Typically, when the dreaded “is that his real age” question comes up, you’re talking about a prospect who may have led MLB teams to believe he was younger than he actually was, thus upping his value in the eyes of scouts.
Now there’s a reason to say you’re older than you actually are.
A change last year to the Collective Bargaining Agreement limited the amount MLB teams could spend internationally, subject to a handful of exceptions. One of those exceptions applied to players who had played professionally elsewhere and had reached the age of 23. So, it was awfully fortuitous that recently-defected Cuban shortstop prospect Aledmys Diaz, in whom the Cubs reportedly have interest, just turned 23 on January 8. Instead of being limited to signing for whatever teams had left in their international signing pools, Diaz could now be showered with unlimited riches from MLB teams desperate to acquire freely-available internationals talent.
But was it merely fortune, or is he gaming the system?
That’s the question MLB is now asking, according to Baseball America’s Ben Badler. A variety of older articles online show an August 1, 1990 birthday for Diaz, and a roster used by the Cuban team just last year shows an August 1, 1991 birthday. The former would make Diaz 22, the latter 21. In either case, he wouldn’t yet be eligible to sign without restrictions.
Torres has a pretty good explanation for the August 1990 birthday, though, pointing out that sometimes the day and month are inverted in Latin American countries – so Diaz’s alleged January 8, 1990 birthday could be misreported as 8-1-1990, or August 1, 1990.
Still, there’s enough here for unease. If a team were to sign Diaz now to a contract that would otherwise put them over their international pool, they could be at risk for retroactively having the penalties for going over that pool applied to them if and when MLB determines that Diaz is just 21 or 22. Worse, they could be at risk for having the agreement terminated, or other sanctions imposed, depending on the team’s conduct.
Diaz’s agent Jamie Torres tells Badler that the documentation he has shows Diaz is 23, which is all he needs to see.
“I’ve seen from different rosters, different ages for players in Cuba,” Torres said, “so I don’t pay much attention to what is put on the pages from Cuba.”
Torres added that MLB is requiring Diaz, and fellow defector Dariel Alvarez, to go through the United States Office of Foreign Assets unblocking process to produce an unblocking license, which is usually reserved for foreign players who cannot provide documentation of a permanent residence in a country other than Cuba. Diaz and Alvarez claim permanent residency in Mexico, so MLB’s request is a bit unusual, and could be tied to the age issue.
Torres says the MLB Players Association is looking into the matter on behalf of the players, but until it is resolved, the duo may not be able to have their public showcase, for which we’ve been waiting for almost a month now.
Although Diaz is considered a legitimate prospect, keep your expectations and obsessiveness at appropriate levels – the early indication from scouts is that Diaz is not a prospect of the caliber of Yoenis Cespedes, Jorge Soler or Yasiel Puig. Then again, very few scouts have been able to see Diaz at length yet, so we may just have to see.