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.

Rutschman has five hits in opener, Orioles outlast Red Sox 10-9

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BOSTON – The last time Adley Rutschman recalls feeling this level of emotion on a baseball field was playing in front of intimate, 5,000-seat crowds in college at Oregon State.

He trumped that experience at Fenway Park on Thursday in his first career opening day start.

“This blows that out of the water,” Rutschman said.

Rutschman became the first catcher in major league history with five hits in an opener, and the Baltimore Orioles survived a wild ninth inning to beat the Boston Red Sox 10-9.

“To have that close game in the ninth inning and the crowd get so loud. You kind of sit there and say, ‘This is pretty cool,’” said Rutschman, the top overall pick in the 2019 draft.

Rutschman – who debuted for the Orioles last May and quickly became indispensable to the young, resurgent club – homered in his first at-bat and finished 5-for-5 with a career-best four RBIs and a walk on a chilly day at Fenway Park, with a temperature of 38 degrees at first pitch.

Ramon Urias hit a two-run homer for Baltimore, which finished with 15 hits, nine walks and five stolen bases.

Kyle Gibson (1-0) allowed four runs and six hits over five-plus innings to earn his first opening-day victory since his 2021 All-Star season with Texas. Gibson gave up an RBI groundout in the first inning before retiring nine straight Red Sox hitters.

The Orioles nearly gave the game away in the ninth.

With Baltimore leading 10-7, closer Félix Bautista walked pinch-hitter Raimel Tapia. Alex Verdugo followed with a single and advanced to second on an error by center fielder Cedric Mullins.

Rafael Devers struck out. Justin Turner then reached on an infield single to third when Urias’ throw was wide, scoring Tapia. Masataka Yoshida grounded to shortstop Jorge Mateo, who stepped on second for the force but threw wildly to first, allowing Verdugo to score.

Bautista struck out Adam Duvall on three pitches to end it and earn the save.

The Orioles scored four runs in the fourth and three in the fifth to take an 8-2 lead. Baltimore led 10-4 before Bryan Baker allowed three runs in the eighth to give the Red Sox some hope.

The eighth could have been even better for the Red Sox had Devers, who led off the inning, not become the first player in major league history to strike out on a pitch clock violation. Devers was looking down and kicking debris off his cleats when umpire Lance Barksdale signaled a violation that resulted in strike three.

“There’s no excuse,” said Alex Cora, who dropped to 0-5 in opening-day games as Boston’s manager. “They know the rules.”

Boston offseason addition and two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber (0-1) struggled in his Fenway debut, surrendering five runs on six hits and four walks in 3 1/3 innings.

“Less than ideal,” Kluber said. “Didn’t turn out the way I would have hoped for.”


Red Sox: Christian Arroyo stayed in the game after taking an inadvertent cleat to the side of his head in the second inning. Arroyo was applying a tag to Rutschman at second base as he attempted to stretch out a single. Rutschman’s leg flipped over as he slid awkwardly. … LHP James Paxton was placed on the 15-day inured list (retroactive to March 27) with a strained right hamstring.


Rutschman, one of six Baltimore players making his first opening-day appearance, became the youngest Oriole to homer in his first opening-day at-bat since Cal Ripken Jr. in 1984.


The Orioles took advantage of MLB’s bigger bases – going from 15- to 18-inch squares – that are being used for the first time this season. Baltimore hadn’t stolen five bases in a game since last June 24 against the White Sox. Mullins and Jorge Mateo swiped two bags apiece, and Adam Frazier got a huge jump on his steal against reliever Ryan Brasier. There was nothing Boston catcher Reese McGuire could do to stop them and on the majority of Baltimore’s steals, he didn’t bother to throw.


Right-hander Kaleb Ort and Tapia earned Boston’s final two roster spots to open the season. Tapia got the nod over Jarren Duran, who was sent down to Triple-A Worcester. Ort pitched a scoreless sixth with one strikeout Thursday.


Orioles: RHP Dean Kremer will make is sixth career start against Boston when the three-game series resumes on Saturday. In 11 road starts last season, he went 5-3 with a 3.63 ERA.

Red Sox: LHP Chris Sale, who has pitched in only 11 games over the past three years due to injuries, is set to begin his seventh season in Boston.