Nats Defrauded by Prospect?

Player isn't who he says he is

By Chris Needham
|  Wednesday, Feb 18, 2009  |  Updated 11:01 AM EDT
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Nats Defrauded by Prospect?

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"Why, yes, Omar, I am interested in that bridge you're selling. It's in Brooklyn, you say?"

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In 2006, the Nationals made a big deal about signing Smiley Gonzalez, a beaming young kid from the Dominican. 

He received the largest signing bonus in team history ($1.4 million). They paraded him for the press to trumpet their commitment to overseas scouting, particularly in Latin America.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to Smiley's stardom.

Like a bad Telemundo sitcom, SI is reporting that Smiley isn't exactly who he said he was.

There's nobody actually named Esmailyn Gonzalez.  It's a made-up name.   His real name is the much less colorful Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo, according to SI.com.

And his age?  He's not 19.  He's actually 23, according to SI.com's sources.

Dios Mio!

So what's this mean?  Well, he's not a prospect anymore.

The money the team spent on him has gone down the rabbit hole -- though hopefully they'll be able to recover it so that Uncle Teddy can wallpaper one of his other houses in gold leaf.

More troubling, though, is what it means for the Nats' international operation.

The team was already under investigation by the FBI for suspicion of bonus skimming.  Jim Bowden and his assistant, Jose Rijo, were questioned extensively, with the bonus (double what other teams had offered) for Smiley raising many flags.

The SI report mentions that Rijo and the team did not negotiate with Smiley's, err, Lugo's, agent as other teams did, but with his buscone -- a sort of informal birddog scout.

This buscone is reported to have a strong personal relationship with Rijo.  If the buscone knew of the fraud, then it's entirely possible that Rijo -- the Nats' and Bowden's pointman in the Dominican -- knew as well.

Gulp.

Maybe next time, when they decide to give a prospect a big signing bonus, if he's complaining about his wonky hip or requesting a PSA test during the exam, they'll think twice.

Chris Needham used to write Capitol Punishment, and he's as old (sadly) as all his forms indicate.

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