PHOENIX: Relief pitcher Leo Nunez of the Florida Marlins celebrates after defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Major League Baseball game at Chase Field in Phoenix Arizona. The Marlins defeated the Diamondbacks 2-0. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Leo Nunez has been playing under an assumed name, with an incorrect birth date? That seems like a really big deal! But it probably is not.
Over the offseason, the Florida Marlins are re-branding. They're getting a new stadium. A new logo. A new name. New jerseys. They're pretty much getting new everything. Players aside, the 2012 Marlins will be visually dissimilar from all versions of the Marlins present and past.
So maybe Marlins closer Leo Nunez just wanted to follow along. See, Leo Nunez is also re-branding. Recently placed on the restricted list and suspended by the team, it came out Thursday night that Nunez was returning to the Dominican Republic. Why? Because, according to reports, he's been playing under an assumed name, and has lied about his age. Leo Nunez, 28, is actually Juan Carlos Oviedo, 29.
A different name, and a different age. It's so absurd to think about, and given that Nunez therefore lied to everybody, including the US government, it seems like this should be a huge deal. A potential career-ender, right? Nunez deceived the government and his employer for his own personal benefit.
But if recent history is any indication, Nunez should emerge from this all or mostly peaches. Now, it's important to note that I don't have any special insight here. There could be something about the Nunez case that makes it different from other, similar cases we've seen in the past. But that's just the thing - there have been other, similar cases in the past, and those cases have generally been resolved.
The one that immediately comes to my mind is the case of Santiago Casilla. Or, as he was known for some time, Jairo Garcia. As Garcia, he dominated at all levels as a minor league reliever in the Oakland system. Then, in early 2006, he revealed that his name was actually Santiago Casilla, and that he was two years and ten months older than was thought. He had lied about his age to make himself more appealing to American scouts as a teenager in the Dominican.
Because Casilla had previously been in the US under another identity, a number of things had to be sorted out, and he was delayed in his arrival to spring training. After that, though, it was all smooth sailing. The government let him back in, the A's let him back in, and a year later Casilla was establishing himself as an effective reliever in the major leagues.
Casilla is one case, and the case that I remember the best, but there have been a ton of them. Fewer since 9/11, but we still see them. Obviously, we still see them. And they just aren't that significant. They're significant, in that all of a sudden a player will have a new name and/or age, but by and large, the players survive.
With Nunez, it's not even like he's going to lose any prospect sheen by aging a year overnight. Instead of being a fine 28-year-old major league reliever, he's a fine 29-year-old major league reliever. In the short term, that year doesn't mean anything. He still throws the same stuff. He's still entering his final year of arbitration.
I don't know much about the Leo Nunez situation, but if it's at all like the other situations like this we've seen in the past, then this should blow over without further incident. Nunez will get his papers straightened out, and he'll return to the country as Juan Carlos Oviedo. Whether he returns as a Miami Marlin, I can't say, but there was already talk that the Marlins might not bring him back before this whole story broke, so I don't know what effect this might have. I suspect a very small one.