‘Smiley Gonzalez’ among the Nationals minor league free agents

nationals90_image_thumbnailThe Nationals have 26 minor league free agents, according to a list released this week by Baseball America, and infielder Carlos Alvarez, formerly known as Smiley Gonzalez, is among them. The revelation of Alvarez’s identity fraud in 2009 led to widespread upheaval within the Nationals organization.

Among the Nationals free agent minor leaguers are Chris Young and Bill Bray, two players who were expected to factor into the team’s season this year but didn’t because of injuries. Signed to serve as starting rotation depth, Young, 34, tossed only 37 innings this season across three minor league affiliates and posted a combined 6.81 ERA. He only made seven starts for Class AAA Syracuse before missing a large chunk of the season with a neck injury. Bray, 30, a left-handed reliever expected to compete for a spot in the bullpen, never overcame his mechanical flaws and then fell to shoulder issues. He logged only 4 1/3 innings for Class AA Harrisburg.

Other notable names among the group of free agents are right-handed reliever Cole Kimball (who reached the majors in 2011 but was never the same after rotator cuff surgery), left-handed reliever Josh Smoker (a Nationals 2007 first-round pick), infielder Carlos Rivero (who was fighting for a spot on the big league squad in spring training and then was demoted from Syracuse to Harrisburg) and first baseman Chris Marrero (a Nationals 2006 first-round pick whose career was hampered by injuries).

The Nationals may work out deals with some of the minor league free agents to return, but some may move on to other organizations. This could be the end for Alvarez, now 27, in the Nationals minor leagues. The two, however, are still connected in an ongoing lawsuit in which the Nationals sued an insurance company in an effort to recover $1 million of the signing bonus they gave Alvarez.

In 2006, the Nationals signed 16-year-old shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez with a $1.4 million signing bonus. Three years later, it was revealed that Gonzalez lied about his identity and his age; his name was Carlos David Alvarez Lugo, and he was four years older than he claimed. His value as a ballplayer evaporated, and the Nationals ultimately fired General Manager Jim Bowden and his special assistant in charge of Latin America, Jose Rijo.

Alvarez has lingered, almost hidden, in the Nationals minor leagues until now, reaching no higher than Class A Hagerstown. He saw action in only four games this season for the Nationals’ Gulf Coast League team, going 2 for 6, both home runs, and playing second and third base.

In the Nationals’ complaint against Westchester Fire Insurance Company, they claim that Alvarez kicked back part of his signing bonus to Rijo, who has denied it. In July 2012, Rijo, the 1990 World Series MVP, was charged in the Dominican Republic with money laundering for a suspected drug trafficker.

The Nationals’ current lawsuit pertains only to Westchester, a Philadelphia-based insurance company. The Nationals, according to the suit, entered into a $1 million contract with Westchester. The Nationals submitted a claim for “an incident of employee theft and fraud” following the revelation that Alvarez had faked his age and identity. The Nationals, who are represented in the case by D.C. law firm Williams & Connolly, claim Westchester “denied the claim without reasonable basis and only after dragging its feet and delaying its investigation for months.”

Westchester has claimed, however, according to court documents, that the Nationals can’t bring legal action against them unless it is done so within two years of discovering the loss. The Nationals claim they discovered the employee fraud in April 2010, and despite two extensions, Westchester says the team decided to file a lawsuit seven months after the second deadline of Sept. 15, 2012, according to court documents. As of late October, they have a pending motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The list of free agents, according to Baseball America:

RHP: Mike Broadway (Syracuse), Brian Broderick (Potomac), Caleb Clay (Syracuse), Mike Crotta (Syracuse), Cole Kimball (Syracuse), Jeff Mandel (Syracuse), Ryan Tatusko (Syracuse), Chris Young (Syracuse)

LHP: Bill Bray (Harrisburg), Patrick McCoy (Harrisburg), Josh Smoker (Potomac)

C: Brian Jeroloman (Harrisburg), Carlos Maldonado (Syracuse), Sean McCauley (Potomac), Beau Seabury (Potomac)

1B: Chris Marrero (Syracuse), Jimmy VanOstrand (Syracuse)

2B: Michael Gilmartin (Potomac), Will Rhymes (Syracuse)

3B: Carlos Alvarez (Hagerstown), Melvin Dorta (Harrisburg), Carlos Rivero (Harrisburg)

SS: Josh R. Johnson (Syracuse)

OF: Jerad Head (Harrisburg), Jason Michaels (Syracuse), Chris Rahl (Syracuse)

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