As reported by Baseball America, Major League Baseball is currently investigating the Boston Red Sox over their 2015 International Signings. The investigation is focusing on whether the team signed multiple players in package deals in order to circumvent MLB’s international bonus pool rules.
During the process, MLB officials questioned players as young as 16 individually, according to multiple sources, and threatened to suspend them if they were not truthful. The commissioner’s office acknowledged the questioning but said no players were threatened with suspension.
The Red Sox were extremely aggressive in Venezuela last year, with the majority of their top signings coming from that country. Several of those players came from the same trainers, a common practice referred to as a package deal that involves signing multiple players from the same program.
During the 2015-2016 signing period, the Red Sox were not allowed to sign any international player for more than 300,000, as they exceeded their bonus pool the previous year. The Red Sox still managed to sign two of the top 30 international prospects however, which raised some alarm bells. Albert Guaimaro, ranked 15, and Simon Muzziotta, ranked 24 were both signed for 300,000 exactly.
Aside from the particulars of how the questioning was handled, why MLB is investigating the Red Sox at all—as well as the timing of the investigation—is certainly curious. Package deals are not explicitly against MLB rules, and many teams sign multiple players from the same trainer, either at the same time or over a multi-year period. These deals took place before the bonus pools ever existed and have continued since the bonus pool era began in 2012. No team has ever been penalized for doing any type of package deal, according to the commissioner’s office.
Furthermore, MLB officials knew last year that the Red Sox were signing several players from the same trainers, and the commissioner’s office approved those contracts. According to one source, the Red Sox are the only team under investigation for doing package deals.
Baseball America has previously reported on how teams get around the bonus pools by using package deals to sign Cuban players by overpaying a player exempt from bonus pools, in order to get a reduced price on a player who is subject to the bonus pools.
The players, most of whom are still 16 or 17 years old, did not have their parents or any representation with them. According to multiple sources, MLB officials told the players that if they lied, the commissioner’s office would suspend them. They asked the players to give them their banking information and said they would investigate their bank accounts, according to those sources. Some of the players broke down in tears.
“They put a lot of pressure on them, like they were criminals,” said one source. “They’re trying to put pressure on the kids to talk to them.”
Major League Baseball representatives have denied any threats of suspensions to the players they have spoken to but did mention that players have an obligation to be truthful and cooperate with any investigation.