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.