You might have already heard the news, or maybe this is the first time you're hearing about it. Apparently the Yankees are being accused of backing out of a verbal agreement to sign international prospect Christopher Torres to a $2.1 million contract. The 16-year-old's trainer would have you believe that the Yankees did something mean, made a teenager cry, and were the evil and shady organization that so many want you to see them as. However, I'm here to tell you that the Yankees did nothing wrong.
While, of course, the industry standard is to uphold any kind of unofficial verbal agreement about an international player, the Yankees can't be expected to stick to the deal when they see something they don't like. See, while teams can't officially sign players until July 2 of each international signing period, most organizations have agreements with the players they like nearly a year before they are eligible to sign. The industry standard is to come to an agreement and then remove the player from the showcase circuit so that other teams don't get a chance to scout the player and possibly steal them away. In the meantime, the player is invited to the team's complex in the Dominican Republic to work on their game and stay in shape under the watchful eyes of the organization who wants him.
Torres' trainer Orlando Mazara seems upset because he tried to game the system and the system won. He claims that instead of playing baseball at the Yankees complex, Torres sat around, did nothing, and ate. Unsurprisingly, his skills didn't look too good because of it.
"The team, they don't want him to work too much there," Mazara said. "They were spending more time doing nothing. I don't know why. The tools and the skills went down because he wasn't working hard. I don't know why. Day after day, the tools were going down. And suddenly, all they said was they don't want this guy because he's not the same tools and not the same skills. I gave them one guy with all the tools and all the skills, so it's not my fault."
Mazara said he also became concerned that Torres' conditioning had deteriorated.
"He made rapid weight gain," Mazara said. "He was up to 189 pounds. He told me he's doing nothing. He said he spends his whole days watching TV. He says I want to play, but I'm just spending all day watching TV and eating. I started to speak to (Latin American crosschecker) Victor Mata here. I said, ‘What happened? Christopher is not practicing.' He said, ‘That's OK, he doesn't need to practice, his signing is sure, just take it easy, everything is OK.'"
Mark Newman, of course, says that his claims are entirely inaccurate, stating that it would make no sense for them to allow this to happen if they were going to invest $2.1 million into the kid.
"There's a limited amount of time he can spend with us, and the time he does spend with us is spent playing games and playing baseball," Newman said. "That's counterintuitive and makes no sense."
Clearly, this is developing into a he said/he said scenario with only one party really telling his side of the story, regardless of how accurate it is. The article states that Torres only spent the weekdays with the team and stayed with a Yankees scout on weekends. There is no indication that the Yankees had control over how he spent his time off.
Even worse, it appears that Torres was actually hurt. Back in June he began to feel pain in his right shoulder to the point where he couldn't even throw the ball while in the field. Whether the injury stemmed from his poor conditioning, regardless of who is at fault, or just simply poor luck, you can't blame the Yankees for not wanting to sign a player who is hurt. Add that to the fact that Torres had gained nearly 20 pounds and his play was diminishing, it's no surprise the Yankees wanted to back out of an unofficial agreement.
But what did Mazara have to say about it?
I said it's not my fault, I gave you a top guy, you can't tell me that. If you fail, it's not my problem. I said you call me one month before the signing now? It's not possible. All the teams have spent their money. After that, they give me the guy with an injury in his shoulder. Nobody called me, nobody told me nothing."
This sounds a lot like Mazara trying to cover his own tracks. Whether he tried to keep the injury secret before the contract could be signed or was honestly surprised, that's not the response anyone is looking for. The Yankees are not out to ruin the careers of young players. Regardless of when the injury occurred, whether it happened just before the signing period or was the reason he wasn't playing that much to begin with, the response is not to sit around and get fat. There are plenty of players at the Yankees complex in Tampa who, despite not playing in organized games, are working out, strengthening themselves and keeping in shape. Not sitting around and waiting until they can sign a contract. Mazara is just upset that, because of the way the system works, no other team had time to scout him or had any money to spare. It sounds like he's angry that he couldn't get his pay check intact through payday.
It's sad to see a situation like this develop, but Torres has to understand why this happened. The Yankees liked what they saw at one point, otherwise they never would have reached an agreement for $2.1 million. What they didn't like seeing was a 16-year-old, already injured, and not staying in shape. That didn't make Torres look very good and the Yankees should have every right to walk away from a situation like that.