If Tuesday started with the Pirates surrounded by uncertainty in regards to how they'd handle the signing of Mark Appel, Wednesday is starting with everyone having a pretty good idea of what the Pirates plan to do in their negotiations with Appel and his advisor, Scott Boras. They're not going to stake their whole draft on signing Appel and they're going to try and use the new draft rules to force Boras's hand.
After picking Appel and Barrett Barnes yesterday, the Pirates followed up today with Wyatt Mathisen, a high school catcher from Texas, Jonathan Sandfort, a high school pitcher from Florida, Brandon Thomas, an outfielder from Georgia Tech, and Adrian Sampson, a junior college pitcher. That means that in the Pirates' first five rounds, they picked six players and they can probably only dream of signing two of them, Barnes and Thomas, for under slot. Both guys are fairly decent prospects, though, so if they do sign for less than their slot allotment, it won't be a whole lot less. The high schoolers will either sign for the most they can or go back to school; either way they won't affect what the Pirates can offer Appel.
In rounds 6-10, the Pirates went for some signability. Eric Wood is an off-the-map JuCo third baseman, Jacob Stallings is a senior catcher for a little university in Chapel Hill, North Carolina that I'm vaguely familiar with, ninth rounder DJ Crumlich is a senior at UC-Irvine, and Pat Ludwig is a senior relief pitcher from Yale. All four of those guys will sign for less than their slot values (eighth rounder Kevin Ross is a high school player, so he'd likely sign for slot), which should give the Pirates some extra money to spend on Appel, but how much?
Baseball America has the slot values for the Pirates' picks here: their sixth round pick has a $188,800 cap, the seventh rounder is $148,000, ninth round is $129,100, and the tenth round is $125,000. It's noticeable that their sixth round pick, Wood, was way, way off the map (as in, not in Baseball America's top 500), which means the Pirates are probably hoping to save in excess of $100,000 with that pick, assuming Wood signs. If they can bank $100,000 on Wood and $200,000 from the other three picks to round out the top 10, then sign every other player they picked in the first ten rounds for slot on the nose and are willing to pay a 75% tax on their entire draft spendings in order make the biggest offer possible, they can offer Appel in the ballpark of $500,000 more than their $2.9 million slot recommendation for him without having to give up next year's first round pick for him (forgive me if my math is off here; I'm sure Pirates Prospects can do a better analysis of this particular situation than I can).
That's only $3.4 million. According to Tom Krasovic, Appel told the Astros he wanted $6 million. So why would he sign with the Pirates? The reality for Appel, I think, is that there's just not much first rounders can do inside of this new draft system. If Appel doesn't sign, he'll either go back to Stanford for his senior year or spend a year in winter ball. Most guys that do that don't improve their stock hugely; Aaron Crow is the last highly-touted college pitcher I can think of that went this route and he dropped from the ninth overall pick in 2008 to the 12th in 2009. When you consider that Appel wasn't the consensus best talent in what was widely considered to be a weak draft, you have to think that both he and Boras know that chances of him getting selected lower than eighth have to be at least as high as his chances of getting selected higher. He might get drafted by a team with a bigger draft pool in 2013, but he'd also have to hope that that team was willing to follow him with nine college seniors to offer him the biggest bonus possible. I doubt many GMs these days would be willing to do that kind of thing, though that's an unknown at this point. In fact, it seems pretty likely to me that the way that the Nationals handle Andrew Giolito will probably affect the way Appel and Boras expect the Pirates to handle their negotiation.
That means that the Pirates' pitch to Appel is something like this: "Mark, we know you're disappointed you weren't drafted first. We think you deserved to be picked there and honestly, if it were up to us, we'd pay you the $6 million tomorrow. It's not up to us anymore now, and it won't be up to the team that picks you next year, either. $3.5 million is a lot of money, though, and we can offer you something else: a fast track to the big leagues. Sign with us and you'll be in West Virginia this year. If you're in West Virginia in July, you'll be in Altoona by next July and if you're in Altoona by next July, you'll be in Pittsburgh by 2014. Maybe earlier if we need you in the bullpen for a pennant run next year. If you're in Pittsburgh in 2014, that arbitration clock starts ticking. Maybe you'll hit arbitration in 2017. That'll make you a free agent before the 2020 season. You won't even be 30 and you'll have a huge payday coming. It'll be more than $3 million. You sit out this year, though? You'll be in short season ball when you sign in 2013 instead of Double-A with us and maybe you're not even in the big leagues until 2016 or worse. Maybe you're not a free agent until you're 31 now. That's what the Pirates are offering you. It's up to you if you want to leave it on the table."
