The tawdry & tangled history of the White Sox Latin American Operations: Part two

Gregory Infante - Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

The second installment of a trilogy on the recent and current history of the White Sox' international efforts

Continued from part one.

The Player-Victims

With a bit of detective work, it's simple enough to identify with a high degree of certainty many of the players identified in the indictment as Players A through K. Since I'm about to start naming players, it should be kept in mind that these players were not all completely garbage players. Wilder et al did not simply sign a bunch of Jose Schmoes off the streets of Santo Domingo. Almost all appear to be at least competent enough to play in the very low minors, with some of them eventually reaching the upper minors.

Also keep in mind that while the indictment specifically named 11 players, it alleged 23 players were the subject of kickbacks. And it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that there were even more players.

Player K

Perhaps easiest is Player K, a Dominican who signed with the White Sox for $525,000. Only Rafi Reyes fits that profile and he is the only player to have been publicly identified. The New York Times reported Reyes received as little as $75,000 of that amount, with the remainder going to his buscon and White Sox scouts.

Reyes spent three years in the White Sox organization, batting .182/.244/.261 for the White Sox Dominican affiliates. He also attempted to be a pitcher, which also ended as a failed experiment.

Players A, B and C

As well-read White Sox fans now know because of the emergence of Andre Rienzo, the White Sox were scouting in Brazil during Wilder's tenure. The indictment alleges three payments to an individual in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The first payment was a $213,500 check sent to Brazil on Dec. 16, 2005, payable to Player A. Two weeks prior, the White Sox signed Anderson Gomes.

Gomes originally signed with Japan's Fukuoka Daiei Hawks as a 16-year-old right-handed pitcher. After three seasons in their minor-league system, he blew out his elbow, and the cold-but-efficient Japanese club released him. He returned to Brazil and became an outfielder. Wilder compared Gomes to Alfonso Soriano, whom the Yankees signed out of Japan. In three seasons in the White Sox organization, he never made it above High-A and batted .254/.327/.392. Player A?

The following year, on Dec. 20, 2006, two more checks were sent to Sao Paulo. One was payable to Player B in the amount of $125,000, the other payable to Player C in the amount of $200,000. On Nov. 17, 2006, the White Sox signed a pair of Brazilian right-handed pitchers, Murillo Gouvea and Rienzo.

Rienzo has been discussed at length on this site many times. Gouvea spent three seasons in the White Sox organization, rising to Low-A for a single start in 2009 as a 20-year-old, before being traded to the Astros for the much-traveled Future Considerations. He's still playing, having spent 2012 in the Astros organization, still in Low-A, with a so-so career line that includes a 4.77 ERA, 145 walks and 379 strikeouts over 330⅓ innings (mostly in relief). Players B and C?

Player D

A less-reported aspect of the Wilder scandal was the White Sox's purchases of players from Mexican League clubs. This was where Jorge Oquendo Rivera came into the picture, apparently planting the idea of the entire scheme with Wilder. Oquendo's name only became publicly connected in this scandal when the indictments were announced, as the White Sox had terminated his employment in July 2007 for reasons unrelated to bonus-skimming.

Oquendo scouted Mexican teams and engaged them in discussions regarding the kickbacks he could obtain for purchasing their players. Only "Team A" and only one transaction is identified in the indictment. On Dec. 21, 2005, a check payable to the President of Team A in the amount of $285,000 was sent to an individual in Yucatan, Mexico for the rights to Player D.

It is much more difficult to identify which specific player this was for (given Oquendo's account of how the whole scheme began, I'd posit that it is probably for more than one player). However, there were a number of Mexican players who played in the White Sox organization around this time, the majority of whom played for Leones de Yucatan before and/or after their time with the White Sox. This seems to be more than a coincidence, given that there are 16 teams in the Mexican League. Such players include Abraham Robles, Martin Cortez, Leonardo Acosta, Baltazar Valdez, and Santiago Gutierrez - none of whom played above Rookie level.

Players E to H

Venezuela also was involved, with a UPS envelope being sent to Maracay, Venezuela, containing four checks: $30,000 to Player E, $170,000 for Player F, $100,000 for Player G and $90,000 for Player H. This is a far more speculative guess than the others, but the checks were sent on Dec. 13, 2007, and three Venezeulan players signed around the time were Jerry Puentes, Daniel Yepez and Leopoldo Sanchez. None of these players ever played above Rookie ball. All are no longer with the White Sox.

