Report: Nats' 'Smiley' Isn't Who He Says He Is
Esmailyn "Smiley" Gonzalez was a highly-touted prospect in the Dominican Republic and a 16-year-old switch-hitter when the Washington Nationals signed him in July 2006, handing him a $1.4 million bonus.
At the time, the Nationals said publicly that Gonzalez's signing signaled that they would compete for "the best talent in Latin America." His glove was compared to Ozzie Smith's; his bat to Miguel Tejada. He told Washington Post reporter Barry Svrluga that his life had "been the same" since the signing. "The only thing is, we're just a lot more comfortable," he said.
But Smiley may not have been 16 at all. Gonzalez may not have even been his real name. Turns out "Smiley" might be 23-year-old Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo, according to a Sports Illustrated report released today.
Nationals team president Stan Kasten is slated to address the Gonzalez report this afternoon in a media conference call.
The SI.com report notes that Basilio Vizcaino, a former minor leaguer for the Oakland Athletics, handled Gonzalez's negotiations with the Nationals (an agent handled offers from all other teams). The size of Gonzalez's bonus and Vizcaino's "close relationship" with Nationals officials "drew the attention of the FBI and Major League Baseball's department of investigations," the magazine says.
One of those close to Vizcaino is Jose Rijo, a special assistant to general manager Jim Bowden. Rijo, who is in training camp in Viera, Fla., as a pitching instructor, told MLB.com that he "didn't think there was anything suspicious" about Gonzalez.
"I saw him for 2 1/2 years [before he signed with the Nationals]," Rijo said. "At that time, he wasn't older. I don't know what to believe anymore. I don't want to say any more. I don't want to jeopardize the investigation."
Asked how disappointed he would be if Gonzalez wasn't who he said he was, Rijo said, "In the Dominican, you never know anymore. It has been going on for so long."
In an online chat this afternoon, Washington Post baseball writer Chico Harlan wrote that Smiley's signing was "a de facto declaration about (the Nationals') seriousness to scout in Latin America." He went on to say that the team's dealings in the Dominican Republic "just got messier:"
Let's just say that these guys had quietly been a little suspicious about Smiley's age all along. In Smiley's first year of minor league ball, he was supposedly 17. Really, in retrospect, he was 21. Body-wise alone, that is a big difference.
The FBI is already investigating Major League Baseball's scouting methods in Latin America, probing allegations of money-skimming practices. "So far, Washington is one of the teams to surface in the probe, with Gonzalez's signing drawing particular suspicion," The Post reports.
By Derek Kravitz |
February 18, 2009; 5:21 PM ET
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