COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A top Cleveland Indians prospect is suing a company he claims gave him $360,000 in exchange for a 10 percent stake in his future earnings that could amount to millions of dollars.
Catcher Francisco Mejia claims in a federal lawsuit filed in February that the agreement is unfair and unenforceable, and that he didn't understand the extent to which he was mortgaging his future when he signed the contracts to get the money.
Mejia, who is from the Dominican Republic and has the equivalent of a ninth-grade education, claims in the suit filed on his behalf that Big League Advance Fund issued three separate "loans" to him in 2016 "under unconscionable terms and conditions and through unconscionable means," once when his mother was sick and the family needed money for medical treatment.
But Michael Schwimer, the former major league pitcher who runs the 2-year-old Fairfax, Virginia-based company, denies there was anything unfair or illegal about the deals and said they were explained in detail to the player in Spanish before he signed.
Mejia was given money he doesn't have to pay back if he doesn't make a career out of major league baseball, said Schwimer, who described it as an investment in the player's potential to sign a lucrative contract a few years down the road. He said he urges players to have their agents and lawyers involved, which Mejia did when he signed the first contract. Later, Mejia came back and sought the other two deals on his own.
"We never, ever, ever tell a player hey, you should sign this deal or you shouldn't sign this deal," Schwimer said. "My job is to simply tell a player that this exists, it's an option if you want it."
Schwimer said his investors are speculating that one or more of the prospects the company signs eventually will be a highly paid superstar. He likened it to Silicon Valley investors who put money into tech startups hoping one of them will become the next Facebook or Google. The company has signed and given money to about 100 minor league players and has so far lost money, he said.
The lawsuit contends that Mejia, regarded as one of the best prospects in baseball, could earn $100 million over the course of his career. That would yield $10 million for Schwimer's company on a $360,000 investment. The suit asks for the deal to be voided and compensatory damages paid to the player.
Mejia also claims that representatives from Big League Advance Fund showed up at his house in the Dominican Republic seeking more than $9,000 that they said he owed after his month in the majors. He claims the representatives threatened to sue him and keep him from playing baseball if he declined. He eventually handed over the payment.
The company acknowledges he paid them but denied there was the pressure he described.
"In this case, we allege, among other things, that the contract at issue is unconscionable," One of Mejia's attorneys, Anthony Buzbee, said in an email Tuesday. "By that I mean that in some situations, when there is a great disparity in bargaining power, and the terms of the contract are one sided, public policy would require dishonoring of the contract."
Mejia is hitting .292 in 408 at-bats in the Indians minor league system since 2013. He started this season one step from the majors at Triple-A Columbus, where he's hitting .250 with two home runs and nine RBIs in nine games. He made his major league debut with Cleveland on a call-up from Double-A Akron last September, collecting two hits in 13 plate appearances.
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