A pair of minor league players have filed suit against the Angels for allegedly reneging on verbal agreements made back in 2019, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports. Outfielder Willy Fañas, now with the Mets, and infielder Keiderson Pavon, now with the Rangers, claim that the Angels verbally agreed to respective signing bonuses of $1.8MM and $425K in 2019. The Dominican Prospect League shared a video of former Angels director of international scouting Carlos Gomez (not the former player) informing Pavon the team plans to sign him, at which point a then 15-year-old Pavon breaks down in tears of joy (YouTube link).
Fañas and Pavon allege that those agreements, which came more than a year in advance of the players’ eligibility to sign under Major League Baseball’s rules — international amateurs can sign beginning on their 16th birthdays — were withdrawn in 2020, less than one month before the international signing period was set to commence. Fañas had been 14 at the time of his agreement; Pavon was 15. As Passan points out, the Covid-19 pandemic pushed the July 2, 2020 signing eligibility date back to January of 2021, and by that point, the Halos had fired then-GM Billy Eppler and replaced him with current GM Perry Minasian. With that change came alterations in the international scouting department; Minasian hired Brian Parker to oversee the team’s international operations.
Both players have since signed with new clubs, though Fañas waited until the following signing period to put pen to paper on a contract with a new team. Because early deals just such as these are so common throughout the industry, neither player was able to find a team able to immediately commit a substantial bonus; like the Angels, other teams had already verbally committed the majority of resources in their hard-capped signing pools to other amateurs well in advance of those teenage prospects reaching actual signing eligibility. Fañas, perhaps unsurprisingly, ultimately inked a $1.5MM bonus with the Mets, where Eppler is now GM. Pavon signed for $150K with the Rangers.
While both players eventually found organizations with which to sign, albeit at reduced rates, they’re still seeking damages from the Angels. Fañas is seeking $17MM, while Pavon seeks $4.25MM.
Those figures represent roughly ten times what the Angels had initially promised, though the representatives for Fañas and Pavon could cite multiple factors in seeking such weighty sums. It’s common for players, upon reaching a verbal agreement with a team, to take out loans with exorbitant interest rates, with the intent that the eventual signing bonus will allow those players to pay back that loan. The team withdrawing an offer obviously creates complications in such instances. Speculatively, it’s also plausible that the Fañas and Pavon camps could claim the players’ delayed paths to potential arbitration and free-agent paydays were delayed by the alleged Angels actions. There’s no guarantee they’d ever reach those milestones, of course, and quantifying the exact amount that delay cost either player is impossible.
Whether the suit is successful carries long-term ramifications with regard to the broader international market. Because the league and players association were unable to come to terms on an agreement regarding an international draft, the status quo system that permits this level of largely unregulated advance agreements is likely to remain in place until 2026, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires. If Fañas and Pavon are successful in demonstrating that there are repercussions for teams pursuing premature verbal agreements that flout the rules put into place by MLB, it stands to reason that they may be more reluctant to barter such deals.
The sword cuts both ways, it should be noted. It’s also not uncommon for a player and his trainer and representation to back out of an agreement with a team if he elevates his profile considerably between the time that agreement is reached and the time he’s actually eligible to sign. The rampant disregard for rules prompted agent Ulises Cabrera, who helped establish the Dominican Prospect League and who works with dozens of Latin American players, to refer to the entire system as “the wild, wild West” when speaking to ESPN.
Although the suit was initially filed in May, any ruling on the litigation will wait until months down the road. Passan adds that a Dominican judge recently moved to postpone the appearance of witnesses until late November. And while many American fans may wonder whether there’s any real chance that a court of law would agree to uphold a verbal agreement as a binding contract, Passan quotes several Dominican lawyers and legal professionals who emphasize that the Dominican justice system places greater emphasis on verbal declarations than the United States court system does. The report features lengthy quotes from Cabrera, from the lawyers representing Fañas and Pavon, from third-party legal professionals in the Dominican and from the plaintiffs themselves, so those with interest will want to check it out in its entirety to grasp the full scope of the controversy.