The team’s signing practices of Cuban players are under federal scrutiny.
The Los Angeles Dodgers can’t catch a break this week.
After losing the World Series in five Game to the Red Sox, the moral integrity of their organization’s scouting process has been thrust into question as they’ve been implicated in a Department of Justice probe into possible corruption involving the recruitment of Cuban-born players with regards to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), Sports Illustrated reports.
— SI MLB (@si_mlb) October 31, 2018
The Dodgers organization is deeply implicated in documents handed over to the FBI by an internal snitch. According to FCPA recruiting/scouting rules, it is illegal to bribe foreign officials even if it’s lawful in the country where it occurs.
Also, according to complex.com, “The possible illegal smuggling of Cuban baseball players runs parallel with—and may overlap—grand jury testimony that’s already begun about the recruitment of Cuban player, Hector Olivera, an infielder who renounced his citizenship and signed with the Dodgers in 2015 for six years and $62.5 million. He last played professional baseball in 2017.”
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) June 5, 2015
“Another Cuban-born player who signed with the Dodgers in 2015 for an $8 million signing bonus, Pablo Fernandez, is mentioned in the documents multiple times. He too renounced his citizenship the year before the Dodgers signed him, according to SI. Fernandez’s convoluted journey to Major League Baseball figures prominently in the probe and SI’s reporting, and it sheds light on why the Dodgers organization piqued the interest of the DOJ.
When Fernandez initially left Cuba, he was denied a visa by the U.S. embassy in the Dominican Republic. However, just a week later he secured one at the U.S. embassy in Haiti. The Dodgers’ immigration lawyer, Carl Balediata, said in emails that Pablo’s visa in Haiti happened because of “a great team effort” to swiftly get the visa approved.
“We know he was in the DR illegally to begin with,” Balediata outlined in an email sent shortly after Fernandez secured his visa in Haiti. “The fact we said Haiti is his home and made sure Pablo understood this for his interview in Haiti should have also been enough to convey this.”
The worst part of this ordeal for the Dodgers is that despite the line-stepping in acquiring a visa for Fernandez, and the $8 million signing bonus, Pablo would go on to pitch just 15 minor league games and was released by the team in March.
Confirm @BaseballAmerica report: Dodgers sign RHP Pablo Fernandez for $8 million. Red Sox, Giants, Padres, Rangers also expressed interest.
— Jesse Sanchez (@JesseSanchezMLB) March 23, 2015
Now the Dodgers have a potential black eye on their organization. LA’s legal team has declined comment on the story, but this kind of rule-skidding is not an uncommon practice in MLB.
In 2017, the Atlanta Braves rich farm system lost 13 prospects and former general manager John Coppolella was banned for life by Major League Baseball for circumventing international signing rules from 2015-17.
According to USA Today, “MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said MLB’s investigation determined the Braves funneled extra signing bonus money to five players in 2015-16 by giving the funds first to another player considered a foreign professional under baseball’s rules and having the money redistributed to the other five. If the money had been counted for the other five, the Braves would have exceeded their pool by more than 5 percent and been restricted to signing bonuses of $300,000 or under for international amateurs through June 15, 2019.”
In August, MLB implemented significant, stricter rule changes for international players. The rule changes come two years after an unprecedented MLB ruling found the Red Sox guilty of circumventing the rules for signing teenage prospects from Latin America by inflating their signing bonuses behind the scenes.
The Red Sox were hit hard. Five coveted prospects were declared free agents and the team was prohibited from signing any international amateur players until July 2, 2017.
It was the first time MLB has taken players away from a team.
With MLB monitoring and regulating the welfare of international prospects as well as the process teams use to acquire these players, expect more teams to get caught trying to circumvent the rules and stay a step ahead of baseball’s international arms race.