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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2018 — No. 12: The feds launch an investigation of international scouting

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We’re a few short days away from 2019 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2018. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Major League Baseball’s practices in Latin America — and the practices of some Latin American agents and scouts — have long been shrouded in controversy. It’s not shocking why, really. There is a ton of money being thrown at baseball players, most of whom are underage, most of whom are poor. When it comes to Cuba, players are often at the mercy of those who help them — with various motives, benevolent or malign — escape the country and seek asylum in places where their free agent status can be preserved. The opportunities for corruption, exploitation and sharp practices of many kinds are limitless in this environment.

Occasionally major league scouts and executives get into hot water over this stuff. In 2017, for example, Braves general manager John Coppolella was banned for life by Major League Baseball and an assistant was banned for a year for circumventing international signing rules. A decade ago Nationals general manager Jim Bowden resigned after the age and identity of a prominent signee was found to be fraudulent and a number of allegations were hurled at Bowden and others as to how, exactly, that happened. A prominent agent was sentenced to prison for human trafficking. Signing players out of Cuba and in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other countries that are not subject to the draft or a posting arrangement can be a murky and often dirty business.

Back in September we learned that that murk and dirt is now subject a federal grand jury probe. The probe is looking into Major League Baseball teams’ dealings with international players and has issued subpoenas to club officials. It’s not a minor thing either: FBI agents and DOJ lawyers who deal with Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases were reported to be involved.

The probe is reported to be centering on the signing of former player Hector Olivera who was scouted by the Braves, signed by the Dodgers and was later traded to the Braves before leaving the league in disgrace due to a domestic violence conviction. At least one former Atlanta Braves official — rumored to be Coppolella, who obviously has nothing to lose — is cooperating. It could be any number of people, however.

Reports soon emerged that the focus was much broader than just Olivera’s signing. A dossier prepared by someone with knowledge of MLB team’s practices in Latin America was given to the FBI claiming that MLB personnel “are aware of—and brazenly discuss—this unscrupulous culture and the potential for corruption.” The Dodgers are said to be a particular focus. From Sports Illustrated’s blockbuster report on the matter:

One particularly remarkable document shows that Dodgers executives in 2015 went so far as to develop a database that measured the perceived “level of egregious behavior” displayed by 15 of their own employees in Latin America. That is, using a scale of 1 to 5—“innocent bystander” to “criminal”—front-office executives assessed their own staff’s level of corruption. Five employees garnered a “criminal” rating.

We’re not talking about mere financial crimes here either. Multiple alleged victims of smuggling and human trafficking have spoken to law enforcement and the federal grand jury. It’s not hard to imagine this leading to criminal indictments of employees of major league baseball teams. Possibly senior employees whose names you know. This investigation could have profound implications for the league, the union and Latin American players past, current and future. Drugs. Money. All of which surround pitched competition for, quite literally, the talents of children.

As it is, it’s a major story. Once indictments start coming, it could be the biggest story to hit baseball in years.

New York Yankees roster and schedule for 2020

Yankees roster and schedule
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The 2020 season is now a 60-game dash, starting on July 23 and ending, hopefully, with a full-size postseason in October. Between now and the start of the season, we’ll be giving quick capsule previews of each team, reminding you of where things stood back in Spring Training and where they stand now as we embark on what is sure to be the strangest season in baseball history. First up: The New York Yankees roster and schedule:

YANKEES ROSTER (projected) 

When the season opens on July 23-24, teams can sport rosters of up to 30 players, with a minimum of 25. Two weeks later, rosters must be reduced to 28 and then, two weeks after that, they must be reduced to 26. Teams will be permitted to add a 27th player for doubleheaders.

In light of that, there is a great degree of latitude for which specific players will break summer camp. For now, though, here are who we expect to be on the Yankees roster to begin the season:

Catchers

Gary Sánchez
Kyle Higashioka

Infielders:

Luke Voit
Mike Ford
DJ LeMahieu
Gio Urshela
Miguel Andújar
Gleyber Torres
Tyler Wade

Outfielders

Aaron Judge
Aaron Hicks
Giancarlo Stanton
Brett Gardner
Mike Tauchman

Starters

Gerrit Cole
Masahiro Tanaka
James Paxton
J.A. Happ
Jordan Montgomery
Jonathan Loaisiga

Relievers

Aroldis Chapman
Zack Britton
Adam Ottavino
Chad Green
Tommy Kahnle
Luis Cessa
Jonathan Holder
Tyler Lyons
David Hale


BREAKDOWN:

It’s weird to say this but the delay to the season due to the pandemic actually helped the Yankees a fair amount. Because of new injuries and extended rehab from older injuries, the very injured 2019 New York Yankees were poised to begin the regular season with many key players on the injured list, including Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, and James Paxton, among others. It’s not 100% clear if all of those guys will be back and at full strength when the club starts play next week, but Stanton and Paxton seem like a go right now and Judge and Hicks are ramping up.

Obviously the biggest change for 2020, though, is Gerrit Cole, the Yankees big free agent acquisition last winter. Adding arguably the game’s best starter will take a lot of pressure off of the other guys in the rotation and ease the workload of a bullpen that, however deep and talented it is, could still use a break here and there.

With health, hopefully, not the concern it was back in March or last year, we’re left with a Yankees team that (a) has one of the most loaded lineups in the game; (b) features a much-improved rotation with a clear and solid top-four; and (c) has fantastic bullpen talent and depth. Last year’s team, despite all of the injuries, won 103 games. This year’s team is considered the favorite in the American League and, by extension, in all of baseball.

YANKEES SCHEDULE:

Every team will play 60 games. Teams will be playing 40 games against their own division rivals and 20 interleague games against the corresponding geographic division from the other league. Six of the 20 interleague games will be “rivalry” games.

Yankees home stands will be July 29-Aug. 2 (Phillies, Red Sox), Aug. 11-20 (Braves, Red Sox, Rays), Aug. 28-Sept. 2 (Mets, Rays), Sept. 10-17 (Orioles, Blue Jays) and Sept. 25-27 (Marlins). Their rivalry games against the Red Sox will be July 31-Aug. 2 (Yankee Stadium), Aug. 14-17 (Yankee Stadium) and Sept. 18-20 (Fenway Park). Rivalry games against the Mets will be played Aug. 21-23 (Citi Field) and Aug. 28-30 (Yankee Stadium).

The entire Yankees roster and schedule can be seen here.