You might remember that, last winter, the Mariners made headlines by signing Dominican shortstop Esteilon Peguero for $2.9 million and that the bonus was later reduced to $1.1 million for reasons the team declined to disclose.
Well, some more information is coming out about that signing and it surrounds controversial Dominican buscon — street agent — Enrique Soto, who groomed Peguero at his training complex in the Dominican city of Bani. Back in the days following the Peguero signing, I wrote a little blurb detailing Soto’s reputation as a ruthless, big-time player in a vastly unregulated industry. See the bottom of the blog post I linked to for more on Soto.
Today, Baseball America linked to a disturbing story about three former teenage baseball prospects who came forward back in January accusing Soto of sexually abusing them while they trained under him. Soto was arrested back in January, jailed and released on bond in June.
Also in June, one of the three former players making the allegations against Soto wound up stabbed to death in Bani. His last name is also Peguero, but the report gives no indication as to whether he is related to the prospect the Mariners signed.
But the Mariners prospect (who wasn’t one of those alleging abuse) is still smack dab in the middle of all this.
That’s because the street agent who was arrested in the abuse case — Soto — claims the father of the Mariners prospect prodded two of the former players into making the allegations against him in the first place.
According to the story, the Mariners prospect has yet to receive the bonus money that Seattle was to have paid out.
It is not uncommon, if you’ve read my previous reports on Dominican baseball, for buscones to keep all or part of a prospect’s money. Though MLB has tried to institute new rules to regulate such payouts, it isn’t always successful in getting the rules to be followed in a Carribean country where law and order often comes with a pricetag attached.
So now, Soto, the target of the abuse allegations, claims the father of the Mariners prospect, who is separated from the boy’s mother, is trying to blackmail him to get his son’s money. Soto has said that is why the father pushed two of the abuse accusers into making complaints against him.
Soto has denied all allegations against him.
No, life in the Dominican Republic is not easy when it comes to the business of baseball.
It is a ruthless, cutthroat industry that MLB is very much aware of, but participates in because players can be acquired more cheaply than their U.S. counterparts participating in the draft. For every seven-figure player that goes to the highest bidder, there are dozens more signed to deals as low as four figures.
The best players get the best money because it’s the Wild West and the highest bidder takes the biggest prize. Maybe gets another David Ortiz or Pedro Martinez.
The Mariners tried to land a real big prize in Peguero. But supposedly, he’s yet to get his money from the buscon the Mariners dealt with. And now, his father is caught up in what’s brewing into a major scandal involving sexual abuse, murder and the buscon who might just be the biggest of them all in a system in dire need of real policing and regulation.
As an aside, six years ago, I went to Soto’s home in Bani (he wasn’t there but we spoke by phone) to interview his then-16-year-old son, Lee, a recent Toronto Blue Jays signee now in the Rangers’ system. Another son of Soto’s, a second baseman named George, actually plays for the Mariners’ rookie-level team in the Dominican Summer League. Won’t it be interesting if he and Peguero end up playing together at some point?