I'm going to be up front here and say that I don't really know what to expect from the Pirates and Mark Appel and Scott Boras this afternoon at the 5 PM deadline to sign picks from this year's amateur draft. There's been a lot of noise coming from Appel's direction lately that he's not going to sign, but I find it really hard to see that as anything other than a negotiating tactic at this point. My basic opinion all along has been that he would eventually sign for the $3.8 million the Pirates can owe him, but I'm starting to evolve to a line of thinking where that might not be the end of it.
Let's break a few things down: it's certainly in Mark Appel's best interest to take the Pirates' offer. Nothing is a sure thing in athletics and $3.8 million is a lot of money, whether your dad is a Chevron executive or not. It's a long shot that Appel will make more than that next year, so the only possible interpretations (for me) if he goes back to school are that he either absolutely does not want to play for the Pirates or that he's dumber than a rock. He might say it's about money if he goes back to Stanford, but it won't be.
I've talked this over with a few people and I feel pretty certain that if Boras and Appel want to challenge baseball's new hard slotting system for their draft with some kind of lawsuit or grievance, the best way for that to happen is for Appel to sign. If Appel turns the Pirates' offer down, he's chosen not to accept their money and I find it pretty hard to believe that anyone could make a compelling case that it was the draft system that cost him money. No matter what he and Boras argue, what cost him money was his own decision not to sign. If he does accept the Pirates' $3.8 million offer, then he and Boras can build up some kind of case around previous draft signing bonuses and a system created and accepted by a union that doesn't represent them on their behalf (Disclaimer: Scientist, not a lawyer. Related to some lawyers, know some lawyers, but not one myself.)
Now, in most cases I'd be sitting here and telling you that Boras is a lot of bluster, that he huffs and puffs and in the end, he does what's best for his client if the team is willing to play ball with him, that the Pirates went out of their way to save extra money to offer Appel, and that what's best for his client in this case is taking the Pirates' offer and starting his big league career. That's all the truth. What kind of worries me is that today, both Dejan Kovacevic and Jon Heyman have written stories that raise a bunch of red flags for me. DK wrote that someone in the Appel camp told him that, "Whatever happens, it won't be the Pirates' fault" and Heyman's piece went out of its way to say that "...the somewhat slim hope for a deal may rest on some sort of intervention by MLB higher-ups, or the ability to prove a flaw in the rules or how they were followed by other teams. There is no accusation or thought the Pirates did anything wrong."
These statements seem very weird to me. No one, at any point, has even begun to imply the Pirates have done something wrong; they picked the best player, they rounded up a bunch of extra money, and they seem willing to pay the 75% penalty for going 5% of their draft pool. I don't think anyone in their right mind would even begin to blame them if Appel doesn't sign here. It's certainly possible that Appel just takes the money and gets on with his career, just like it's possible that he just turns it down and goes back to school. I think, though, that there's a very real possiblity that we find ourselves faced with a third option, and that it's something that we haven't quite considered yet.
as a fan of bureaucratic chaos, let me be the first to welcome our new litigious draft overlord. Also, pick #9 in the 2013 draft sounds a-okay to me.
Can we start a movement to prohibiting linking to or quoting any report from Heyman that is in anyway Boras related? There's no source I trust less than Jon Heyman.
@Barry JT What Heyman reports in these cases is always worth noting, because it's worth noting what Boras wants made public. So long as it's viewed in proper context, I don't think it should be ignored.
So what happens if Appel signs and he and Boras file some kind of lawsuit? Could the Pirates eventually owe him more money? Would MLB owe him money in damages if he wins?
I wonder if Boras might not build a challenge on the inability of draft picks to sign major-league deals: MLB is the only sport that doesn't allow someone taken in the draft to sign the equivalent of a MLB contract, and I'm not sure exactly how MLB would defend themselves if that part of the CBA was challenged.
@wkkortas I feel like if Boras wanted to take the draft system to court that there's a good chance that most of it wouldn't hold up, especially with this slotting.
@whygavs @wkkortas I am also not a lawyer, but I agree, the draft system seems really shaky. The interesting thing is that the other sports set up their drafts in a similar way, with a players' association agreeing to restrictions on individuals who don't yet belong to that union. Any law suit would have big implications across all American sports.
@Eephus @whygavs If you look back in history back to, say, the Spencer Haywood case (which brought undergrads to pro basketball), professional sports leagues have a pretty lousy record in court when having to defend actions that restricts collegiate/amateur access to gaining entry to the professional level.
If Appel is dumb enough to be Scott Boras's first guinea pig in his challenge to the new draft system, then his Stanford education has done him no good. He'll be lucky if he is a Top 10 pick in next years draft.
@Steelreign I disagree wholeheartedly. Let's say he decides to go back to Stanford, has a good senior season, and he gets picked in a similar spot and the club which drafts him gives him a "take-it-or-leave it" offer. If his ceiling is a number #2 starter, what's that worth on the open market after a year in the Northern League or somewhere? Is there a lot of risk in going that route? Absolutely. Is there significant financial upside there as well? Absolutely. I know that our genial host has gnashed his teeth at the notion that Appel doesn't need the money because his family is comfortable, and I agree that is a silly idea. Still, it makes him a better fit to be a test case than some 18 year old shortstop from a poor neighborhood in San Pedro de Marcoris.
@Steelreign If the dumbest baseball prospect on Earth contrasted the list of players for whom choosing Boras as his agent was a dumb idea against the list of players for whom choosing Boras as his agent was a hugely rewarding financial decision, that dumbest player would choose Boras in a millisecond and would be right to do so.
Simply as a human being Appel has probably done some dumb things in his life, but choosing Boras as his agent wouldn't rank among them. Even if Boras' actions wind up being the wrong actions for his client in this situation, casting your chips with him as your agent is a high-percentage move toward financial reward, given his track record.