In what is the most detailed article to date, Joe Strauss offers further insight into the ongoing saga of the Cardinals and Domincan prospect Wagner Mateo. By and large this is an even-handed effort to publish some facts although Strauss is unable, as usual, to refrain from putting his own conotation into the article. These subtle jabs often create a mischaracterization of the facts or at least color the perception of the reader.
Regardless, there’s too much information here for it not to be noted as a valuable resource in understanding the situation.
The Cardinals devoted much of the previous five years laying groundwork for acquiring a player like Mateo for an eye-popping sum of more than $3.1 million.
This is part of the much bally-hooed effort by the Cardinals to increase their presence in DR. While it’s been great in concept, it’s been underwhelming in results to date. Wagner was supposed to represent the coup de grace of their stifled efforts in the country. Many of the “agents” in the DR will only permit the teams who spend top dollar in the country to scout their players. Thus, many writers have indicated that this is going to be a massive setback for the Cardinals who will be back to square one.
I think this is an overstatement at best and just plain wrong at worst. The situation surrounding Mateo indicated nothing of what the Cardinals would do for future prospects. In fact, if anything, the Cardinals have managed to show their intention of spending big $$$ without actually having to spend it this year. While I believe they wanted Mateo in the system, the message of the team being a player in DR prospects isn’t as damaged as many writers like to indicate.
And, oh, Mateo would go through a team physical administered by the team’s medical supervisor, Dr. George Paletta, who has declined to comment on Mateo’s case.
Jab #1: Paletta declines to comment on virtually EVERY cardinal medical issue. Most of the information is delivered second hand from the front office and not from the doctor(s) themselves. This is not abnormal.
Mateo was found to possess 20/200 vision. Even with contact lenses, Mateo’s vision was 20/30, good enough for most professions but considered deficient among major league players. [...] For most of a month, Mateo shuttled between eye specialists in St. Louis, Baltimore and Boston. Specialists at Johns Hopkins and Harvard reached the same conclusion as those in St. Louis: Mateo’s vision could not be improved. [...] Mateo was not deemed a fit for Lasik surgery, according to sources familiar with the club’s medical findings.
So the Cardinals find that Mateo has a severe physical defect with his eyesight at age 16 when the eyes are generally not done deteriorating (early 20s) as is natural for most people with poor eyesight. Furthermore, surgery isn’t an option. I’m struggling to see where the Cardinals have done anything wrong in this situation whatsoever. If they had signed him and this had come out 3 years from now as he struggled in the minors, a torch-and-pitchfork mob would be formed questioning whether the Cardinals were doing their due diligence.
Mateo does not suffer from macular degeneritis as published reports speculated. However, there is an expectation that his uncorrected eyesight will likely erode as he ages. Corrective lenses may allow him to hold onto 20-30 eyesight. But that is no consolation in a sport where a recent study revealed more than 98.5 percent of athletes have 20/20 or better vision, corrected or not.
Strauss doesn’t indicate what recent study he’s talking about (a recent study indicates 98% of people don’t properly cite their sources) but if that’s true, it certainly would indicate a good reason for the Cardinals to be put off by Mateo’s condition.
The Cardinals now refuse to discuss specifics of Mateo’s case while hiding behind the HIPAA statute and bracing for possible litigation.
Jab #2: As someone who has sat through several lectures on HIPAA, the idea that the Cardinals are “hiding” behind it is a negative connotation that’s simply disingenuous. First of all, with the possible chance of being sued, the Cardinals would be fools to be running their mouths now. It would do nothing for their position publicly and could damage their position in court. Second, HIPAA is strict on what can and cannot be discussed with regards to patient’s medical history. It’s prudent, if frustrating, for people in the medical industry to be cautious when releasing information. Again, I fail to see where the Cardinals are acting improperly in this situation.
At the end of the day, the Mateo affair is a tragic one from Wagner’s perspective. It’s an unfortunate one from the Cardinals’ perspective. But it’s not one in which the team has acted in bad faith towards Mateo or their fan base. The Cardinals have struggled thus far to identify prospects from the Carribbean that project toward the majors. This is a failing of their system that is bigger than Mateo and, frankly, more important. The best way for the Cardinals to reap the rewards of the Latin American talent pool is to figure out why their scouting isn’t working down there. When the best prospect they’ve got to show is a reliever (albeit an excellent one), something isn’t working. That’s a harder newspaper story to write, so I expect we’ll read more about Wagner Mateo rather than the Cardinal’s efforts in Latin America as a whole.