U.S. investors are commodifying Dominican ballplayers

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In today’s New York Times Michael S. Schmidt  reports that U.S. investors, many of whom are unconnected to Major League Baseball, are setting up training academies in the Dominican Republic with the sole purpose of profiting on draftees’ signing bonuses:

Recognizing that major league teams are offering multimillion-dollar contracts to some teenage prospects, the investors are either financing upstart Dominican trainers, known as buscones, or building their own academies. In exchange, the investors are guaranteed significant returns — sometimes as much as 50 percent of their players’ bonuses — when they sign with major league teams. Agents in the United States typically receive 5 percent.

Some of the investors in this game have some tenuous connection to Major League Baseball, such as former Yankees’ crown prince Steve Swindal,  but Schmidt reports that most are just random profit-seekers, such as “a real estate lawyer from New Jersey, a dentist from California and a computer salesman from upstate New York.”  In essence they’re American buscones who, instead of finding a random kid to flip to a Major League team, are working on a bulk model.

I can put on my commie hat — yes, I own one — and declare, with at least some degree of honesty, that all development of young baseball talent involves exploitation. At least in the way that term is technically defined.  Even a prospect from an upscale Southern California suburb is “exploited” in that his talents are obtained and then used by Major League Baseball so that it might profit off his labors in an amount that exceeds what he is initially paid while he is simultaneously prohibited from taking his labor elsewhere.  On some cold level he is an investment vehicle for agents and teams, and we obviously have no problem with this.

But this is different. Different than Major League teams setting up their own academies. Different than baseball setting up an international draft. At least in those instances baseball is or would have a longer game in mind, in that they would seek to recoup their investments by having players develop into prospects and one day have productive careers. And, even if the vast majority of players don’t make it, there are public relations and regulatory means through which Major League Baseball could be compelled or persuaded to make sure that the circumstances under which they house and train these kids are adequate, safe and ultimately beneficial to even the non-prospects.  I mean, Felipe Alou or someone of his stature could shame baseball into doing the right thing by these kids if it was found that it wasn’t.

But who — besides Michael S. Schmidt — is watching some real estate lawyer from New Jersey, a dentist from California and a computer salesman from upstate New York, none of whom have a reason to care a lick about these kids after they’re signed or, in most cases, passed over?  What motivation do they have beyond maximizing signing bonuses and keeping costs low in the meantime?

None that I can see.  And even if the lawyer, the dentist and the computer salesman Schmidt mentions are running clean tight ships, the nature of investment for investment’s sake is such that, eventually, there will be a race to the bottom in an effort to maximize profits. I mean, the first guy who bundled mortgages was probably pretty prudent about it.  He probably kept good files and made sure that only  top quality paper got sold.  Things, however, eventually got out of hand. Because that’s what happens when the only goal is to turn a profit in the short term.

Everyone has to scrape themselves up off the mat for another night of LCS action

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The way I see it, the Red Sox are the only team who should be feeling super chipper today.

The Astros got pasted last night, and it didn’t help that they also found themselves in an off-the-field controversy. Like, a few feet off the field, where maybe they shouldn’t have been controversy. That has to be deflating as all get-out.

The Brewers have to feel like garbage, not only because they lost, but because it took 13 innings to do it, stretching their already patchwork pitching approach, made all the more depressing by the loss of Gio Gonzalez to injury. No, he wouldn’t have pitched tonight anyway, and yes, they get a fresh arm to replace him on the roster, but (a) no one wants a teammate injured; and (b) the arm is, by definition, one Craig Counsell didn’t want to pitch in the LCS in the first place.

The Dodgers are in a much happier state given that that they won, but they gotta be pretty exhausted too given the length and intensity of last night’s game. Plus everyone is now going to have to walk into the clubhouse today and answer questions about their dirty-playing superstar, and if ballplayers hate anything, they hate having to answer questions about their teammates’ missteps.

Still, I suppose it all beats being at home with the other 26 baseball teams, so their misery is relative.

Your viewing guide:

NLCS Game 5

Brewers vs. Dodgers
Ballpark: Dodger Stadium
Time: 5:09 PM Eastern
TV: FS1
Pitchers: Wade Miley vs. Clayton Kershaw
Breakdown:

Wake up, guys. Not only did you play until the wee hours last night, but you have a day game today, starting just after 2PM local time. I suppose we’ll have plenty of time to shoot the schedule maker later — really, why would you give a west coast content a day-game-after-a-night-game treatment? — but for now you gotta pound some java and suck it up.

Clayton Kershaw is gonna have to suck it up, that’s for sure. He had a rough outing in Game 1 at Miller Park, allowing five runs — four earned — on six hits and two walks while striking out just two. Dave Roberts had to use eight relievers last night, including Kenley Jansen for two innings, so Kershaw cannot afford to be sitting at 50 some laboring pitches three innings into this bad boy. He’s gonna have to put on his 2009-17 big boy pants and be an ace.

For Milwaukee it’s Miley, who was excellent in Game 2 but who goes on three days rest here. Craig Counsell used six relievers last night, including Josh Hader, who I would guess is not available today. He does, however, have Brandon Woodruff, who has been excellent thus far.

Mostly, though both of these offenses need to wake up. The Brewers went scoreless over the final eight innings last night. The Dodgers have scored only three runs the 22 innings of play at Dodger Stadium thus far.

 

ALCS Game 4

Red Sox vs. Astros
Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
Time: 8:39 PM Eastern
TV: TBS
Pitchers: Rick Porcello vs. Charlie Morton
Breakdown:

Charlie Morton will make his first start of the postseason. Indeed, it will be his first action of any kind since September 30, when he went only three innings in a game-162 tuneup against the Orioles. That’s a long dang time to be off the field, but given that he only tossed 15 innings in four starts in the entire final month of the season due right shoulder discomfort, maybe the layoff did him well. We’ll see tonight how he responds to it. Porcello, meanwhile, has been pretty busy, both starting and coming out of Alex Cora’s bullpen. The pattern worked for him nicely in the ALDS, so why not continue it.

Not that anyone cares about this sort of thing other than we story writers, but it’ll definitely be a thing of the Astros can’t get up off the mat after last night’s loss. If those two hit batsmen followed by the grand slam surrendered by Roberto Osuna turns out to have been the turning point of the postseason and the moment when the Astros year, effectively, ended. Baseball is a team effort of course, and there is still much of it to be played here, but if that broke the Astros for 2018 — if Roberto Osuna’s shortcomings prove to have been too much to overcome — it’ll be hard to escape the takes.