Fixing the international signing period requires discipline, not new rules

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Peter Gammons has an interesting piece up about how crazy things are getting during the international amateur signing season:

Former San Diego Padres chief executive officer Sandy Alderson is
overseeing a wholesale investigation being conducted by Eddie Dominguez
of MLB Security into corruption and fraud in the Dominican Republic and
all over Latin America. The investigation could lead to the deportation
of 70 to 100 minor leaguers.

Yet, one week after the international signing period opened July 2,
the dollars spent on international signings have more than tripled in a
five-year period. MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who did not bargain for
any slotting system, now beats on teams to stick to a strict, arbitrary
slotting system for American players in the draft. Even so, teams were
climbing over one another this past week to tell their fans they’re
spending big in the Latino market.

In addition to the spiraling costs of international signings, Gammons
also mentions the other issues we’ve long heard about scouting talent
in the Dominican, including the influence of Buscones, bonus skimming, exploitation of players, performance enhancing drugs, and all of the rest.

I’ve written about this at length in the past,
and while Gammons’ take on things is always welcome and enjoyable, his
piece suffers from the same central problem that all of the many other
previous passes at the issue suffer: the somewhat misleading conflation
of multiple, often unrelated problems into one seeming monster of a
problem that, intentional or not, paints the Dominican market as some
lawless, chaotic environment. At the end of all of these articles —
Gammons’ included — is a prescription for how baseball should “deal”
with it. The problem, though, is that the issues Gammons details —
fraud, signing bonus escalation, skimming and abuse of players — are
distinct phenomena. And not all of them are actually big problems,
which renders the prescriptions offered in these articles simplistic at
best and cynical at worst (I’ll explain the cynicism in a minute).

The bonus skimming/age and identity fraud is certainly a problem,
but it’s more of a legal problem, not a baseball problem. The example
of scouts coming back stateside with cash in their shoes is a matter of
simple embezzlement by employees and poor accounting controls on the
part of teams. The FBI is involved as they should be but at present it
seems to be a case of bad apples and opportunism, not a grand
conspiracy, and certainly not something that should lead to baseball
changing the ways it approaches the international signing period.

The issue with the Buscones — the guys who go out and find
talent for major league teams and then act as quasi-agents for the
players — is a different thing. Yes, it’s troubling insofar as these
guys are almost certainly taking advantage of Dominican teenagers. But
here’s something funny: you rarely hear baseball people complaining
about that aspect of the Buscone-player relationship. Rather,
you hear about how they’re not necessarily good for baseball in that
they’re overselling kids with low talent and driving up their price. I
think the Dominican government should do more to monitor these guys and
I certainly think that baseball can and should play a role in that —
maybe as informer in chief when they see exploitation going on — but
it’s worth remembering that when baseball talks about doing something
with these guys, they’re motivated by a desire to eliminate
cost-enhancing middle men than they are motivated by altruism. Baseball
doesn’t like American agents either, so we have to take the complaints
of front office people quoted by Gammons with a grain of salt.

The final problem — the escalation of signing bonuses to
international players — while interesting, rings pretty hollow as a
problem to me, and that’s where the cynicism comes in. Baseball has
never liked paying players a lot of money, and hearing teams complain
about it now sounds an awful lot like the squawking some teams do when
a Major League free agent signs for big dollars. Unless I’ve misread
everything baseball has done for the past, oh, 50 years, however, I’d
say that there is an effort afoot on the part of ballclubs to overstate
and to conflate all of these problems so as to convince Major League
Baseball and relevant governments that there’s a raging crisis. Why? To
convince them that they need to institute some new rules, be it a draft
or caps or whatever, that will save teams and cost amateur prospects
money.

Ultimately, however, this is problem of fiscal discipline, not one
of systemic failure unique to the international market, and certainly
not one that needs to be solved with big new competition-reducing
rules. If teams stopped flooding the islands wth money and started
evaluating talent with a more discerning eye, the influence of the
Buscones would diminish and the costs of the international signing
period would as well. None of the other prescriptions — be it Gammons’
idea to cap bonus money or the usual idea of imposing some sort of
international draft — are a good substitute for teams just being
smarter about things and restraining themselves from paying too much
for uncertain prospects.

Jose Fernandez’s high school jersey was returned

MIAMI, FL - JULY 09:  Jose Fernandez #16 of the Miami Marlins pitches during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Marlins Park on July 9, 2015 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Yesterday it was reported that someone stole Jose Fernandez’s high school jersey, which had been hanging in the Alsonso High School dugout in Tampa for a vigil. That was pretty vile stuff indeed.

Thankfully, however, someone’s conscience got the best of them: the jersey has been returned. School officials say that a family found a large envelope outside of the high school with the words “Jose’s jersey” written on it. They took the envelope into to the school this morning and the jersey was found inside.

Bad form taking it, whoever you are, but in most cases it’s never too late to make a better decision and fix your mistakes.

The Tigers have an interesting weekend ahead of them

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 08:  A general view of outside the stadium ahead of the Philadephia Phillies versus Atlanta Braves during their opening day game at Turner Field on April 8, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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In late August, when everyone started looking at the schedule in an effort to see who had the easiest road ahead of them to the playoffs, the Tigers stood out as particularly blessed. The end of their season featured several games against the lonely Twins and, if things were tight heading into the final weekend, a three-game series against the lowly Braves.

Problem: the Braves have not been very lowly lately, and that could cause the Tigers all kinds of grief.

Atlanta has won 10 of 11 games. They’ve scored 66 runs in those games and their pitching staff has an ERA of 3.28 over that span. Oh, and remember how, earlier in the season, the Braves were hitting like a deadball era team, being outhomered by multiple individual players? Well, they’ve hit ten during this neat little run. Really, though, the run isn’t that little. They’ve won 19 of 30 and have been a solid team, offensively speaking, since late July. They’re hot as heck now and haven’t been pushovers for some time.

So enter the Tigers, who have been seesawing through August and September and who have to play in Atlanta this weekend without their DH, Victor Martinez. Oh, and who stand a halfway decent chance of having to fly out of Atlanta Sunday evening for a makeup game in Detroit that could then cause them to play a tiebreaker game in Toronto or Baltimore which could then have them travel to the other city for a Wild Card game. And that’s if things break decently.

If they break poorly? It’ll be a long, season-closing flight home from Atlanta. A city that was supposed to provide respite for them when it first appeared on the schedule.