Players I and J

While his $600,000 bonus was not mentioned in the indictment, numerous reports have said that Silverio's signing on Aug. 20, 2007 was one in which MLB found problems. The White Sox have publicly conceded that there was a problem with Silverio's age (as I mentioned in part one, not an uncommon occurrence with Dominican players); whether there may have been other problems tying him to bonus-skimming is not known for certain - though having Wilder and Mateo listed as your signing scouts suggests so.

Silverio, after a halting start to his pro career, has climbed the White Sox' organizational ladder, reaching High-A in 2012. Baseball America ranked him as the No. 31 prospect in the organization in their 2013 rankings; in their 2008 rankings, without having played pro ball, the outlet ranked him No. 7 and said he possessed the best infield arm. Phil Rogers and BA were taken along for the ride with the White Sox.

The indictment says two checks were sent to the MLB office in Santo Domingo (to which all bonus checks for Dominican players must be sent). One on Nov. 14, 2007, for Player I in the amount of $100,000, the other on November 27, 2007, for Player K in the amount of $70,000. Other than Silverio, the White Sox signed two other players, both shortstops, during the 2007 signing period that ended on August 20: Daurys Mercedes and Anderson Adame.

Mercedes spent four seasons in the White Sox organization, rising to Advanced Rookie Great Falls in 2012, batting .239/.341/.333. He was released in October 2012. Anderson Adame never played. Players I and J?

Wasted opportunities

The above players that I listed as possibly being "Player X" are not particularly inspiring. Rienzo may be a player whose bonus was skimmed and he looks like he may be on the cusp of making the big leagues. Silverio is still in the White Sox organization - and won't turn 22 (officially) until April - but it looks like he doesn't have the ability to play in the upper levels. The rest are a bunch of nobodies. From that perspective, the Latin American signings from the Wilder Era look like a total failure.

But, of course, there were more players than that signed and were signed by scouts (like Amador Arias) who were not involved in skimming. Arias, for example, signed Eduardo Escobar (and, post-Wilder, Carlos Sanchez). Fautino De Los Santos, a then-highly rated prospect, was used in the Swisher trade. That's about it, however.

Looking at Baseball America's top 31 prospects over the past few years shows how destructive this period was for the White Sox. Of the few players on those lists that signed as international amateur free agents, almost all were acquired -- not signed -- by the White Sox. Other than the players mentioned immediately above, as well as Rienzo and Silverio, the Venezuelan quartet of Clevelan Santeliz, Gregory Infante, Jose Martinez and Miguel Gonzalez comprises the totality of White Sox-signed players from that era who appeared on the lists once Wilder's actions were revealed.

Punishment

Mateo insisted that Wilder, as the ringleader, far and away gained the most. On the Reyes deal, Mateo got a kickback of $50,000 and gave $45,000 of it to Wilder. In his plea deal, Mateo said when Oquendo hired him in 2006, he had to agree to provide Oquendo with every third paycheck he received from the White Sox and, eventually, $1,000 monthly in expense reimbursements from the baseball team.

Wilder spent the money he stole on, among other things, bad investments in real estate and businesses in Arizona, including a gay nightclub that managed to lose $570,000.

All three separately agreed to plea deals and are awaiting sentencing.

Post-Wilder

After the scandal, the White Sox obviously were hampered by a return to stinginess. That was partly reflective of their general philosophy on international amateurs, but more so due to the delegitimization of their Latin American operations from the scandal, and the loss of infrastructure from having to clean house. Basically, after starting over when they brought Wilder in, the White Sox had to start all over again.

The club called on former White Sox scout and former Chicago Bulls GM Jerry Krause to bring their operations back from the dead, naming him Director of International Scouting in May 2010. Unfortunately, he didn't stick around very long. He took a job with the Diamondbacks just prior to the start of the 2011 season. Given such a short stint, one wouldn't expect much to have come from it. Sure enough, the White Sox spent just $345,000 during 2010 ($125,000 of that going to Jefferson Olacio), barely out-pacing the Dodgers for last in baseball.

So the White Sox yet again had to find a leader for their Latin America operations. That will be the subject of this afternoon's post. Which I promise is much shorter.

For an overview of this series, visit the storystream.

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