CLEVELAND, OH: Fausto Carmona of the Cleveland Indians reacts after giving up a base hit against the Texas Rangers at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio. The Rangers defeated the Indians 4-0. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
The players formerly known as Fausto Carmona and Leo Nuñez are currently stuck in the Dominican Republic, trying to resolve visa issues after being exposed for lying about their names and ages. Will there be others this winter?
As you've no doubt heard, Fausto Carmona is actually Roberto Hernandez Heredia and Leo Nuñez is actually Juan Carlos Oviedo. Which would be sort of a cute story -- after all, Phil Rizzuto and Tony Oliva made up stuff to get signed, too -- except both pitchers are now stuck in the Dominican Republic, with nobody sure if they'll resolve their visa issues in time for spring training next month. And according to Tyler Kepner in The New York Times, this might be just the beginning:
Few in baseball were surprised that two well-established players had misrepresented themselves. The fear is that the problem could be much more widespread. One agent said more than a dozen players could soon lose their contracts because of age and identity issues.
"These are like time bombs," Mark Newman, the Yankees’ senior vice president for baseball operations, said by telephone from the Dominican Republic while scouting there last week. "But people are absolutely getting the message. Major League Baseball, the consulate and the major league clubs are all committed to this, and it will get better."
Six or seven years ago, I spoke to a baseball executive about this issue and he told me the U.S. was really cracking down on visa applications because of 9/11 ... So I hope you'll pardon me if I'm not yet completely convinced that everyone's completely committed to addressing the problem (I'm assuming it's really a problem).
It's not clear from the above, but I'm guessing that the "more than a dozen players" who "could soon lose their contracts because of age and identity issues" won't actually be a dozen. I mean, it would be a lovely thing for, say, the Giants if they could void Barry Zito's contract.
But has any star player's contract been voided on this ground? I sure can't think of one. The Marlins don't seem to have any interest in voiding Juan Carlos Oviedo's contract, even though he's 29 rather than 28; in fact they seem perfectly happy to pay him $6 million this year, if he can ever get a new visa. The Indians seem to have little interest in voiding Roberto Hernandez Heredia's contract, even though he's 31 rather than 28.
Why not? Because by the time a player hits his late 20s or early 30s, his age is largely irrelevant. At least when it's just one year's salary in question, which is the case with both Oviedo/Nuñez and Heredia/Carmona. Tacking a year on to Oviedo doesn't change his 2012 projection one bit. Tacking three years on Heredia does slightly lessen our expectation that he'll bounce back from a pretty awful season, but very slightly; the most important component in his projection is his recent performance, with his age finishing a distant second.
Carmona's slated to earn $7 million this year. Even pitching as poorly as he did last year, he was still better than some random body from the minors, and thus was actually worth roughly ... $7 million. The year before that, he was worth around $11 million. There's probably something like a 50/50 chance he'll actually perform well enough in 2012 to justify his salary.
Which doesn't necessarily mean the Indians aren't willing to void Carmona's contract, if given the chance. If they're not trying to reach the playoffs in 2012, Carmona's probably not worth $7 million to them ... unless they can trade him for prospects, and considering the market for starting pitchers this winter, it's not likely that Carmona would bring back much in a trade.
All of which is to simply suggest that most established players don't become less valuable when you discover they're one or two or even three years older than you thought.*
* And I should mention this, in passing: It's likely that teams often suspect their players are lying about their ages long before the actual news breaks. Generally, a club has good reasons to keep the facts hidden for as long as possible. For one thing, it's embarrassing. For another, legal problems ensue and the player's availability might be threatened, as we're seeing right now with both Oviedo and Heredia. Best to let sleeping puppies nap for as long as possible.