A couple days ago, Aaron Fitt of Baseball America reported that the Phillies told the NCAA that two of their unsigned draft picks from 2013 had used an agent. If true, that is a violation of the NCAA's byzantine, nonsensical rules:
Several sources have confirmed to Baseball America that the Phillies, who drafted Wetzler in the fifth round last June but did not sign him, told the NCAA in November that Wetzler violated the NCAA’s "no agent" rule. That rule is widely disregarded by baseball prospects, whose advisers routinely negotiate with teams on players’ behalf, against NCAA rules—because that is the industry norm. As an American League scouting director told Baseball America in 2008, "Every single player that we deal with—I don’t care what round you’re talking about—has representation, has an agent."
And every year, some players drafted inside the top 10 rounds elect not to sign pro contracts, often drawing the ire of the clubs that drafted them. But major league teams almost never attempt to contact the NCAA in order to report potential violations. The Phillies, according to sources, did just that with two players they drafted last year: Wetzler and sixth-round pick Jason Monda, who opted to return to Washington State for his senior year. Monda was cleared to play by the NCAA last Thursday, the day before the college season began.
As suggested, this is a rather petty thing for the Phillies to have done and it's difficult to see what upside there would be to doing something like this. Sure, you'll scare some players and maybe they end up being more likely to sign if drafted by the Phillies.
On the other hand, this is the kind of stuff that pisses off college coaches - who, of course, control to a large measure both information on and access to their players. Also, any agent advising a player (high school or college) is going to be very wary of letting the Phillies "into the living room" of their players' homes. Those personal interactions between a player, his family/friends/coaches, and scouts is a pretty essential thing in evaluating signability and makeup - two rather important things to know in deciding whether to draft a player.
Basically, the Phillies have made the job harder for their scouts.
It had been more than 20 years since a team was known to have reported a draftee to the NCAA for this kind of rules violation. That team was the White Sox who, in 1992, drafted A.J. Hinch out of high school in the second round, failed to sign him as he instead opted for Stanford. They then told the NCAA he had an agent:
On at least one occasion, a team purposely turned in a player to the NCAA. After failing to sign 1992 second-round pick A.J. Hinch, White Sox vice president of scouting and minor league operations Larry Monroe told the NCAA that agent Steve Caruso negotiated directly with the team. The NCAA ultimately decided that it couldn't prove whether Caruso did with or without the knowledge of the Hinch family, a determination made more difficult when Hinch's father Dennis died of a heart attack in February 1993.
[As also noted in that link, the President of the Blue Jays gave an interview in which he said he negotiated with Scott Boras regarding unsigned draftee James Paxton in 2009. That appears to have been an inadvertent disclosure but it did result in Paxton being ineligible for his final year at Kentucky. More on that here.]
While it's obviously speculative and incorrect to draw a direct link - since other factors such as draft position were involved - it is interesting to note that the White Sox run of good drafts ended in 1992. Coverage of baseball, and the draft in particular, obviously wasn't what it was then as it is now, so there isn't any good way to evaluate whether or not Monroe's reporting hurt the White Sox in later drafts. I'd imagine many players, coaches, "agents", etc. wouldn't have even known about it.
Today, it's a different story. Everyone knows about it. At a minimum, the Phillies just look like jerks. More likely, they've harmed their standing with amateur players and those around them. It's easy to imagine that translating into something tangibly harmful to the Phillies and there's at least some bluster from an agent to that effect:
One agent: "As of today, Phillies are out. Phillies are not getting into any more of our households. We're shutting down all communications"— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) February 20, 2014
But the counterpoint:
One agent advisor, however, had a more pragmatic response:
It definitely will not help [the Phillies] for the draft, and I think the trust level has gone down to zero. I think they will see some backlash, and they may have to alter their draft board a little, but in the end money still talks…they will still draft and sign quality players. I have seen quotes today from agents stating that the ‘Phillies are not getting into any more of our households’ and I have to laugh. I thought the advisor/agent works for the client and the client determines who he does and does not talk to?
We'll see if their drafts in the coming years end up being as barren as the White Sox drafts. It would at least be poetic justice.
POSTSCRIPT (by Jim): Out of curiosity, I went to the newspapers to see whether/how the Hinch negotiations were covered at the time. The coverage is indeed scant, with only a couple references to the inability to sign Hinch, and after-the-fact acknowledgment of the NCAA reporting. However, the thoughts of three parties -- Monroe, Sox GM Ron Schueler, and Hinch -- are represented over the years.
From the Chicago Tribune on June 4, 1992:
Larry Monroe, Sox vice president of scouting and minor-league operations, on signing their No. 2 choice, Oklahoma high school catcher A.J. Hinch: "There's some risk there, because he's a valedictorian who's going to Stanford. But the kid has indicated to us that he wants to play pro ball and he wants to play now, so it's just a matter of if we can agree to terms." If they can't, under new rules the Sox would retain rights to him through college-but those rules are being challenged.
From the Chicago Sun-Times on Sept. 23, 1992:
"It looks like he's going back to school. I talked to his parents and they said within the next 48 hours they were driving to the West Coast," Schueler said. "And if you're asking if we're going to send the highway patrol after them, the answer is no."
Which is the same answer Hinch and his family gave the White Sox when the team offered the young catcher "the most money ever given by the Sox to a second-round pick," according to Schueler.
"We upped the signing bonus, but their family consultant and agent came up in his demands after Hinch had a good summer playing on a junior Olympic team in Mexico," Schueler said. "We told them A.J. was drafted for what he had done (in high school) and was being offered money for being the 62nd (overall) pick."
From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on July 7, 1996:
"We had a lot of heart-to-heart talks, and she wanted me to be able to look back at this opportunity and decision and be 100 percent secure in what I did. She wouldn't be able to live with herself if I missed something like this for her. That's the way she is, and that's the way my family is."
The White Sox questioned his family after the organization selected the catcher in the second round of the 1992 draft, but Hinch chose to sign a national letter of intent with Stanford instead of a professional contract and the $175,000 signing bonus that went with it.
The White Sox claimed that Hinch 's family authorized an agent to negotiate for the 18-year-old and called for an investigation into his collegiate eligibility, but the NCAA found no violations.
From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on July 17, 1996:
"I'm happy with what I'm doing, but in the business of baseball, I might have rubbed some people the wrong way," said Hinch, acknowledging the fact teams don't like to waste second-and third-round draft picks. "To them . . . well, I don't apologize.
"I've always looked at it from the standpoint of what's right for me. If that puts a little black cloud over me, so be it."