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March 1, 2012

Future Shock

The Curious Case of Jairo Beras

by Kevin Goldstein

The news broke this morning, and the firestorm didn't take very long to follow. When it was first reported that the Rangers had signed Dominican outfielder Jairo Beras to a $4.5 million contract, the first reaction was confusion; he was generally seen as one of the top prospects, if not the top prospect for the upcoming international signing period that begins on July 2. Teams were not shocked as much as confused about how the deal could be consummated in February.

As first reported by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, the signing is already being investigated by Major League Baseball. Passan writes, “The Rangers believe he is 17 and eligible to sign while MLB and competing executives insist he's 16 and ineligible until July 2.” After double-digit conversations with scouts and executives, that might not exactly be the case, but nonetheless, the deal is still a troubling one.

Here are the primary points that are causing confusion:

1. Beras participated in the biggest international showcase of the year held in early February in the Dominican Republic, featuring top prospects from both the Dominican and Venezuela. While teams were told by Major League Baseball that all participating players had cleared identification and date of birth investigations as well as drug testing, the roster sheet distributed at the game indicated that birth dates had not been confirmed.

2. Multiple teams say that Beras had conducted private workouts for them at their respective complexes in the Dominican Republic in the months leading up to the contract. All of those teams claim that at the time of the workouts, Beras claimed a birth date of December 25, 1995 and that he would not be eligible to sign until the July 2 signing date. One team contacted for this piece stated that the Beras camp continually delayed or deferred multiple requests to provide documentation concerning his identification.

3. By submitting a contract to Major League Baseball, the Rangers are saying he is 17 years old and therefore eligible to sign, and there are multiple sources indicating there is official documentation indicating a date of birth of December 25, 1994. That would make the contract valid. Unfortunately, we also get into the reality of the Dominican Republic, which is in many ways a third-world country with third-world record keeping. It is common practice there for birth certificates to be bought, sold, and falsified. Beras's background is one of extreme poverty—even for his home country—as multiple sources also indicated that Beras's birth was not registered with the government until he was approximately one year old. This is actually quite common in the Dominican Republic, where many home births are never officially accounted for.

Questions That Remain

1. Did Beras ever submit paperwork to Major League Baseball? According to Passan's article, Major League Baseball is in possession of a birth certificate that states the 1995 date of birth. Still, his inability or unwillingness to provide documentation to teams is troubling, and he was not required to submit paperwork to Major League Baseball for the purpose of July 2 eligibility until March 1, which is oddly just one day after the signing was announced.

2. If Beras is truly 17, why would he claim to be 16? While the answer might seem obvious, in this year's market, it's far more complicated. If Beras was eligible to sign before the new CBA rules went into effect, he would be in line for a far bigger bonus than if he was July 2 eligible, and his $4.5 million deal well exceeds the $2.9 million international spending cap that will go into effect with the July 2 signing period. So why even claim to be 16? Why not live in what has been a very expensive final year of free-market economics, as opposed to passing yourself off as a market-limited player? It's possible that he simply did not know how old he was; again, this might seem nonsensical, but it does happen in the Dominican Republic. It's also possible that once he was discovered to be 17, the Rangers made a take-it-or-leave-it offer—and a genuinely good one—to avoid a bidding war. Such offers are also common, and if the Rangers found out he was 17, the onus is not on them to share that information, either with other teams or with Major League baseball. An article written about Beras in a Nicaraguan newspaper calls the player 17 years old in November of last year, which has left one international scouting director wondering if 1994 is even the correct year of birth.

3. What happens from here? No matter how the limited facts in this case are interpreted at this point, nearly every interpretation ends with what would be referred to legally as deception. If the player presented himself to be 16 years old—and such a birth certificate submitted to Major League Baseball would be the smoking gun—then the player has misrepresented his age. If Major League Baseball agrees, then his contract with Texas would be voided, and the player would likely be suspended from signing for a period of one year.

As with everything in international signings, there are potential loopholes, as the official rules state that a player cannot misrepresent his age when signing with a club. Under the strictest of definitions, if Beras is truly 17, he did not lie about his age upon signing, but the rule is to be interpreted by Major League Baseball, which must already be horribly embarrassed by the entire situation. Beras was the big name in this year's international class, and Beras was the player everybody wanted to watch in this showcase for a league that MLB itself has funded and is very proud of.

Unfortunately, the Dominican Republic has seen corruption at multiple levels in the past, from buscones to scouts to the major league baseball investigators themselves. Nothing about this deal looks good for baseball, and nothing about this deal looks like it will stick for the Rangers or the player, and in the end, the person who will pay the steepest price is probably Jairo Beras, who deserves and can afford it least.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

41 comments have been left for this article.

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