Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Smiley Gonzalez Is a Fraud

SI.com is reporting that Esmailyn Gonzalez is not 19 and isn't even Esmailyn Gonzalez. He's a 23-year-old named Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo.

I'll comment shortly, but for now here's the story, by Melissa Segura:
A top Washington Nationals prospect and recipient of the largest international signing bonus in team history is not who he appeared to be. Esmailyn Gonzalez, who is listed as 19 years old on the team's roster, is actually 23-year-old Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo, four sources have told SI.com.

The Nationals, owned by the Lerner family, gave the shortstop from the Dominican Republic a $1.4 million signing bonus on July 2, 2006, and trumpeted his arrival as a sign of their commitment to acquiring top-tier talent. (Players from Latin America are not subject to the draft and can sign with the team of their choice.) "This signing is symbolic of the Lerner family's and incoming club president Stan Kasten's pledge to become an industry leader in scouting and player development,'' Washington general manager Jim Bowden said at the time of the deal.

Gonzalez's signing, however, immediately drew suspicion from baseball insiders. There was considerable skepticism about the team's description of him as a five-tool player. "He doesn't run all that well, and has an average arm," an executive with another team said this summer.

The Texas Rangers were the next highest bidder for Gonzalez, offering only $700,000. Agent Rob Plummer negotiated with all teams on behalf of Gonzalez -- except the Nationals. Those negotiations were handled by Basilio Vizcaino, Gonzalez's buscon (a person who trains amateur youth baseball players in exchange for a percentage of future signing bonuses). Vizcaino is a childhood friend of Bowden's special assistant, Jose Rijo, and a protégé of Jose Baez, the Nationals director of operations in the Dominican Republic. The size of Gonzalez's bonus and the close relationship between Vizcaino, Baez and Rijo drew the attention of the FBI and Major League Baseball's department of investigations. (A federal investigation into allegations of skimming of bonus money given to Latin players has been going on for the past seven months.) It's unclear if anyone named Esmailyn Gonzalez exists or how the player's paperwork was falsified. Also unknown is whether Gonzalez, who is still in the Dominican Republic, will be able to obtain a visa to join the club for spring training.

The revelation of Gonzalez's true age reduces his perceived value as a player. In 2008, his second season in the Gulf Coast (rookie) League, Gonzalez was named league MVP and won the league batting title, hitting .343. He was second in the league in on-base percentage (.431) and runs (42), and third in RBIs (33) and hits (62). One scout who has seen Gonzalez play, says, "Those are great numbers, but you should be hitting that well if you're that much older than your competition."

Nationals representatives, Rijo and Vizcaino did not return calls from SI.com requesting comment. Kasten and Major League Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney declined to comment. Bowden and Rijo have previously denied any financial improprieties in the Gonzalez case.
Update: So let's consider the implications of this:

  • Smiley/Carlos is not a prospect. Drop him from your top 10, 20, 30... Hitting .343 / .431 / .475 in the rookie league GCL (the lowest minor league level that there is) against 18 and 19-year-old pitchers is kinda promising... if you're 18 or 19 yourself. If you're 23, well, you don't belong in Rookie ball in the first place. Basically he had far more plate discipline than you usually see in the GCL... because he was 5 years older than everyone else. Nothing else really that he did there jumps out at you. He's slow, showed very little power, and really can't field that well. Next year, he was slated to move up to play at low-A Vermont. Wanna guess how many 24-year-olds played for the Lake Monsters last year? None (actually Dmitri Young was there on rehab briefly, but that's it). Unless Smiley/Carlos is secretly ready to start producing at AA Harrisburg right now, I wonder if there's even any point in keeping him in the organization.
  • How is it that Jose Rijo and Jose Baez are still employed by the Nationals? Look, everything about this screams that Rijo and Baez scammed the team. Why is it that every other team negotiating with Smiley/Carlos dealt with Plummer, but only the Nationals dealt with Vizcaino? Could that be related to the fact that only the Nationals were considering such a large bonus?
  • Don't we HAVE to release Smiley/Carlos immediately? If we don't, what does that say?
  • NFA Brian says that there's been speculation about this for a while. If that's true, why has the team continued to handle him with kid gloves like a top teenage prospect? Why not push him up a level or two, just to see?
  • OK, so if a guy falsifies his identity you can see how that might be hard to catch, I guess. But is it really? I mean, if you're going to put $1.4 million into a kid, wouldn't you want to do some digging? Wouldn't you bump into other players or coaches who would say, "oh yeah, I remember him from back when he first started playing ball around here in 2002, when he was probably about 17 or 18..."
  • Does any of this stick to Jim? After all, even if he was totally hoodwinked, Rijo is his guy.
  • The more I think about this, the more I think that this, the more I think that Rijo had to have known Gonzalez/Lugo's real age. The buscone surely knew. Vizcaino's whole job is to scout kids in the DR, he was supposedly tight with the family, and there's no way that this non-English-speaking poor kid from the DR cooked up this scam alone. And if Vizcaino, Rijo's childhood friend knew, then Rijo must have known. And if Rijo knew, then it's hard to imagine that Bowden didn't know. So maybe someone just betrayed an old friend, but Stan Kasten and Mark Lerner better be raking Jim over the coals. Really, for me, it just feels like the Blagojevich administration. It stinks, and it's probably rotten to the core.

