A little under two years ago, 18-year old Dominican shortstop Yewri Guillen died of a preventable viral or bacterial infection. You may remember that he was a prospect in the Washington Nationals organization, and that his death made some headlines. But there's a lot more to his story.
Ian Gordon with Mother Jones magazine has written a great article investigating the circumstances surrounding Guillen's death and the system by which young Dominican players enter the major leagues. It's an excellent read, and I highly recommend it. I had a chance to ask Gordon a few follow-up questions about the matter, and my conclusions are outlined below. I'll include the main points of the problem in my discussion, but if you haven't yet done so you should definitely read his article.
Guillen died of an infection that was apparently treatable. His family in the Dominican didn't have money to provide him medical care and Gordon's article -- headlined "Inside Major League Baseball's Dominican Sweatshop System" -- reports that just nine of the 30 teams have certified trainers at their Dominican academies.
Anyway, read Gordon's piece and then Chris' follow-up. Both are worth your time.
One minor nitpick with the Mother Jones piece. They have a graphic that compares Mark McGwire's signing bonus when drafted by the A's ($145,000 in 1984) to Sammy Sosa's bonus when he first signed with the White Sox for $3,500 in 1985. The graphic was meant to point out the disparities between the U.S. system and Dominican system of acquiring talent, but you can't compare the value of polished 20-year-old college player like McGwire was at the time to a skinny 16-year-old Dominican kid.
That doesn't mean the two systems are equal or fair, although bonuses for top Dominican prospects had gone way up in recent years, with the best ones receiving upwards of $1 million -- the Rangers gave Nomar Mazara $4.25 million and the A's gave Michael Ynoa $5 million, for example. And it's not like the American system is the most fair either. When Cuban free agent Aroldis Chapman signed with the Reds, he received a six-year deal worth $30.25 million. When Stephen Strasburg was drafted by the Nationals -- remember, we're talking about comparable talents here, although many scouts said Strasburg was the best pitching prospect they'd ever seen -- he received a four-year, $15.1 million deal. Last June the Dodgers gave untested Cuban Yasiel Puig a $42 million contract. Carlos Correa, the top pick in last year's draft, received a $4.8 million signing bonus.
Anyway, all that changed with the new amateur signing rules. International budgets are now capped at about $3 million; go over and you pay a heavy tax. Draft budgets are now also capped, the amount differing based on your draft order and number of picks.
That's a bit off topic. Read the two pieces. And realize that as you watch the World Baseball Classic, not very many skinny Dominican teenagers get to that level.