Pirates have until 5 p.m. today to sign Appel, other picks

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The Pirates could play the role of buyer in two different fashions in the next three weeks.

They have until 5 p.m. today to sign Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, their first-round draft pick, and the rest of their unsigned picks. They also continue to search for potential upgrades in advance of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

The Pirates selected Appel, who some considered the probable top pick, with the eighth pick in the June amateur draft.

"We continue to work through the process," said general manager Neal Huntington, who declined to comment specifically on Appel.

The new collective bargaining agreement set bonus limits that restrict what teams can spend on players selected in the first 10 rounds, as well as on any bonus given outside the top 10 rounds that exceeds $100,000. The Pirates had $6,563,500 to sign their 11 draft picks in the first 10 rounds.

The Pirates had signed or agreed to terms with 17 of their 41 selections as of Thursday. In addition to Appel, the Pirates have not signed fourth-rounder Brandon Thomas, an outfielder from Georgia Tech, or eighth-rounder Kevin Ross, a high school third baseman. They have spent a combined $2,579,200 on bonuses for the other eight players selected in the top 10 rounds, according to Baseball America.

They can spend $3,984,300 on Appel, Thomas and Ross without exceeding their bonus pool. If they don't sign Thomas or Ross, though, they cannot transfer the money allotted to them -- a combined $474,900 -- to Appel, meaning they can spend $3,509,400 on Appel without exceeding their pool. If the Pirates don't sign Appel, they receive the ninth overall selection in the 2013 draft as compensation.

They created flexibility to exceed the $2.9 million bonus recommended by Major League Baseball for Appel's draft position by signing players for well under their recommended slot. They gave seventh-rounder Jacob Stallings a $10,000 bonus, and ninth-rounder D.J. Crumlich and 10th-rounder Pat Ludwig each a $5,000 bonus, according to Baseball America, a combined $382,100 below the recommended slot value for those picks. Baseball America reported that they have saved a total of $609,400 by signing players for less than their slot value.

The Pirates almost certainly will not exceed their bonus pool by the 5 percent threshold -- equal to $328,175 -- that will cause them to lose a draft pick. Indications are that they prefer not to exceed it at all, because doing so eliminates their chances of receiving a selection in the lottery of forfeited picks, held Monday along with the competitive balance lottery.

The Pirates, who enter a game tonight against the Milwaukee Brewers 11 games over .500 and in first place in the National League Central Division, have been looking to bolster their organization via trade for some time.

They need the most help on offense, which despite an outpouring of runs in the past five weeks still ranks tied for last in on-base percentage, third-to-last in strikeouts and second-to-last in walks in the NL. Manager Clint Hurdle said the recent offensive improvement will not change the search for a hitter.

"We need to be optimistic but realistic on who we are and what we are and what we need to do to take another step," Hurdle said.

"That doesn't take away from what's been done. It doesn't say that the people here aren't good enough. You look to get better. How can you improve, where can you improve?"

The addition of the second wild-card playoff spot this season has kept more teams from selling. All but eight teams are currently within six games of a wild-card spot.

"It's still a tremendous seller's market as a result of there being not very many sellers out there," Huntington said. "They're doing what you would expect clubs to do when supply is low and demand is high, they're asking a lot."

Huntington said the organization was prepared to part with prospects if necessary.

"We know that to get some value, we're going to have to give up some value," he said.

Reports have linked the Pirates, along with many other teams, to the San Diego Padres' Carlos Quentin, 29, an outfielder who is a candidate to be traded by a Padres team in need of young players.

Fox Sports reported that the Pirates were interested in Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton, 24, who is under contract until 2015. Upton is owed $38.5 million over the final three years of his contract, which may not fit on a Pirates payroll that will increase next year. Upton's performance has dipped since 2011, when he hit .289 with 31 home runs, but his youth and contract status likely will require a team to pay a steep price to get him.


Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG.


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