The caveat here, of course, is Boras and what he plans to do with the new draft arrangement. He won't make this easy for the Pirates and he's tried in the past to just blow the draft process up entirely, with varying degrees of success. The Pirates' leverage exists in other teams not being able to offer Appel more money in 2013. So long as that's the case, signing him should be a relatively straightforward process, even if he is disappointed today. If Boras's goal isn't to sign Appel, but rather to use him to challenge the league's new drafting dogma in a way that removes it for 2013, things change substantially. I'm not saying this will be the case, of course, or that it'll even work. I just wouldn't underestimate Boras here; it may not seem like he's got a ton of options, but I seriously doubt he'll go down without a fight.
Anyone know why MLB didn't just go to a hard slotting system like the NFL and other leagues? If they wanted it to be more straightforward and not have signability issues, why not just take it totally out of agents(advisers) and teams and just say if you are drafted with so and so pick this is what you will get? it seems they made this far more difficult for all involved with having a pool and penalties and a bunch of other nonsense. Kids should either declare for the draft or not and if you do than you are done with school as a fallback, each pick should already have a set amount with a certain percentage increase from one year to the next. Pick 1 is worth this, pick 2 is worth this and so on instead of all these shenanigans. You never hear of the 8th pick in another league holding out for more money than the first pick for whatever reason, the draft process like a lot of things in baseball make no sense to me whatsoever and I can't really say that about other processes in other professional leagues.
The Bucs may have gone for signability with the Stallings kid in round 7, but fortunately they went for talent in the 11th selecting Chris Diaz. And he knows how to win a CWS regional this season!
Krasovic now says the $6 million discussion may never have happened.
Two things. I think boras is ultimately planning a lawsuit one way or another. And if appel signs, no way a Stanford junior starts in WV. Brief stop in short season ball then Bradenton.
Even though Satan - er, Boras doesn't have a lot of ammo here, you can bet he'll do his best to stare down NH and wait until the last possible second to sign / not sign, virtually guaranteeing his client doesn't pitch anymore this year.
I wonder who represents the Correa kid the Astros took? I haven't heard if he has college as an option or not. In any case, if he and a few other top of the draft guys sign for slot or a little more, I think that would be Boras' worst nightmare.
@SteelCity G The players' union, which is the strongest such union in American sports, would never have allowed it. How they failed to notice that this convoluted mess of rules IS a slotting system in everything but name, I don't know.
@azibuck I dunno, even Alex Dickerson didn't get out of Short-Season last year, despite being a fairly advanced college prospect. I bet the Pirates slow-roll Appel this year given that he'll have already pitched a full college season. I can pretty much guarantee he'll get some State College starts to keep the poor guys running that miserable team happy so that they don't jump ship when the next affiliate contract is up. After that, I'd bet he maybe makes a few starts at West Virginia, then gets shut down for the year.
Also, re: the lawsuit. Yeah, that's going to happen. I dunno if Appel will be the guy he uses to push it, but it or something like it will happen sooner rather than later.
@cocktailsfor2 The deadline's moved up to July 15th. If Stanford goes to the CWS, he'll have a couple weeks off, at most.
Note to self: he has a committment to the U. The 'Stros also hope to sign him this week, which I'm guessing would make Boras (and probably a lot of other agents) unhappy.
I'd suspect Boras would sue, but I'm not sure where a successful avenue would be for him in court. He could challenge the CBA itself, but I don't see where he would have grounds to do that, and if he went at a suit from an anti-trust or restraint of trade angle, it seems that MLB has a pretty hefty ledger of court precedent on its side. I think his best bet to scrap these new rules would be to have someone like Appel go the unrestricted free agent route, but, as you've pointed out, that carries a lot of risk and a limited chance of success.
@wkkortas Any circumstance where Boras is unhappy, makes me happy.
You may have hit on Boras' best route in the courts here. I think if MLB was challenged on not allowing draft picks to sign major-league contracts, that might prove verrrrry tricky to defend, especially since they are the only sport that doesn't allow draft picks to do so.
@DoobyDoobyDoo @wkkortas That's not entirely true. Boras can be the kid's agent once the college season ends, he just can't go back to Stanford once that happens. Since most Boras clients that hold out end up going to indy ball instead of back to school, it wouldn't be a problem for Appel to "officially" hire Boras the second his season at Stanford ends.
That's true, but if I'm Appel, and the system tells me "Look, we think you might be as good as Gerrit Cole some day, but you only get 40% of his money up front", I'm not really thrilled with that setup.
@DoobyDoobyDoo @wkkortas I hadn't thought of a lawsuit until azibuck mentioned it, but it does seem likely. You're right, it does require someone representing a player to do it. The interesting thing there is I don't think you can take away slotting without indicting the entire system. Drafts, slotting, international spending limits, contract lengths and arbitration clocks. They're all rules put in place by owners and granted permission by a players association that doesn't represent any of the people they're placing limits upon.
@wkkortas Going to be hard for Boras to challenge the rules since he doesn't actually, technically, represent anyone. He's just an "advisor". A judge or arbitrator is going to say, "The player has a choice. He can take the money, or he has the option to say no and go back to school". I don't feel bad for these kids... if someone offered me $3.5m when I was 18-22 years old, I would have a heart attack.