By now, the Fausto Carmona and player-to-be-named-later jokes have been told and the pitcher's mug shot has circulated around the web yet questions still remain. Carmona, the Cleveland Indians pitcher who was released from custody on Friday in his native Dominican Republic, had been arrested on Thursday for using a false identity. Police say Carmona's real name is Roberto Hernandez Heredia and that he is 31, three years older than his age listed by major league baseball. Was it right, if the allegations prove true, for Carmona to mislead the team into signing him in 2000 when they thought was 17? Of course not. Ethical? No way. But economically rational? Absolutely.
News of yet another Latin American player using false paperwork -- Marlins reliever Leo Nuñez was arrested last month for using a false identity -- broke just one day after Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association announced that its joint international baseball committee would seek additional expert input from foreign baseball experts. One of the tasks the committee faces is the ever-growing list of players using fake identities in order to shave years off their ages, often at the expense and embarrassment of MLB clubs. But it doesn't take a committee meeting to understand why a rash of Latin American players fudge their paperwork to appear younger -- only a look at some basic signing data to find the most obvious answer of all: money.
Using the data of 5,404 Latin American prospects signed as amateur free-agents from Jan. 1, 2003 through Jan. 12, 2010, SI found teams paid a median of $65,000 to 16-year-olds compared to $20,000 to 18-year-olds. Juxtaposing that speed of depreciation with the soul crushing poverty of places like Carmona's native Dominican Republic, which has a per capita income of $8,900, suddenly the matter of fudging one's age isn't a question of virtue, but in many cases, survival and sanity. Here is a brief look at the difference a year makes (percent change is in the median bonus from one year to the next):
Teams pay premiums for 16-year-olds for two primary reasons: One, because teams often want to be the first to sign a promising player and, thus, avoid bidding wars with other teams; and two, clubs prefer to develop their players' skills under the watchful eyes of their own club personnel rather than under those of unqualified and unaffiliated coaches or trainers.
But are 18-year-old Latin American players really worth 70 percent less than their 16-year-old counterparts? Here's another data analysis that calls into question the industry practice of placing a premium on youth. Let's assume the most basic marker of a successful signing is making it to the majors. We'll make it simple and look at the 79 players who have made their major league debuts from 2008-2011 from Carmona's Dominican Republic. Of those 79, only six were signed as 16-year-olds. The debuts suggest older players were more likely to advance to the majors. Here's the age breakdown:
What's more, SI tracked down the bonus data for 60 of the 79 players. Fernando Martinez, signed by the Mets in 2005 for $1.3 million, was the only one to receive a seven-figure bonus. Only nine others signed for six figures and one -- the Rockies' Juan Nicasio -- received nada to sign, according to the data obtained by SI. The median signing bonus among them tallied a paltry $35,000.
To be sure, Carmona and others who did the same thing have unjustly and egregiously fooled their teams. But by examining how quickly players like him depreciate compared with players who make it to the majors, perhaps it's worth wondering whether, by placing such high premiums on 16-year-olds, teams are fooling themselves.