The St. Louis Cardinals gave Dominican outfielder Wagner Mateo the largest signing bonus ever for an amateur Latin American hitter last July, but later voided that contract due to a pre-existing eye condition found during his physical. Now the Arizona Diamondbacks have reportedly agreed to terms with the near-consensus top Latin American talent from a year ago at a substantial discount.
Citing "a baseball source," MLB.com has reported that Wagner Mateo has signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks for $512,000. The deal is expected to be formally announced later this week after the paperwork is finalized.
The $3.1 million that Wagner received last July was the second-largest bonus ever given to an amateur Latin American player and the largest bonus for a Latin American hitter. For perspective, the Diamondbacks have only given out bonuses greater than $3.1 million four times in franchise history: to Travis Lee and John Patterson in 1996, Stephen Drew in 2004, and Justin Upton in 2005. Max Scherzer's $3 million bonus from 2006 fell just short of what Mateo got from the Cardinals last summer.
His talent was undeniable, though. Many scouts believe that all five of Mateo's tools could eventually grade out at 60 or above on the 20-80 scale. Mateo was scouted heavily when he participated in Major League Baseball's RBI World Series in both 2007 and 2008, representing the Dominican Republic. That tournament was held at MLB's Urban Youth Academy in Compton, CA.
So based on the glowing reports from their scouts, the Cardinals would spend an unprecedented amount of money to corral the 6-foot-2, 190-pound outfielder on July 2, the first day in which Mateo was eligible to sign with a major league team.
"Wagner is the top player available in Latin America this year, and we have scouted him heavily over the past two years," Cardinals' Director of International Operations Moises Rodriguez said at the time. "His bat is special and we look forward to his continued development as a professional."
Mateo's signing was conditional on a physical to be conducted by Cardinals team doctors in St. Louis later that summer, however. Such physicals are normally a formality, but in this case, it led to the dismissal of that record-setting contract.
Mateo's agent and trainer, Edgar Mercedes, said that the vision problems that Cardinals physicians found in Mateo's right eye were due to a minor cornea infection and that the vision in that eye was 20/30, better than many major league players have. The Cardinals obviously did not agree with Mercedes' rhetoric. Rather than exercise their option to re-negotiate Mateo's contract based on the findings of the physical, St. Louis chose to sever ties with Mateo completely. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak also alluded to an additional injury when announcing the voiding of Mateo's contract.
Whether Mozeliak's reaction was justified or simply a case of buyer's remorse, it appears that the loss for both Mateo and the Cardinals will be the Diamondbacks' gain. Although Arizona had never given an amateur free agent even 10 percent of what the Cardinals gave Mateo last July, they were able to secure the outfield phenom before the 2010 Dominican Summer League begins. While the reported $512,000 price tag dwarfs the $295,000 the D-backs gave Enrique Burgos, the Panamanian pitcher who represents the highest-priced amateur free-agent signing in the Josh Byrnes era, it is still manageable for the cost-conscious Diamondbacks.
In Mateo, the Diamondbacks supposedly have a left-handed hitter with a compact, strong swing and a mature approach at the plate. They also have a speedy outfielder with good instincts, enough range for centerfield, and enough arm for right.
The big question is what kind of eye he will have at the plate.
Brian Walton of TheCardinalNation.com contributed to this report. Discuss this story in the FutureBacks.com Subscriber-Only Message Boards.