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After Cuban baseball standouts Maels Rodriguez and Yobal Duenas defected to Mexico aboard a fishing boat, they allegedly staged a defection of another sort. According to a lawsuit filed in Miami, they abruptly switched agents, from MVP Sports Management to Jaime Torres Sports Management. Torres also represents their friend, Chicago White Sox pitcher Jose Contreras. Miami-based MVP claims that Torres and Contreras interfered with its contractual relationship with the two Cubans. MVP president Henry Vilar said in an interview that the agent defection occurred in April in the Dominican Republic, where his agency had arranged to have the two players establish residency for the purpose of eligibility for free agency under Major League Baseball rules. He said his agency had signed a one-year contract with the players in October 2003. “As soon as we arrived and stepped out of the airport, they asked to make a phone call. Before we knew it they jumped in a cab and fled,” Vilar said. Then, this past summer, Duenas and Rodriguez showed up in Tampa at a New York Yankees training camp, according to the suit. Both were represented by Miami-based Jaime Torres Sports Management. Torres has represented such players as Ramon Castro and Roberto Alomar. On Nov. 3, MVP filed suit against the two Cuban ballplayers, Contreras and Torres. The complaint in Miami-Dade Circuit Court claims that Contreras and Torres tortiously interfered with Duenas and Rodriguez’s contracts with MVP by luring them away, and that Duenas and Rodriguez breached their contracts. “We were provided information that led us to the conclusion that Jose Contreras was involved,” said David K. Friedland, a partner at Lott & Friedland in Coral Gables who is representing MVP. “He and Duenas were close in Cuba.” Contreras, who defected from Cuba in 2002, makes about $9 million a year as a starting pitcher for the White Sox. He was traded to the Sox by the New York Yankees this summer. Rodriguez, 25, a pitcher who has not yet signed with a team in the United States, was scheduled for treatment for a slight shoulder injury before he switched agents, Vilar said. Duenas, 32, a second baseman who formerly led the Cuban National League in stolen bases, has signed a $60,000 contract with the Yankees and now is playing in the Yankee’s minor league system. Torres, who is a licensed Florida attorney, did not return calls for comment. Phone messages left for Rodriguez, Duenas and Contreras with their teams or agents were not returned before deadline. Under Major League Baseball rules, if a Cuban defector seeks U.S. residency, he must enter the league’s draft and thus has less control over what team he will play for and potentially get less money. But players with residency in certain countries, including the Dominican Republic, are exempt from the draft, and as free agents they can get considerably higher salaries and other compensation. Rodriguez and Duenas signed with MVP Sports Management while in Mexico immediately after their defection in October. MVP immediately sought a country that would grant Rodriguez and Duenas residency. In November, Vilar was able to arrange temporary residency in El Salvador, followed by permanent residency in the Dominican Republic in April. MVP contends that in El Salvador, it organized a training schedule for the two players, as well as workout sessions with major league teams. MVP also paid for friends and relatives of Rodriguez and Duenas to come to the United States. The friends and family members had defected to Mexico at the same time as Rodriguez and Duenas. Then, last fall, they tried to enter the United States but encountered problems with the Department of Homeland Security. MVP helped them enter the United States and arranged housing for them in Miami, the lawsuit says. In April, MVP got permission from the Dominican Republic for Duenas and Rodriguez to immigrate there, and arranged for training for the two. But upon arriving in the Dominican Republican to meet the MVP agents and handle the immigration processing, the two players ditched the agents, according to the MVP lawsuit. At the same time, Vilar said, the players’ friends and relatives in Miami moved out of the MVP-provided housing in Miami. Vilar said his agency tried repeatedly to contact the two players, without success. MVP is seeking compensation for the $500,000 it claims to have spent on Duenas and Rodriguez, along with unspecified damages. Under their contract with MVP, Duenas and Rodriguez owe MVP 5 percent of their earnings, according to the lawsuit. Vilar estimated that Rodriguez, whose fastball has been clocked at 100 mph, could have signed a four-year contract for as much as $25 million. Under the contract terms, the players had to give notice by Oct. 17 if they wanted to end their relationship with MVP. The contract also requires Duenas and Rodriguez to refer all communications regarding their representation to MVP. Despite that agreement, MVP alleges, Contreras contacted Duenas in El Salvador last November and stayed in touch with Duenas and Rodriguez about their representation, eventually convincing them to change agents. “We have knowledge that during the time the players were playing in El Salvador that [Contreras] was in contact with them,” Friedland said. “Whether he was looking out for his friends or looking out for his agents, we don’t know.” Friedland speculated that Rodriguez switched agents because his major league contract prospects didn’t turn out to be as good as he had hoped. “When things did not go well, he was probably disappointed,” Friedland said. Friedland said Rodriguez damaged his career by changing agents. “The opportunity the Maels had was lost by changing,” said Friedland, who pointed to the training opportunities and medical care that MVP planned to provide for Rodriguez. “This is a kid who [threw fastballs] in the 2000 Olympics at more than 90 mph,” Friedland said. “He’s not doing that now.”

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