Two teenage baseball players are suing the Los Angeles Angels in court in the Dominican Republic, alleging that the organization reneged on verbal agreements to sign them, a practice that increasingly grew amid a scene with limited regulation by Major League Baseball.
At the August 31 hearing, attorneys continued to discuss the cases of Willie Vanias and Kiderson Pavon, who claimed in court filings that they had agreed deals with Angels – Vanias for $1.8 million when he was 14 and Pavon for $425,000. He’s 15 years old – but they haven’t been honored after the organization’s front office change.
Players outside of the US, Canada and Puerto Rico are not officially allowed to sign until they turn 16, but those from hotspots like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela regularly reach handshake deals with teams when they are 12.
Sources familiar with the oral agreements confirmed their existence to ESPN, who watched a video of the moment Angels staff told Pavon that they intended to sign him. Instead, less than a month before the January 15, 2021 signing date, Angels staff told Fañas and Pavon that they would not be offering them formal contracts.
The Angels and MLB declined to comment through the speakers.
Despite the increasing prevalence of failed deals—players have also reneged on agreements with teams to reap greater salaries elsewhere—the Fañas and Pavon cases are the first known to have multiple hearings in the Dominican justice system, where the law gives more weight to oral contracts and their enforceability than United States, according to lawyers practicing there.
The potential consequences of the civil lawsuits, which were filed in May 2021 and have not previously been reported, are enormous beyond the millions of dollars in damages sought by Fañas and Pavon. Hundreds of early deals are agreed upon by teams and players each year, but the practice would be less prevalent if a judge deemed it legally binding, four senior team executives told ESPN.
“If these players don’t bring this lawsuit to the judge, it will be repeated,” said Jose Jerez, the attorney representing Fañas and Pavon. “It’s a matter of conscience. It matters. People need to know that this kind of agreement exists. If that doesn’t have consequences, it will continue to happen in the future. If MLB doesn’t force teams to honor their agreements, this ruling won’t necessarily stop practice, but it will set a precedent. This is what we’re after: a precedent.
“We understand that the law is on our side. Our clients have not committed any violations of their obligations, and they have fulfilled all their obligations. Anaheim, unilaterally changed their position without our consent. … This change in position without justification, we believe that this is the most important thing here that we will discuss in court “.
In this off-season, MLB pushed for an international draft during collective bargaining talks, and after two decades of being deemed unsuccessful, the MLB Players Association has been open to the idea. While the two sides did not reach an agreement after negotiations in July, discussions confirmed a flaw in a system that produces about 30% of the major league players and more than half of the minor leagues.
“There is no accountability across the board to anyone, in fact, any of the stakeholders in the field. MLB doesn’t enforce anything. They don’t hold their teams accountable. Teams don’t hold scouts accountable. Everyone throws their hands up – it’s the Wild West – when it’s appropriate.” “.
Early deals are just one of the myriad issues in Latin America. In theory, the draft could have eliminated most early deals and might dissuade coaches from giving teens performance-enhancing drugs, as some are doing to persuade teams to offer multimillion-dollar bonuses, sources said. The Federation was alarmed by the idea of the slotted system, seeing it not so much as a valid effort as a means of controlling costs.
Without a draft agreement, the situation remains the same, despite the admissions of the Federation and the Federation of the international system in which team employees receive bribes, coaches undermine the rewards of elite players by pooling them with less talent and loan sharks prey to poor families by lending them money at usurious rates Sometimes years before bonus payments are received from teams, according to people familiar with the international market.
The early deal problem was exacerbated during the previous collective bargaining agreement, when MLB and the union implemented a strict system in which each team knew years in advance precisely how much money it could spend internationally in any given signing period. Armed with more than $175 million annually in international amateur rewards and realizing that the most elite talent often reveals themselves even before their teenage years, they enter into verbal agreements with progressively younger players.
To the extent that the practice has become accepted, its fragile nature depends on the willingness of both parties to honor the agreement. Angels, Vanyas and Pavon say, they didn’t.
The issue hinges on whether the judge accepts that oral agreements of this kind are legally binding. At last week’s hearing, a judge postponed the appearance of witnesses until November 30, making the case likely to extend into next year.
