02/21/09 8:10 PM EST
Rijo takes leave of absence
Special assistant to GM Bowden doesn't want to be a distraction
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
Rijo and the club began discussions about a leave of absence Friday.
Rijo has been linked to Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo, who previously called himself Esmailyn Gonzalez. The shortstop, who received a $1.4 million signing bonus from the Nationals in 2006, allegedly falsified his name and age. In Washington's 2008 media guide, Lugo is listed as being 19 years old, but he is four years older. Major League Baseball's department of investigations is looking into the matter.
"There is a general feeling [that he would be a distraction]. Knowing how intrepid all of you reporters are, we did not want to continue the scrutiny of Jose while he was trying to work."
SI.com reported that the negotiations for Lugo were handled by Basilio Vizcaino, who helps prepare young players in hopes that they will eventually sign big Major League deals and reward him with a percentage of their signing bonus.
Vizcaino is a close friend of Rijo and Jose Baez, the Nationals' director of Dominican operations.
Last July, Bowden and Rijo were being investigated by federal investigators and MLB for their possible involvement in a financial scandal involving the signing of players from the Dominican Republic.
Rijo continues to maintain his innocence. When the news broke earlier this week about Lugo, Rijo laughed and said that he knows the player as Esmailyn Gonzalez.
Rijo said that he first saw Lugo a few years ago when the youngster played in the Yankees' Dominican academy. Rijo didn't think there was anything suspicious about Lugo.
"I saw him for 2 1/2 years [before he signed with the Nationals]," Rijo said on Wednesday. "At that time, he wasn't older. I don't know what to believe anymore. I don't want to say anymore. I don't want to jeopardize the investigation."
When reached by telephone on Saturday, Rijo said that he does not want to be a distraction to the team because of the Lugo scandal.
"Things are going well for [manager] Manny [Acta] and the team, and I don't want to do anything to cause problems for them," he said.
Neither Rijo nor Kasten gave a timetable on when Rijo would return to the Nationals.
"There is a lot going on behind the scenes. You have only seen a small piece of it so far, but there is a lot more to do," Kasten said. "In time, you will be learning more and more about it."
Bowden declined to comment on Rijo or the Lugo controversy. According to Kasten, Bowden is not allowed to give details on the Lugo case. The general manager was seen watching the team work out at its spring complex on Saturday before leaving with his fiancée, Joy Browning.
"I'm going to tell him not to talk about the Esmailyn Gonzalez stuff unless he wants to say something very general. It's at a very sensitive stage," Kasten said about Bowden. "Everything else, he can and will be talking to you."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.