- The Washington Times - Monday, June 29, 2009

“Sugar,” the film about a young Dominican baseball prospect who faces the pressures of the game and the business, just finished a two-month run at the Bethesda Row Cinema.

When will the Smiley Gonzalez investigation end its lengthy run?

As the international signing period approaches - it starts Thursday - Nationals president Stan Kasten said there has been an “inordinate” amount of activity in Major League Baseball’s investigation into the fraudulent signing of the prospect formerly known as Esmailyn Gonzalez.

That must mean a lot because the definition of “inordinate” is beyond normal limits or excessive. And that may mean the investigation into how Carlos Alvarez and co-conspirators three years ago managed to fool the Nationals into believing he was Smiley Gonzalez - a 16-year-old who was actually 19 - and get a $1.4 million signing bonus is coming to a conclusion.

“I will tell you there has been an awful lot of activity,” Kasten said. “Because of the sensitivity, there is nothing I can say about it. Rest assured there is an inordinate amount of activity with our own situation and with all of baseball.”

The status of a federal investigation into the skimming of money from Dominican prospects remains unknown. Reporting of that probe this spring identified Nationals general manager Jim Bowden as one of the targets and forced him - and his friend and advisor Jose Rijo - out of the organization.

Three years ago, the Nationals - just as Kasten and the Lerner family were about to take over - made a splash when they signed Alvarez, who was purported to be a talented young infield prospect. His $1.4 million signing bonus was the third-highest awarded that year, and it created the impression the Lerners were going to open their wallets.

But there was no big splash in 2007, and by the time the international signing period came around in 2008, Major League Baseball’s investigation was under way. That limited any efforts the Nationals may have considered last year, however unlikely that might have been.

With the 2009 clock about to start ticking, don’t expect any major activity from the Nationals.

“We have been working guys out, but we are not involved with some of the larger players you have been reading about,” Kasten said. “We are involved in some of the younger guys. Frankly, and I said this in March, this may not be the year where we fully jump-start our international program because of all the attention and resources dedicated to the draft. So it may not be until 2010 that we are more up and running, but there has been a lot of work done down there.”

The organization had been using Rijo’s complex as its Dominican headquarters, but after he and Bowden departed, acting general manager Mike Rizzo set up the Nationals’ operations at a new facility. Kasten said the organization is working toward moving to yet another complex.

“That is moving along nicely,” Kasten said. “We are in discussions with various different people about that. We have people there now. [Director of scouting] Dana Brown is down there now. I have taken a trip there. We were going again this week, but it got delayed. The ownership will be going on the next trip there to make some final arrangements.”

In the past, the Nationals operated two teams in the Dominican Summer League. This season, they are operating one, as most major league teams are. That team is 11-14, and its shortstop is Carlos Alvarez, born Nov. 25, 1985. In 24 games, he is batting just .235.

Meanwhile, you may have to wait for the DVD to see the story of Miguel Santos - the tale of a Dominican pitcher “struggling to make it to the big leagues and pull himself and his family out of poverty,” according to promotional material for the film.

You might recognize the actor playing the head of the baseball academy where Santos trains. It’s Jose Rijo, who served as an advisor for the film - an “inordinate” amount of irony.


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