Age probe could reveal issues

Updated: March 10, 2009, 8:21 PM ET
By Jorge Arangure Jr. | ESPN The Magazine

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The U.S. Consulate in Santo Domingo has asked Major League Baseball to re-investigate 42-44 recent cases of amateur player signings out of the Dominican Republic for possible age irregularities as part of a policy change within the state department, MLB vice president of international operations Lou Melendez confirmed on Tuesday.

The investigations will be conducted by MLB's new investigative unit based out of New York. Melendez said that players from all signing bonus types, meaning several top prospects, will be investigated. Players who are found to have used false information in their applications are in danger of losing their visas or at least having them temporarily suspended.

Under the previous administration at the consulate, players were awarded a visa as long as they could prove their identity, regardless of whether MLB's investigation had turned up any question marks about a player's age.

"The previous administration didn't care if [players] were 17-18," Melendez said. "These guys do. ... Of course it's troubling because some of these cases are two to three years old. Some of these guys have traveled to the United States already."

Dominican U.S. Embassy spokesman David Searby could not be reached for comment.

This news comes only weeks after MLB investigators determined that Washington Nationals prospect Esmailyn Gonzalez had lied about his age and identity. The player's agent told the Washington Post this week that his client has been unable to report to the United States because of visa issues. The same type of problems are likely to happen to any player found to have lied about their age as a result of this new investigation.

Furthermore several teams may soon find out whether some of their top prospects are older than what they might believe and whether some of the signing bonuses they gave out were unwarranted. The Nationals gave Carlos Alvarez, the player formerly known as Gonzalez, a $1.4 million bonus based on the fact the team thought he was 16 year old. Had the Nationals known the player's true age, the signing bonus would have been significantly lower.

Teams are also at risk that these investigations could possibly turn up new issues with some of the players since the new the MLB investigative unit has shown to be a capable complement to the MLB's sub-contracted investigators in the Dominican. It was the New York based team that cracked the Gonzalez case.

Several of the investigations being scrutinized were conducted by two former investigators who were recently fired, one due to improprieties concerning one case, and the other due to performance issues.

Melendez defended MLB's Dominican office saying that these cases had already been flagged by baseball investigators as having age irregularities but that the consulate and teams decided to press on with visa applications anyway. All of the players being investigated were awarded visas.

"Our investigations reflected [the age issues]," Melendez said.

Melendez said he had no problem with the new policy but said he disagreed with the decision to look past cases.

"What they should have done is conducted this policy prospectively," Melendez said. "Instead of looking backward, they should simply look forward."

Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at jorge.arangure@espn3.com.

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