By Jeff Passan and Tim Brown, Yahoo! Sports
Major League Baseball upheld Dominican teenager Jairo Beras' $4.5 million contract with the Texas Rangers but suspend him for a year after the league determined he had lied about his age, sources told Yahoo! Sports.
The investigation into his age and identity stretched more than four months after the Rangers stunned the baseball world in February by announcing a contract with Beras, whom the team said was 17 years old. At its showcase in the Dominican Republic earlier in the month, MLB had presented Beras as a 16-year-old, ineligible to sign until July 2. The roster of players included the following warning: "Birth dates have not been confirmed by MLB."
Beras had furnished a birth certificate to MLB indicating he was 16, sources said, while his post-signing paperwork declared otherwise. Following an investigation that involved multiple DNA tests, the league ultimately agreed that Beras was not 16, according to sources, which bolstered the Rangers' argument not to void the deal. In spite of assistance from other outside agents, including the former attorney general of Puerto Rico, MLB could not determine Beras' age with any certainty. Therefore, the league disciplined Beras for initially claiming he was 16.
The standard suspension for any lies about age or identity is one year. Beras is allowed to attend the Rangers' academy during the suspension, but cannot play in the Dominican summer league – or any other league – until next July.
Before the Rangers signed Beras, scouts considered him the best prospect of the Latin American class that started signing 10 days ago, a 6-foot-5, 175-pound outfielder whose massive potential placed him well above the others. The league rendered its decision publicly Thursday afternoon, likely sparking palpable outrage among other teams.
The Beras case is the latest in MLB's struggles to clean up a system beset by age-and-identity fraud. While players in the D.R. often lie about their ages to present themselves as younger – teams value 16-year-olds because they have more time to develop and reward them with significantly higher signing bonuses accordingly – Beras' tack was new: He ultimately wanted to be older. The strategy made sense: MLB's new collective-bargaining agreement caps a team's international signing-bonus pool this year at $2.9 million. The largest contract handed out in the week since July 2 was the New York Mets giving $1.75 million to shortstop Amed Rosario, less than 40 percent of what Beras will receive from Texas.
Both his age and identity were questioned during the investigation, sources said. According to one source, Beras and his mother took two DNA tests to prove their relation. Both came back saying they were mother and son.
Questions about age and identity still surround nearly half of the top prospects in any given season – and MLB has grown weary of getting burned by such cases. On Friday, a new documentary, "Ballplayer: Pelotero," debuts and tells the story of Miguel Sano, one of the best Dominican prospects in a generation, and subject of a long investigation to find the truth about his age.
MLB says it has taken significant steps to stem corruption in the Dominican Republic after rampant age-and-identity fraud permeated the sport for decades. Within the past year, veteran major leaguers Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez) and Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona) were caught using false identities and birth certificates.
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