“When you make a promise, and I accept your promise, we have an oral contract,” said Cesar Linares, a veteran attorney in the Dominican Republic who has taught college-level law courses. “But the most important part of an oral contract is the proof. If I have the evidence, I have a perfect contract and can go to court and tell the judge. In a large proportion of cases, the judge will agree to the contract.”
The cost of angels can be significant. Fañas, who ended up signing with the New York Mets in January 2022 for $1.5 million, is seeking $17 million in damages. Pavon, who agreed with the Texas Rangers last year for $150,000, is asking for $4.25 million.
Both players, in interviews with ESPN, have told stories with a lot of similarities.
Fañas, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound defender, agreed to settle with the Angels after former general manager Billy Ebler and Eric Chavez, the Angels’ special assistant at the time, saw him in person in January 2019, just before his 15th birthday. He expected to sign officially with the team on July 2, 2020, but MLB and MLBPA agreed to postpone the international signing date for that category to January 15, 2021, due to the Corona virus pandemic. Before COVID-19 closed facilities across the country, Fañas spent time training at the Angels Academy in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, which was permitted under MLB rules.
“I felt really good with them,” said Vanias. “I don’t know how they could have done that.”
Pavon, 5-7 player, nicknamed “Poljeta” (Flea in Spanish) and “Altovito” (Little Altuv, after the diminutive of the Houston Astros second baseman). Jose Altove), grew up in Venezuela and moved to the Dominican Republic at the age of 13 to live with a coach and pursue a baseball career.
In the video, which Pavon said was recorded by an Angels employee, the team’s former international scouting manager, Carlos Gomez, told Pavon that the team intended to sign him. Gomez and Pavon both started crying.
“It brings me so much joy,” Pavon said. “I was just thinking about my family.”
Fañas and Pavon have continued to operate during the pandemic, and while some teams are more inclined to break early deals because players have either stabilized or are out of shape, neither Fañas nor Pavon fall into either category, according to sources who have seen them train afterwards. Deals with the angels collapsed.
Both agreed to deals with the Angels under Ebler, who was sacked by the Angels in September 2020, to be replaced by Berry Minassian. In December of that year, Minasian appointed Brian Parker, a longtime scout and director of player development, to run the organization’s international division. Three general managers have acknowledged that taking on a new front office can lead to different ratings of players and the potential for agreements to be broken.
“Just [the Angels] I know why. “They never introduced one,” said Jose Alfredo “Filo” Sanchez, the veteran coach in the Dominican Republic who brought Fañas to his academy when he was 12. They just called to tell us they wouldn’t honor the agreement. They didn’t come to see him, and they did nothing. They just said they would not honor the agreement and that was the case. There is no explanation, nothing.”
Vanias’ case illustrates the danger of early trades not being executed. With teams doing deals up front so far, the amount of unaccounted for in other teams’ bonus pools for the signing period in January 2021 has been minimal. Rather than sign for a lower bonus amount, Fañas waited until this year to sign and didn’t make his debut in the Mets’ Dominican Summer League branch until he turned 18.
His talent made him lucky enough to get back most of his expected reward. Many players who do not sign at the age of 16 are often overlooked by the teams, as they are seen as too old, even at 17 years old. Much more money than they borrowed in case the deals were broken.
Although the official signing age is 16, MLB has not sought to restrict early deals, opting instead to pursue a draft that the league believes will stop it. The surge in teams that fell out of early deals prompted Ulysses Cabrera, who represented Fañas and Pavon through the Dominican Anticipation League he helped create, to explore potential legal remedies.
“If everyone does the right thing, none of that is a problem,” Cabrera said. “If the players stick to the end of the bargain and do what they’re supposed to do, there’s no problem. If teams do what they’re supposed to do, there’s no problem. The problem becomes when in the mix, whether it’s a player using steroids or using fake documents and doing something wrong – That’s a problem.Whether it’s a coach injecting a player and doing things to mislead the perception of how good a player is, or if it’s a team doing some tricks to undo deals or do side deals.When someone does something they shouldn’t do, we have a problem.
“…there is no accountability across the board to anyone, in fact, any of the stakeholders in the field. MLB isn’t enforcing anything. They don’t hold their teams accountable. Their scouting teams don’t hold them accountable. Everyone raises their hands – it’s the Wild West – When it’s appropriate. I think our hope with this is that there must be some kind of consequence for people who do the wrong thing.”