Signing Sano gamble Pirates have to take

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We might not know exactly how old Miguel Angel Sano is, but we do know this about the extraordinary shortstop/outfielder prospect from the Dominican Republic: The kid has a thing for the Pirates, wants to play for them and almost surely will sign with them if their money offer is competitive.

Not even the Pirates can mess this up, right?

Hey, it's a nice thought.

Sano is exactly the type of player the Pirates need to sign. Not so much to prove to their fans that they are serious about this latest rebuilding effort from the bottom up and are willing to spend serious money to do it, although that surely would be nice. They can't keep cutting payroll at the big-league level -- as they've done this season with the trades of Nate McLouth and Adam Laroche and as they might do this week by trading Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez -- without putting the savings back into the other end. No, the real reason to sign Sano is because he's a phenomenal talent. Everybody in the organization says so. Getting a player like him is the best way to appease the fans because he should help the team finally start to win games after 17 sorry years of losing.

Sure, it's a big gamble throwing big money at a kid who says he is 16 but might be older. (Major League Baseball investigated Sano without being able to determine his exact age). Everybody knows there are a million hurdles between can't-miss prospect and the major leagues. But that's the type of gamble the Pirates have to take. They're never going to be able to sign an Albert Pujols or a Hanley Ramirez -- the players Sano has been compared to by his agent, Rob Plummer, with some justification -- as major league free agents. They have to develop that kind of player in their system. They especially have to jump when that player wants to play for them.

It's not as if Sano fell into the Pirates' lap by accident. Rene Gayo, their Latin America scouting director, has worked hard to build a relationship with him and his mother. It's to the point that Sano's clear first choice is the Pirates. But the only way Plummer will allow a deal to be struck is if the money offer is right. As he told the Post-Gazette's Dejan Kovacevic last week, "Money will be the No. 1 factor in deciding where he signs."

Are you paying attention, Bob Nutting?

The Pirates' initial offer to Sano was decidedly less than $3 million, which might be the only offer the kid has received so far. The Pirates have to be willing to move off that once other teams look hard at Sano's age and get involved in the bidding. Nutting can't make that a problem. By all accounts, Sano is a much better prospect than catcher Tony Sanchez, the Pirates' No. 1 draft choice this June, who signed for $2.5 million. As prospects go, Sano probably is much closer to third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the team's No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft, who signed for $6,355,000 and continues to look like the real deal as a home-run threat at Class AA Altoona.

Signing Sano would be a boon for the Pirates for reasons that go beyond the fact he has such great potential.

One, it would give the franchise a marquee player to put in its sparkling new baseball academy in the Dominican and justify its $5 million cost.

Two, it would keep Gayo and his people happy and make them feel as if their hard work is worth it. If they are telling the Pirates' brass that the kid is as close to can't-miss as they come, they have to believe them. That's why they are paying them.

And three, it would open doors to other top players in Latin America, showing the players and their agents there that the team is willing to do legitimate business. Once a club signs a premier prospect in those countries, it frequently leads to exclusive tryouts and the inside track with other high-end prospects. The value of that can't be overestimated.

Think about it:

Sano could be just the first prized player to come to the Pirates through a Latin American pipeline.

It's obvious, isn't it?

They need to do this deal.

Ron Cook can be reached at .


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