Nats fire Rijo following scandal
VIERA, Fla. -- Jose Rijo, a special assistant to Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden, was fired by Washington on Thursday, the latest fallout from a scandal involving a top prospect from the Dominican Republic who lied about his age and name.
The team also fired Jose Baez, the Nationals' director of operations in the Dominican Republic, and cut ties with Rijo's baseball academy in the Dominican Republic.
Rijo has worked for Bowden since 2005, when the franchise moved from Montreal to Washington. Rijo played in the major leagues as a pitcher and was the 1990 World Series MVP for the Reds.
"On Saturday, we met as a staff and decided that this is what we needed to do," Nationals president Stan Kasten said after Washington's home exhibition opener at Space Coast Stadium. "I've taken the action that I think is appropriate for this problem, both to deal with the problem and to fix the problem."
It was at Rijo's Dominican academy that the Nationals organization was introduced to a player it first knew as Esmailyn "Smiley" Gonzalez. He is the Dominican prospect who received a $1.4 million signing bonus in 2006, when the Nationals thought they were signing a 16-year-old shortstop.
Kasten said last week that a Major League Baseball investigation determined Gonzalez was born in November 1985, not Sept. 21, 1989. It was also discovered his real name is Carlos David Alvarez Lugo, Kasten said.
Rijo was credited with spotting Gonzalez in the Dominican about two years before the Nationals signed him.
While New York-based agent Rob Plummer was responsible for negotiating on Gonzalez's behalf with other major league teams in 2006, talks with the Nationals were done strictly by someone with ties to Rijo.
Assistant general manager Mike Rizzo already has moved Nationals prospects out of Rijo's camp outside San Cristobal and into a facility located near Boca Chica. Kasten said the new facility is being used by the Dominican national team while preparing for the World Baseball Classic.
"We have replaced virtually all of their staff, which includes office staff, coaches and player development people," Kasten said. "We have physically removed everything from the complex and moved it to our new home, where we will begin our sessions on Monday."
Kasten said 14 players from the Dominican camp were released.
He also called this the first step toward changing how the Nationals go about developing players in the Dominican Republic.
"We needed to completely overhaul our Dominican program, cut ties with the way we've been doing it before, with the way it has been done since the team got here from Montreal and just completely change personnel and facilities, everything," Kasten said.
Kasten said MLB investigators are looking into other troubles in the Dominican Republic.
"What we're dealing with in the Dominican is a problem widespread and long-standing," Kasten said. "I was told the other day by baseball that just in the last year they kicked back dozens and dozens of age violations. I also have to tell you there are a shockingly high number of investigations pending right now on situations exactly like" Gonzalez's.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press