12 comments:

Hendo said...

I've made no secret of how I feel, so I'm obviously biased.

But I wish some commenter who's smarter than I am will explain how the stench from this farce can be cleansed fully without firing Bowden.

I'll be right here, reading.

Rob B said...

Bowden can claim ignorance, and maybe rightly so, because this happens all the time in Latin America.
The 'offical' documents for these countries are little more than typed and laminated. I have seen some that were actually hand-written. Don't know if that still happens. Regardless, they are easily manipulated or forged.
Remember that 16 year-old kid who pitched in the little league world series?
Livan Hernandez also has some questions about his age, as do many other Cuban ballplayers. There's no way to prove either way, because they defected from a communist dictatorship....they can't exactly just stop by and ask for a copy of their birth certificate.

Uncle Dak said...

Here is the SN analysis:

Washington Nationals
Feb. 18, 2:09 a.m.
Esmailyn Gonzalez, who received a $1.4 million bonus to sign out of the Dominican Republic in 2006, is actually 23-year-old Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo, four sources have told SI.com.
Fantasy spin: Again with the four sources for SI. Of course, this isn't as big as the A-Rod scoop, but it's a definite blow to the Nats and, particularly, GM Jim Bowden, who hyped Gonzalez from the moment he landed the shortstop. Gonzalez, already considered a modest disappointment, was supposed to 16 then and 19 now. At age 23, he wouldn't seem to be a prospect at all.
Source: SI.com

Uncle Dak said...

P.S. be careful about throwing around terms like "five-tool player". You never know, if Manny Acta ever got fired and Dusty Baker caught wind about five-tool players on the Nats . . . ugh . . . I guess you have to be a Cubs fan to truly appreciate my comment but I think you can understand . . .

NY Stat Guy said...

Lets hope this SI reporter can get the info that links Bowden and Rijo to the missing portion of the signing bonus. Remember, Bowden most likely was given a "kick-back" for signing this player.

Moe Greene said...

Looks like it might be time to put the old poll back up...

What will this site be once Jim Bowden is actually fired?

Andrew Stebbins said...

Hire Mike Rizzo.

Berndaddy said...

Steve I just emailed the team this... I never do these kind of things. Man, I'm pissed Jimbow would put the Nats in this postion. I know I'm not the most elequent person in the world but...

RE: E.Gonzalez

Mr.Kasten

Fire Jim Bowden! He never had the respect of Baseball insiders and with these current allogations he'll lose respect through out Baseball. Someone like him should not be allowed to make decision in regards to your Baseball team. How will anyone have faith in this ball team? I was going to purchase a small package, but I'll listen to the radio instead and if this continues I won't listen at all I sorry to say. I love baseball but it's low handed people like Jim bowden and Jose Rijos that taint an already increasingly damaged game.

Your Truly
Bernie Muller-Thym

Michael said...

I don't entirely agree with the conclusory statements in last paragraph of the blog entry. You don't think some poor family couldn't see that their most available fast track to escape poverty would be to increase the value of what may have been their lone asset by lowering their kid's age? You don't think that Vizcaino, seeking his payday, could have take the family at their word, and could have simply talked his childhood buddy Rijo into believing the story, and so forth?

While I think your conclusions are a lot more likely than the scenario above, I'd say the jury is somewhat out. However, no matter how you slice it, this speaks to a bumbling front office that lacks competency, and perhaps is ridden with embezzlement. If there's an ongoing Federal investigation, its difficult to reach any reasonable conclusions at this point...other than some heads need to roll in the Nats front office.

Bare minimum, they have to fire Baez and Rijo. If there was an honest mistake, it would still be worthy of them getting fired. Now if this were the only incident, and Bowden was bamboozled his Latin American lieutenants, it MIGHT be dismissible. But taken with context of all the other moves he's made he really needs get sacked. If signing Dunn was a step forward in the competency file, this is 3 steps back. That's what get from Bowden's pin the tail on the donkey approach to the job. With the Dunn signing, he got it right on the tail, with this, he accidentally walked through the open basement door, fell down the stairs and smashed his face.

If nothing else, hopefully his family got out of poverty. Who knows how much was skimmed, and what kind of predatory shysters attack these kinds of families.

Steven said...

Michael--I think the buscone must have known. If he knew, I think it's unlikely that the Rijo didn't konw. If he knew, I think it's unlikely that Bowden didn't at least have suspicions.

But I agree with your latter point that even if it was an honest mistake, at minimum Rijo and Baez need to be fired for incompetence.

Whether that reaches also to Bowden depends on details I don't have access to.

Michael said...

Steven, I agree that it's not likely that Rijo and those below him knew - his comments on Washington Nationals News aren't exactly reassuring - I would not be entirely surprised if scam occurred at the bottom, and nobody wanted to verify the truth, first out of excitement and fervor to show their commitment to signing players, and later for fear of embarrassment. Regardless of the truth, it smacks of gross incompetency or worse. Kastsen and Learner need to drop the axe. Absent Bowden's past, perhaps he should keep his job, but if this doesn't put him on the chopping block, what will? Does he have some sort of golden parachute that we don't know about?

An Briosca Mor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.