Sunday, February 22, 2009
Trainer says MLB investigation flawed
By Jorge Arangure Jr. ESPN The Magazine
The trainer for a top Washington Nationals prospect who faked his age and name denied any knowledge of the player's deception and blamed Major League Baseball's investigative office in the Dominican Republic for failing to catch the scheme.
An MLB investigation determined Nationals prospect Esmailyn Gonzalez is actually Carlos David Alvarez Lugo.
Basilio Vizcaino, trainer to Nats prospect Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo, said he was unaware that Lugo changed his name to Esmailyn Gonzalez and took four years off his age when he claimed to be 16 and signed a $1.4 million contract with the Nationals in 2006. The Nationals confirmed an SI.com report that Lugo is 23 and not 19 as had been thought.
What is most troubling for MLB's office in the Dominican Republic is that Lugo, according to Vizcaino, passed age investigation requests from at least three teams -- the Nationals, the Yankees, the Red Sox. Two baseball sources said the Red Sox and Yankees received reports from MLB that confirmed that the player was 16 in 2006.
"Maybe teams need to do their own investigations," Vizcaino said. "What is the point of the Dominican office if they're simply going to allow teams to lose money?"
Said one employee of the teams that ordered and received a positive age investigation on Lugo: "This proves the investigation process is flawed."
Nationals president Stan Kasten declined to comment. "Thanks for writing," he wrote in an e-mail. "But I won't be talking about this anymore for awhile."
On Saturday, the Nationals announced that special assistant Jose Rijo, who had been credited with spotting the prospect, has taken a leave of absence. Vizcaino claims neither he nor Rijo and the Nationals did anything wrong.
Vizcaino recently spoke with Lugo, who admitted his wrongdoing and explained what had happened.
"He's sad," Vizcaino said. "He did it because he thought if he didn't change his identity he would never sign."
Major League Baseball officials, through a spokesman, declined to comment.
Vizcaino said in each instance baseball investigators, who are sub-contracted by MLB, visited the player's supposed hospital of birth, the player's supposed school and his hometown of Bani to interview people and to review documents. Each time the player's identity was confirmed, though major league officials were skeptical.
"There's always been questions about that kid," one baseball source said.
Lugo's lie may have never been discovered if not for a league-wide investigation of Dominican prospects' bonuses resulting from the federal investigation of former Chicago White Sox scout Dave Wilder, who is accused of skimming bonus money away from teams and prospects.
While investigating Lugo, baseball's new investigative unit, which was established as one of the solutions suggested by the Mitchell report, found that the player's bonus money could not be located in either his bank account or in his supposed mother's or father's bank accounts. Such a discrepancy put Nationals scouts under question about whether they had pocketed any of the bonus, as what is alleged to have happened with Wilder and several White Sox prospects.
In speaking with Washington reporters on Wednesday, Kasten confirmed that the Wilder investigation led investigators to the Nationals.
"In the course of that investigation, they've talked to a number of teams, and they are and have talked to our team as well," Kasten told reporters.
But Vizcaino, who was questioned by baseball investigators about the case, said Lugo had put his bonus money in his real uncle's bank account, which is why investigators could not locate any record of the bonus.
If true, the sequence of events outlined by Vizcaino would seem to vindicate Washington officials of any bonus skimming since the bonus was never missing, but instead was in another bank account. Last year Lugo, then Gonzalez, denied in an SI.com that the Nationals had taken any of his bonus.
Baseball's investigation of the Nationals is ongoing, according to one source.
Furthermore, the player had not been denied a visa as first believed. According to Vizcaino, the player had already been awarded a visa under his assumed name for this year by the U.S. consulate when baseball investigators received confirming evidence about the player's age. The player had previously been awarded a visa in 2007 and 2008 when he played for the National's Gulf Coast League team in Florida.
When confronted by baseball's new investigative task force, Lugo admitted he and a cousin had concocted the scheme, according to Vizcaino. Afterward, the player's visa was revoked. He has since reapplied for a visa under his real name.
Vizcaino said MLB should provide more transparency involving their investigations. As it stands, neither the player nor his representative are allowed to see the reports. The establishment of baseball's new investigative unit includes five Spanish-speaking investigators, according to one baseball source, but those investigators are used only in special cases.
"Why doesn't Major League Baseball let people see those first investigations?" Vizcaino said. "They should be investigating those investigators. If you have nothing to hide, then why don't you let your people speak openly? I have nothing to hide. Gonzalez fooled them. Yes. Who is at fault? [MLB's] investigation."
Though the Nationals may be unlikely to recoup their $1.4 million investment, Vizcaino will likely be able to keep his $230,000 commission off the signing.
Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.