Obviously Appel not signing makes this pretty cut and dried; the Pirates saved a bunch of money in the second half of the first ten rounds and made Appel a very respectable offer (we'll probably never know exactly what it was, but it was likely around $3.8 million) within the confines of the new draft. Appel thinks he's worth more. He might be right; both Keith Law and Jim Callis said today that he's one of the top one or two talents in next year's draft. Of course, it's also true that most of the teams that were bad in 2011 are bad again in 2012 and they may pass on him again if they think he'll be a difficult sign (which ... I mean pretty obviously he will be). It's definitely true that being a college senior removes even the smallest shred of leverage he may have had on the Pirates this year. I'd be pretty surprised if he got an offer substantially better than what the Pirates made him and it seems like quite a longshot that he'll get the $6 million he and Scott Boras apparently want for him unless something substantially changes in the way the draft is conducted.
It's a pretty big risk on Appel's part, but this has been a risk that's existed since the second the Pirates took Appel. There's not really any reason to blame the Pirates here; they took a good player and cleared enough money to make him a reasonable offer and I think that most players in Appel's situation would've signed. I don't really agree with the logic that's leading him back to school, but then, it's not my decision to make. The Pirates will get the ninth overall pick in next year's draft, which is by some accounts unimaginably richer than this year's draft and by other accounts a vast and barren wastland of nothingness.
The Pirates did sign a few of their 11-20 round guys today with some of the money saved for Appel; Hayden Hurst signed for $400,000 and Max Moroff signed for $300,000. There's no word on Walker Buehler yet, though I'd assume we'll have that soon.
Frankly, I'm a little surprised the Pirates have been getting a free ride on not signing Appel. I certainly agree that you don't forfeit picks to sign him; still, seven other teams had the opportunity to draft him, and seven teams decided he would be too tough a sign. If you draft Appel, don't you need to be pretty sure you can make a deal with him? You can give NH and company points for guttiness here, but at some point "gutty" and "smart" are not the same thing. The Pirates are not going to become a $150 million-plus payroll team because they've started playing well; they are still going to have to rely on drafting and development, and they can't afford to be doing things like whiffing on the first round of the draft. It's not a disaster, but it was a serious miscalculation on the FA's part, and not one they can repeat.