Late Tuesday afternoon, the Indians signed Hector Caro, a 16-year-old kid out of the Dominican Republic who projects to be a right-handed hitting outfielder with raw power.
While response to this news included the requisite jab at the current situation near the mini-green monster of Progressive Field — can he play now!? — the overwhelming majority of the replies I received upon dissemination were regarding Caro’s alleged age. Certainly, in the wake of the Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez situation, this is to be expected. The Indians signed and extended a kid who wasn’t a kid at all — their current starting rotation falls vicitm during a season wherein the contention window is officially open.
The Indians themselves tread lightly in this same pool, though it may be more protocol than the reactive measures of the once spurned. Though Caro has been handed a seven-figure signing bonus, a sizable portion of the $2.9 million allowed by the newly minted collective bargaining agreement, the team will not pen an official announcement until Caro is run through a litany of examinations to confirm that the team is in fact getting what they believe to be a 16-year-old kid with incredible potential.
Rene Gayo is a portly, oftentimes intimidating man. He is one of the antagonists in an upcoming documentary titled “Ballplayer Pelortero,” an in-depth look into the puppy mill-like baseball factory known as the Dominican Republic, complete with all of the defamation, deception and indecency one would come to expect from a world fueled by the mighty dollar. Gayo is a focal point of this latest column by Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan wherein Passan describes him as “bombastic,” full of braggadocio and power, though at least recognizing that he is not in fact God; you come away thinking of him as the William Wesley of the West Indies. Rene Gayo is also a former scout for the Cleveland Indians.
Gayo is responsible for finding Jhonny Peralta and Willy Taveras. He spotted the arms known as Danys Baez and Rafael Perez. And Gayo was the man behind the signing of a then, allegeldy, 16-year-old Fausto Carmona.
The way that the D.R. is run is by no means an unknown issue. Certainly, Major League Baseball does not want to completely close off the spigot of their cash cow, but it knows that something has to be done. With 11 percent of opening day rosters hailed from the poverty-stricken island, it is undeniably a hot bed of talent. But rather than allowing teams to dump countless dollars into teenage players, treating them as balloon-ready darts at a multi-billion dollar carnival, budgets are now more focused. Potentially unfair to the smaller markets who could use this as a way to balance out the economic teeter-totter, the efforts of the new CBA are with warrant. What was once called the Dominican Christmas — July 2nd, the date that MLB teams get to start signing players, thusly dumping a consierable amount of money into the nation’s economy — has been reigned in to the $87 million, maximum, allowed by the current CBA.
“One of baseball’s problems is retrograde hypocrisy,” writes Passan. ”For decades, MLB treated the Dominican Republic, an island of about 10 million, as its plantation. The league preferred players use buscones – often poorly educated themselves – to negotiate contracts instead of player agents. While the current generation of stars fetched healthy bonuses, the parasitic relationship limited David Ortiz’s signing bonus to $10,000. Pedro Martinez got $6,500, Sammy Sosa $3,500, Miguel Tejada $2,000.
All of the usual trappings of money accompanied its injection into the Dominican baseball world: deceit, greed, ugliness.”
I cannot sit here and pretend to know the intricacies, nuances and back-office workings of the fast-flowing channel that is the Dominican Republic. Preying on impoverished with the hopes of catching lightning in a bottle, however, I’m wise enough to know that it all leads to the corruption laid out by Passan and displayed by the documentary he describes (where kids admit to changing their names and ages and succumbing to steroids merely to get an edge on their peers), none of which even mentions the close-to-home issues of Carmona and the Tribe.
The fallout of the Carmona-Hernandez arrest and subsequent public relations effort seemed to be met with a shoulder shrug from Carnegie and Ontario. While the front office managed to decrease the money which the team would be forced to pay upon Hernandez’ return, the team apparently saw this train coming down the tracks roughly one year earlier.
As Baseball America stated, the Indians apparently felt that Hector Caro has the tools to be an impact player within the next five-to-six years, more so than many of the 29 other teams. Sure, he may need some work, but with the addition of Brad Grant and his staff, sweat equity is something that could lead to a shrinking of the chasm between the large and small markets. Will Caro pan out? Who knows. But the experiment will cost a fraction of what the Indians’ front office would have to fork over if there were a draft system in place; it’ pennies compared to the contracts given to high-level international free agents. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish come to mind.
But regardless of the relative investment, one cannot fault the Indians for dragging their public relations feet on the Caro announcement. Seven years from now, the last thing they need is to be playing host to the Indians Fantasy Camp participants in Arizona, only to be taking a break and catching wind of another Dominican detainment.
Plus, we all know the increased self-value of a power hitting corner outfielder. Start the countdown…