In another potentially costly Dodger misstep, team officials allegedly broke major league baseball rules in signing third baseman Adrian Beltre before his 16th birthday, prompting an upcoming investigation that could lead to the young player being granted free agency, The Times has learned.
The Dodgers recently notified the commissioner's office of the situation brought to their attention Oct. 28 after a copy of Beltre's birth certificate was obtained and examined by team officials, baseball sources said Thursday night. Scott Boras, Beltre's agent, on Thursday filed a petition with the commissioner's office requesting that Beltre be declared a free agent because the Dodgers knowingly violated his rights.
In a statement released to The Times, the Dodgers confirmed that they have asked the commissioner's office to determine whether Beltre's signing violated rules. The Dodgers have forwarded records pertaining to the matter.
Dodger General Manager Kevin Malone said the organization intends to cooperate with the investigation, the second since May involving the organization and alleged rules violations regarding foreign-player signings.
"The Dodgers respect and strongly endorse the rules and regulations of major league baseball," Malone said, "and we fully intend to comply with those rules. That is why we have submitted this matter to the commissioner and will abide by his findings.
"We are committed to protecting and upholding the integrity of the game, consistent with the honored tradition of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Adrian is a talented and popular player for the Dodgers, and we will give his concerns and interests our full attention and consideration."
Teams are prohibited from signing foreign players under 16, but the Dodgers signed the native of the Dominican Republic at 15 in 1994 and stated Beltre was a year older on documents filed with the commissioner's office in New York, sources said. Beltre was signed by longtime Dodger scout Pablo Peguero, who now heads the Dodgers' academy in the Dominican Republic.
Peguero violated rules by scouting and signing Cuban players Juan Carlos Diaz and Josue Perez. Diaz and Perez were granted free agency June 28, and the Dodgers were fined $200,000 by the commissioner's office and prohibited from re-signing them.
Attempts to contact Peguero were unsuccessful.
Beltre's birth date is listed April 7, 1978, in the Dodger media guide. However, sources said Beltre was born on that date in 1979. That would have made him 15 when the Dodgers signed him as a free agent July 7, 1994.
Boras declined to provide specifics when contacted at home Thursday night, but he acknowledged the situation--that sources said he uncovered--could lead to Beltre becoming a former Dodger.
"We discovered this and it was confirmed," said Boras, commenting only generally about The Times' story. "Look, Adrian is very happy to be with the Dodgers, and whatever might happen has nothing to do with this administration.
"[New Dodger Chairman] Robert Daly and Kevin had nothing to do with this. This was a situation they inherited from previous management. It would be grossly unfair to taint them with this because this has to do with the past regime."
Boras declined to discuss his role in uncovering the matter, but sources said Daly and Malone first learned about it during a meeting with Boras on the day that Daly was introduced as chairman. Boras told Daly and Malone that the signing was questionable, prompting an internal investigation.
The Dodgers compared documents pertaining to Beltre's signing with a copy of Beltre's official birth certificate Boras obtained from the Dominican Republic. The information confirmed that Beltre, now 20 instead of 21, was 15 at the time of the signing.
Beltre, who received a $23,000 signing bonus, is in the Dominican Republic and unavailable for comment.
The 1997 Class-A player of the year, Beltre was promoted from double-A San Antonio to the big leagues on June 24, 1998.
He struggled adjusting to major league pitching, batting only .215 with seven home runs and 22 runs batted in during 77 games. But Beltre also showed flashes of the talent that persuaded the Dodgers to make him the everyday third baseman in 1999.
In his first full season, Beltre batted .275, with 15 home runs, 27 doubles and 67 RBIs.
If Beltre, who made $220,000 last season, is granted free agency, the Dodgers might face a bidding war to retain him. Or they might be prohibited from re-signing him, as with the Cuban players.
"All I can say is that Adrian enjoys playing for the Dodgers," Boras said. "As far as everything else, we're just going to have to wait and see."
Darren Dreifort will remain in the Dodger starting rotation next season, team sources said.