockout earlier this year. It had been considered a non-negotiable for the players for many years prior.
Under the previous CBA, MLB teams knew exactly how much money they’d have to spend internationally years in advance, and that led to MLB teams recruiting younger and younger players from countries that produce tons of elite talent. An international draft would not only prevent these practices, but also limit the effect that people have on young talents in their home countries. Several trainers would give their youths performance-enhancing drugs at very young ages in order to entice teams to sign them. Trainers would package high-end talents with lower-end players in order to make them seem like better trainers, when in reality, all they were doing was limiting their best players’ bonuses. Some would even take advantage by loaning families of the signed players’ money at insanely high interest rates in order to take most of the players’ money once the payday came years down the road.
This case, which could cost the Angels upwards of $21 million if both Fañas and Pavon receive all the compensation they’re asking for, will likely stretch into next year. At the hearing earlier this week, a judge postponed the appearances of witnesses until Nov. 30.
Fañas and Pavon, above all else, are seeking accountability for Major League Baseball and its teams. According to the man representing Fañas and Pavon, Ulises Cabrera, more and more teams are backing out of early deals (deals made before players can officially sign at 16), which has prompted his involvement. “There is no accountability across the board for anybody, in effect, any of the stakeholders in this space,” said Cabrera. “MLB doesn’t enforce anything. They don’t hold their teams accountable. The teams don’t hold their scouts accountable. Everybody throws their hands up — it’s the wild, Wild West — when it’s convenient. I think our hope with this is that there needs to be some type of consequence for people doing the wrong thing.”
We can only hope that becomes the case, but this is MLB we’re talking about. They do the wrong thing all the time, and merely sweep it under the rug, hoping the next big scandal will turn everyone’s attention away. For that reason, I can’t help but think, in the long run, the status quo will mostly remain intact. Such a shame.