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A look into corruption in Latin American scouting

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We’ve talked many times in this space about the seedy nature of scouting and signing players in Latin America. There have been multiple scandals in this arena over the years and, currently, there is an unsettlingly quiet federal probe underway of Major League Baseball’s international signing practices (unsettling to those in its crosshairs, anyway). I feel like some really bad stuff is gonna roll out of that whenever the feds finish up their work.

Today we have a little corner of the broader dynamic presented in a Washington Post story that, I feel, gives a good bit of flavor to it all. It’s about the signing of Héctor Olivera, the Cuban star who signed a $62 million deal with the Dodgers before being traded to the Braves, suspended for domestic violence and who is now out of baseball.

Olivera’s signing and all that surrounds it is supposedly a big hook for the current federal investigation. What we know of it from today’s story involves claims that he was forced, at machine gun point, to sign over a ridiculously large part of his eventual Dodgers contract to a former Yankees scout-turned-buscone named Rudy Santín and several of his associates who helped him flee Cuba. Santín denies that, and has in turn sued Olivera in the Dominican Republic, claiming that Olivera skipped out on that agreement to sign with agent Greg Genske, who ultimately landed the Dodgers deal. So, at least on the allegations, it’s a giant mess all around, but well worth your time reading if you care about this stuff.

I should note, though, in the interests of balance, that while we frequently see stories like these — stories involving allegedly crooked Latin American agents and buscones — that’s not the only graft angle on all of this. Major League Baseball wants you to think that all the seediness is on the agent side and often cites it when calls are made to impose an international draft, but the leagues’ hands aren’t clean either.

Several scouts and team employees working in Latin America have themselves been involved in kickback scandals over the years in which they have demanded cuts of the players’ signing bonus in order to sign a player. The club agrees to pay the player, say, $2 million, but the scout takes tens if not hundreds of thousands off the top. Maybe the club is wholly unaware of this. Often they’re not unaware. In the ethical twilight that is international baseball scouting, clubs, the league and the agents and other representatives of players have all gotten their hands dirty over the years.

Astros hitting coach receives 20-game suspension; A’s Laureano six

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

OAKLAND, Calif. — Houston Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron received a 20-game suspension and a fine Tuesday for his role in a benches-clearing brawl at Oakland, while Athletics outfielder Ramon Laureano was given a six-game suspension and a fine.

Cintron’s suspension is the longest for an on-field transgression in 15 years, since Texas pitcher Kenny Rogers received 20 games for his altercation with two cameramen in 2005.

“I accept MLB’s suspension and will learn from this,” Cintron said in a statement. “Although I never referenced Ramon’s mother, my actions were inappropriate. I apologize for my part in Sunday’s unfortunate incident. As coaches, we are held to a higher standard and should be an example to the players. Hopefully, other coaches will learn from my mistake so that this never happens again in the future.”

Laureano appealed, so his discipline didn’t begin Tuesday night in Oakland’s game against the Angels. He was in the lineup batting second and playing center field at Angel Stadium.

Laureano was hit by a pitch from Humberto Castellanos with one out in the seventh inning of Oakland’s 7-2 victory Sunday. He began exchanging words with a gesturing Cintron then left first base, threw down his batting helmet and began sprinting toward the 41-year-old Cintron.

Astros catcher Dustin Garneau tackled Laureano before the A’s outfielder got to the hitting coach. Laureano is a former Astros player and the rival clubs have been the top two in the AL West the past two years. A’s pitcher Mike Fiers, another former Houston player, revealed the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal in November to The Athletic.

Laureano was hit for the third time in the weekend series swept by Oakland – the fifth time the A’s were hit in all while the Astros didn’t get plunked once – and he pointed at Castellanos.

Players rushed out of both dugouts. Laureano was ejected by plate umpire Ted Barrett, and the umpiring crew could easily be heard yelling at the players to “get back to the dugout!” through a ballpark with no fans.

“I just thought that, whew, boy they threw the book at us big time. But what can you do?” said Astros manager Dusty Baker, who had already been ejected by the time the brawl occurred and didn’t see it on TV. “The ruling is the ruling. I talked to the powers that be in the commissioner’s office this afternoon and we had a good conversation. So … we have to deal with it and hopefully this brings our guys even closer together. He was a big part of our team.”

The A’s lost the AL wild-card game each of the past two seasons after winning 97 games both years to place second in the AL West behind three-time reigning division champion Houston, which won a World Series in 2017 and an AL pennant last season.

Laureano began Tuesday batting .259 with three homers and 10 RBIs as the A’s regular center fielder and No. 2 hitter.

“It’s just something we have to deal with,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said of the suspension. “I don’t make those decisions, and whatever I think about them doesn’t really matter anyway, so I think the best thing to do is try to get it behind us as quickly as we can.”

Melvin wasn’t sure how he would potentially structure his outfield and lineup without Laureano for several games.

“You can’t replace him,” Melvin said. “You just have to play short.”

The Dodgers and Astros had their own dustup when Los Angeles visited Houston last month. LA lost the ’17 World Series to the Astros when the sign-stealing scam was happening.

In announcing the punishments, MLB said Cintron’s discipline was “for his role in inciting and escalating the conflict between the two clubs.” Given the coronavirus pandemic, baseball has established strict guidelines about avoiding brawls.

“The explanation was that he’s a coach and especially with the COVID situation out here … in essence they’re not going to stand for it,” Baker said. “Basically, somebody had to be the example. Especially in these times that we’re going through.”

A former infielder from Puerto Rico, Cintron played parts of nine major league seasons with Arizona, the Chicago White Sox, Baltimore and Washington. He won’t be eligible to coach again until Sept. 2, when the Astros are scheduled to host Texas.

“Cintron said what he did was wrong, and he apologized for it,” Baker said. “It still doesn’t take the fact away that it happened.”