Scott Boras, who was not extensively quoted in yesterday’s New York Times story about the loan he made to Dominican prospect Edward Salcedo, spoke with Yahoo!’s Tim Brown. Boras’ side of things is that there was nothing at all wrong with the loan he extended. “This is a goodwill story,” he tells Brown, ““We did something we’re proud of. We have a young man who’s playing baseball who otherwise wouldn’t be.” Salcedo likewise brushed off the notion that Boras’ loan was exploitative, noting that he and his family asked Boras for the loan, it was never offered.
I stand by my views from yesterday: while such loans have the potential to be abused, and while union rules certainly should be followed in these matters — and if Boras didn’t follow them he should be punished — I’m struggling to see the problem in this instance.
And let me add one more thing: I suspect that it’s no accident that we’re seeing a series in the Times about potential exploitation of Dominican players right now. Indeed, I think we’ll see more of them between now and the end of the 2011 season.
Why? Because there is an interest on the part of Major League Baseball and perhaps some others to present the Dominican Republic as a wild west in need of taming. Because if things can be portrayed as sufficiently chaotic and dangerous down there — drugs, loans, buscones, etc. — it will be much easier to sell people on the notion that more regulation is needed. Regulation that will, inevitably, lead to things that will put a lid on signing bonuses and possibly lay the groundwork for that international draft that Selig and the owners desperately want. The time to lay that groundwork is now, in the run-up to the new collective bargaining agreement being negotiated next year.
To be clear: I’m not saying that there aren’t some ugly aspects in talent development in the Dominican. There are.* But the examples we’re hearing about aren’t exactly new and aren’t exactly egregious. I likewise believe that it’s important to ask why we’re seeing these stories now and to think about whose interest they benefit. Scott Boras has long been a useful villain for those who oppose free agency and I would not be at all shocked if he is again being used in that role with a greater agenda in mind.
*And, it should be noted, the most recent ugly aspect we’ve seen hasn’t involved agents or buscones, but employees of Major League Baseball teams themselves.
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.