Boras sulking

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.

Report: Rays having “advanced talks” with free agent reliever Tommy Hunter

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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported this morning that free agent reliever Tommy Hunter required core muscle repair surgery earlier this offseason. Coming off a disappointing 2015, it’s understandable why he’s still on the market, but it sounds like he has at least one significant lead.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the Rays are having “advanced talks” with Hunter as they attempt to add an experienced arm to their bullpen. Nothing is considered close and Hunter is also talking to other clubs. Meanwhile, the Rays have been in touch with veteran reliever Ryan Webb while monitoring the trade market.

Hunter posted a 2.88 ERA as a late-inning arm from 2013-2014, but he compiled a mediocre 4.18 ERA over 58 appearances last season between the Orioles and Cubs. On the bright side, his velocity has held steady and his control is still very good. Despite the down year and core muscle surgery, Topkin writes that Hunter may be holding out for a multi-year deal.

Pirates sign left-hander Cory Luebke

Cory Luebke Getty
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Eric O'Flaherty wasn’t the only reclamation project added by the Pirates today, as the club also announced that they have signed left-hander Cory Luebke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Luebke once looked like a solid rotation piece for the Padres, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 27, 2012. He’s undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries since. Now 30 years old, he logged seven innings in the minors last season before requiring a procedure to remove loose bodies around a nerve in his forearm. The Padres cut ties with him in November after declining a $7.5 million club option for 2016.

It’s hard to count on much from Luebke at this point, but he told Adam Berry of MLB.com that he feels healthy and hopes to compete for a bullpen job in the spring.

White Sox reportedly considering Ian Desmond

Ian Desmond
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
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Many have speculated on a potential match between the White Sox and Ian Desmond this winter, but we haven’t heard much in the way of legitimate interest. That could be changing with spring training right around the corner, as MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports that Chicago is among the teams considering the free agent shortstop.

After turning the page on Alexei Ramirez this offseason, the White Sox currently have Tyler Saladino in line to serve as their starting shortstop in 2016. The 26-year-old is considered a strong defender, but he batted .225/.267/.335 with four homers over 254 plate appearances as a rookie in 2015. Desmond is coming off a nightmare of a walk year and has seen his strikeout rate climb by 8.5 percent since 2012, but he possesses more offensive upside and it’s not hard to imagine a bounceback campaign while calling U.S. Cellular Field home.

Similar to fellow free agents Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, Desmond is attached to draft pick compensation after turning down a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Nationals. It’s a big reason why a potential deal with the Rays is reported to be a “long shot.” Chicago’s No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft is protected, so they would give up their No. 28 overall pick if they sign a qualifying offer free agent like Desmond.

Pirates sign reliever Eric O’Flaherty

Eric O'Flaherty
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Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates that includes an invitation to spring training.

O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in the league for the Braves from 2009-2013, posting a combined 1.99 ERA in 249 innings, but Tommy John elbow surgery derailed his career and he struggled for the A’s and Mets in 2015 while dealing with shoulder problems.

It’s tough to know if O’Flaherty is healthy at this point, but the 31-year-old southpaw certainly has a chance to be a nice reclamation project for the Pirates on a no-risk contract.