A pair of minor league players have sued the Angels for allegedly violating verbal agreements made in 2019. ESPN’s Jeff Bassan reports. Defender Willy Vaniasnow with the Mets, and the player Kiderson Pavonnow with the Rangers, have claimed that the Angels verbally agreed to the related signing bonuses of $1.8 million and $425,000 in 2019. The Prospect Dominican League shared a video of former Angels manager of international scouting Carlos Gomez (not the former player) informing Pavon of the team’s plans to sign with him, at which point 15-year-old Bavon collapses in tears of joy (Youtube link).
Vanias and Pavon claim that those agreements, which came more than a year before players were eligible to sign under Major League Baseball rules — international amateurs can sign starting on their 16th birthdays — were withdrawn in 2020, less than one month before the birthday. The international signature period is set to begin. Vanias was 14 years old at the time of his consent; Buffon was fifteen years old. As Bassan notes, the Covid-19 pandemic pushed the signing due date of July 2, 2020 to January 2021, by which point Halos had fired then-general manager Billy Ebler and replaced him with current GM Perry. Minassian. With this change came adjustments in the International Scouting Division. Minassian hired Brian Parker to oversee the team’s international operations.
Both players have since signed with new clubs, although Fañas waited until the next signing period to put pen to paper on a new team contract. Since such early deals are so common across the industry, none of the players have been able to find a team capable of immediately committing to a large bonus; Like the Angels, other teams had already allocated the majority of the resources in their signature kits to other buffs long before these teens reached actual signing eligibility. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Fañas eventually signed a $1.5 million bonus with the Mets, with Eppler now the GM. Buffon signed for $150,000 with the Rangers.
While both players eventually found organizations they could sign with, albeit at reduced rates, they still sought compensation from the angels. Fañas is seeking $17 million, while Pavon is seeking $4.25 million.
These numbers represent nearly ten times what the angels initially promised, although representatives of the Fañas and Pavon can cite multiple factors in the search for such large sums. It is common for players, upon reaching a verbal agreement with a team, to take out loans at exorbitant interest rates, with the intent that the ultimate signing bonus will allow these players to repay that loan. Clearly, the team’s pull to view creates complications in such cases. Speculatively speaking, it’s also plausible that the Fañas and Pavon camps could claim that players’ late tracks for potential arbitration and free agent holidays were delayed due to the Angels’ alleged actions. There is no guarantee that they will reach these milestones, of course, and determining the exact amount a delay costs for any player is impossible.
The success of the lawsuit has long-term ramifications for the broader international market. Since the federation and the players’ association were unable to reach terms on an agreement on an international draft, it is likely that the status quo system allowing this level of largely unregulated prior agreements will remain in place until 2026, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires. If Fañas and Pavon can prove that there are ramifications for teams seeking early verbal agreements that go against the rules set by the MLB, it stands to reason that they might be more reluctant to barter such deals.
It should be noted that the sword cuts both directions. It is also not uncommon for a player, coach and representative to back out of an agreement with a team if they raise their profile significantly between the time that agreement is reached and the time they are actually eligible to sign. The rampant disregard for the rules prompted agent Ulysses Cabrera, who helped found the Dominican Anticipation League and works with dozens of Latin American players, to refer to the entire system as the “Wild West” when speaking to ESPN.
Although the lawsuit was initially filed in May, any decision on litigation will wait until months down the road. Bassan adds that a Dominican judge recently moved to postpone the appearance of witnesses until late November. And while many American fans may wonder if there is any real chance that a court of law would agree to support an oral agreement as a binding contract, Bassan cites several Dominican lawyers and legal professionals who assert that the Dominican justice system places more emphasis on oral statements. What does the US court system do? The report contains lengthy quotes from Cabrera, from lawyers representing Fañas and Pavon, from outside Dominican legal professionals and from the plaintiffs themselves, so those interested will want to check it all out to understand the full scope of the controversy.