Scott Boras allegedly loaned Dominican players money. Is this a problem?

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The New York Times is reporting that Scott Boras, possibly in violation of MLBPA rules, made loans to Dominican prospects “raising questions” about whether his company “exploited the prospects.”  A spokesman for Major League Baseball said that “this is a serious issue that raises concerns about the business practices of agents who have played a prominent role in the game.”

The article outlines a loan Boras made to Braves’ shortstop prospect Edward Salcedo, to whom Boras made a $70,000 loan prior to his getting a $1.6 million bonus. At the time, Salcedo was seen as damaged goods, as an earlier deal had fallen through with the Indians because he turned out to be older than he previously said he was. Boras made the loan, the report says, time passed, during which a third party — trainer Edgar Mercedes — helped resolve the age issue — and then Salcedo signed his deal with the Braves. Boras then demanded repayment of the loan. Salcedo is still represented by Boras, even though Mercedes tried to get him to sign with a different agent. The loan has still not been paid back.

I get the potential seriousness of an agent giving big money loans to poor Dominican prospects: there is a potential for exploitation if the agent uses the leverage of the loan to coerce the player or to limit choices. Like any dealings with teenage athletes and their families, there are a number of sensible reasons to have rules in place regarding such transactions, regulating them, and requiring some sort of approval process or oversight to ensure that no one is being taken advantage of.  And, according to the report, the MLBPA apparently does have such rules.

But even if Boras violated these rules in the Salcedo case, I’m not seeing any evidence in this article that (a) anyone was taken advantage of; or (b) anyone was actually harmed.  Salcedo was hard-up. Boras loaned him money. Salcedo signed with the Braves. Boras asked for the money back. In the interim another person did some work that perhaps Boras should have been doing (i.e. helping resolve the age issue).  Again, this all may have been in violation of MLBPA rules, and if so, that’s serious in and of itself, but the article tries hard to cast this as an exploitation piece, and I just don’t see how, in this particular case, the loan to a prospect was exploitative in any way.

Indeed, the only hint at that that there was pressure of any kind comes in the last paragraph of the article, where it is suggested that Salcedo felt obligated to stay with Boras as a result of the loan. But that part is all based on quotes from that trainer, Edgar Mercedes, who is affiliated with another agent who wanted to snag Salcedo for himself.  That’s not exactly a damning indictment. And the fact that Salcedo continues to be represented by Boras despite the ability to fire him if he wanted to and having the financial means to easily repay the loan if he so chose, cuts against the notion that he is somehow shackled to Boras as a result of an overreach by the agent.

Could there be a problem here? Absolutely. If Boras has broken union rules regarding loans, that’s bad and should be investigated and punished if the allegation is borne out. But this piece was not written simply to highlight a potential violation of union rules. It was designed to be of a piece with the authors’ last article, regarding U.S. investors making money off of Dominican players by setting up training academies, casting it all into a “U.S. Baseball Exploits Dominican Kids” narrative.  While I said before that I believe there are serious problems with the training academies — i.e. in those cases, unlike Major League Baseball and even agents like Boras, the investors have no incentive to look after kids’ welfare after the signing bonus is paid —  this Boras story does not fit the narrative that the Times is trying to create. This merely points out a possibly troublesome  incident and even then doesn’t establish that anything untoward occurred.

So, unless and until we learn more, I’m not going to get too worked up by this. Just because kids in the Dominican Republic are involved does not mean they are being exploited. Just because Scott Boras is involved does not mean something bad is happening. We need to know more before getting out the torches and pitchforks.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.