8:12pm: Via Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald, while the league has spoken to the players in question, the Red Sox themselves have yet to be questioned due to the fact that MLB is currently “right in the middle” of the investigation. Interestingly, Drellich reports that there was pre-existing evidence against the Sox that led to the league’s investigation, citing a source that references a “specific fact pattern” that was detected. The players themselves wouldn’t be punished even if the league is able to determine that the Red Sox utilized package agreements to circumvent the signing restrictions, per Drellich’s source. Furthermore, Drellich spoke to multiple sources that refuted allegations of threatening the players whilst questioning them, as the players themselves aren’t the target and do not stand to be punished.
Proving allegations of this nature is a highly difficult task, he continues, as the worth of each player is entirely subjective, and paper trails aren’t easily found. “It’s just a difficult thing to prove without cooperation,” one source told Drellich, which could serve to explain the reasoning behind the league’s decision to first question the players themselves.
Any punishment for the Sox would be the first of its kind, as to this point, only warnings have been issued when it comes to matters of international bonus pools. Drellich adds that any disciplinary measures that are taken by the league would carry over even if the international signing system is revamped in the upcoming wave of collective bargaining negotiations.
11:23am: Major League Baseball is investigating the Red Sox in relation to the team’s 2015-16 international signings, Ben Badler of Baseball America reports. In particular, the league is said to be looking into the club’s actions in Venezuela.
Boston entered the current July 2 signing period with a prohibition on any bonuses of over $300K, a penalty that stems from the club’s prior-year investments (including, most notably, Yoan Moncada) and will carry over for one more signing season. Nevertheless, Badler explains, the organization was able to land several highly-rated international talents for somewhat surprisingly low bonuses.
The investigation is looking into the tactics that the organization may have used in procuring certain signings, including players such as Albert Guaimaro, Simon Muzziotti, Antonio Pinero, and Eduardo Torrealba — all of whom landed bonuses of exactly $300K. These players reportedly shared trainers with several other Red Sox signees, leading to concern that they may have been signed to “package” deals in an effort to evade the signing restrictions.
Badler recently detailed that practice in a piece at BA, though it did not cite Boston in particular and dealt primarily with the Cuban market. Per his more recent report, though, only the Red Sox are being investigated by the league at this time.
Interestingly, as Badler notes, the use of package arrangements is widespread and long-established. Moreover, it doesn’t appear to violate any specific MLB rules and all of the contracts in question have previously been approved by the league. There are, of course, other possible incentives (beyond bonus pool evasion) for teams and trainers to arrange non-value-based payouts between certain players. In particular, trainers often have different “stakes” in different players’ eventual bonuses.
Several players reportedly acknowledged some kind of package arrangement in their signings, a source tells Badler. But it remains unclear precisely what the repercussions could be if that is indeed what the league’s investigation shows.
It seems fair to note, too, that there are in theory different ways in which packaging could occur, which might well be viewed differently. Traditional packaging that mutually benefits a trainer and team certainly raises ethical questions, but may not be of concern to the league at this juncture. Post-signing asset shifting to $300K signees from trainers or other players, on the other hand, could conceivably be more worrisome from the perspective of competitive advantage. As things stand, though, this is all hypothetical.
Questions are also raised as to MLB’s tactics in interviewing players, with sources telling Badler of various high-pressure techniques on the teenagers. A league source responded, saying that players are obligated to cooperate but that the investigators did not threaten them with suspensions to secure cooperation.
You’ll certainly want to read Badler’s entire piece for more details on the investigation and the rest of the story.