17 year-old shortstop Estelion Peguero, widely regarded as the top free-agent hitter on the international market last year, had originally committed to the Seattle Mariners after the team offered him a $2.9M signing bonus on December 6th, capping off a banner year for the team's head of international operations, Bob Engle. However, recent reports have revealed that the deal that actually went through for Peguero shortly after Christmas has turned out to be markedly less than originally suggested, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America:
Dominican shortstop Esteilon Peguero, who signed with the Mariners for $2.9 million in December, has had his bonus reduced to $1.1 million, according to international sources.
The $1.8M reduction means that Peguero's bonus takes a tumble from the top spot in 2010, a position now claimed by Adonys Cardona, who signed a $2.8M deal with the Toronto Blue Jays in July. Although the Mariners haven't commented on why Peguero's deal was so dramatically reduced, the most plausible reasons are age fraud and/or injury.
With many teams worried about the state of the shortstop's shoulder in the final months of the year, it wouldn't be out of the question for Seattle's training staff to have found something troubling during a physical, but the specter of birth certificate falsification looms large in the international market, and is especially worrying in this case as Peguero was mainly known for being an extremely advanced hitter compared to others of his age group.
The Mariners have denied that there are any problems with Peguero's shoulder and his official date of birth remains unchanged, but something is quite clearly off about the signing or the player, and general manager Jack Zduriencik's refusal to comment on the situation has failed to clear things up.
Outfielder Ruben Castillo, at $2.2M, is now the team's biggest 2010 buy out of the Dominican Republic.