The Next Big MLB Scandal: Dominican Signings and Buscones

o iAnalyst IJuly 23, 2008

Following up on last week's examination of the FBI's Dominican skimming investigation, Melissa Segura has an in-depth look at the buscones responsible for connecting international prospects with Major League teams.

The article profiles Edgar Mercedes, a bookie turned buscon. Mercedes discovered pitcher Michael Inoa when he was 13-years-old and hasn't left his side since. He acted as a form of agent during Inoa's negotiations with the Oakland A's, who eventually inked him to a record $4.25 signing bonus.

A former catcher, Mercedes developed Inoa into a polished pitcher, and is reaping the rewards of a popular industry that has taken over the Dominican Republic:

"But just as Inoa represents the face of a new generation of players, so too does Mercedes, 39, mark a new breed of buscones. Once marginalized, often poor, has-been (or never-were) baseball players looking to latch on to -- and profit from -- the island's national sport by training and then marketing promising prospects to major league teams, buscones have gone mainstream."

Utilizing his American education and previous wealth, Mercedes established a baseball academy, Born to Play, to attract players who dream of a career in the Majors.

But this does not benefit solely the athlete. Rather, the financial aspect is as much a motivator for Mercedes and other buscones. In 2006, legislation was signed capping the amount of a signing bonus paid to a busconat 10 to 15 percent. However, according to Segura, that isn't always the case:
"Sources say many buscones take anywhere from 10 to 40 percent for providing a player with coaching, equipment and food. But supplying these services requires seed money -- something that most buscones do not have. So today's smaller, less-financially solvent buscones usually sell their prospects to a larger operation or player academy, adding another layer to a complex, informal and unregulated player development process. With unofficial estimates placing the number of buscones anywhere from 300 to 1,300, one agent representing Dominican prospects says, "The players are now traded like cattle."
While there are certainly concerns over Inoa's close relationship with a professional bettor, it is the corruption that could be uncovered as a result of the FBI's investigation that is more troublesome.
Mercedes' operation seems legal as far as anyone can tell, but it is common practice for players and buscones to collude to drive up the player's price. Therefore, an athlete worth only a $100,000 signing bonus could end up with five or ten times that, in turn making it more profitable for the buscon.

The MLB's shady international system becomes more intriguing with as more is revealed, and I think we can expect to see many more revelations stemming from this process in the near future.

[Get Ready For Another Scandal: FBI Investigating Dominican Signings]