The sweetest amateur free agent signing in St. Louis Cardinals team history quickly went sour.
The Wagner Mateo era in St. Louis lasted exactly 82 days, from signing on July 2 to the September 22 announcement that the 16-year-old’s club-record $3.1 million contract had been voided. It had been the second-largest bonus ever given to an amateur Latin American player and the largest bonus for a Latin American hitter.
Late in July, Mateo had been introduced to the press amid great pomp and circumstance in St. Louis, a day that included the teenager taking batting practice at Busch Stadium. Club officials gushed that the centerfielder would have been a top ten talent had he been a part of the regular June First-Year Player Draft.
The excitement almost immediately turned to dismay.
As the result of a physical examination held during that same trip, the Cardinals determined the Dominican Republic native had pre-existing injuries and physical defects in his right eye that may be degenerative in nature. Those problems led to the decision by the club to void the contract within the allowable 90-day window post-signing.
Mateo’s agent and trainer Edgar Mercedes disagreed, stating an incorrect sizing of the teenager’s contact lenses led to an infection that affected his cornea. The agent asserted there was nothing more to the problem than that, the issue had been diagnosed and Mateo was on track in his recovery. He hinted legal action might be initiated.
It would seem the rest of the baseball world shares at least some of the Cardinals concern. While Mateo has continued to demonstrate his skills at workouts and showcases, no other club has yet re-signed the talented youngster in the subsequent 90 days. If and when Mateo does secure a new contract, rumors are that it could be a third or less of his voided Cardinals deal.
Though organization officials assert it is not the case, others wonder if the negative publicity in the US and abroad could impact the Cardinals’ growing Latin American initiatives.
Only time will tell.
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