Former White Sox executive David Wilder, two scouts charged with bonus skimming

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In May 2008, the White Sox fired senior director of player personnel David Wilder and scouts Jorge L. Oquendo Rivera and  Victor Mateo  after allegations surfaced that they had pocketed money earmarked for player signing bonuses.  They’ve now been charged with crimes:

Wilder, 50, was charged with seven counts of mail fraud. He was considered a rising star in baseball’s front-office circles and was a close friend and a trusted adviser to White Sox general manager Ken Williams . . . Also charged were Jorge L. Oquendo Rivera, the Sox’s Latin American scout from 2004 to 2007, and Victor Mateo, who was the club’s scout in the Dominican Republic from 2006 to 2008.

The indictment alleged that the three illegally defrauded 23 baseball prospects out of the $400,000 from December 2004 to February 2008.

An interesting note related to this back when it broke: Oquendo worked for Jim Bowden when he was the Reds’ GM.  Bowden, you may remember, was also being looked at in connection with the overall investigation into signing bonuses in the Dominican Republic. To my knowledge he was never accused of wrongdoing, and he isn’t mentioned in this report. Bowden’s trusted ally Jose Rijo was fired after some age-related scandals involving Dominican players. I’d be curious to know if either Bowden or Rijo are mentioned in the charging documents.

Beyond that: when this stuff hit the fan back in 2008, it led to a lot of articles talking about the state of player development in the Dominican Republic, the dangers of Buscones and all of that.  I think there is still a lot of messiness involved in that whole process, but it’s probably worth acknowledging that though unsavory Buscones may be exploiting prospects, Major League Baseball employees are now officially charged with exploiting them themselves.  My guess: no one’s hands are truly clean.

Such a dynamic is worth remembering when Bud Selig starts talking about the need for an international draft to “clean up” Dominican baseball.  Because in some ways, MLB is just as much a part of the problem.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.