PHOENIX -- The Pirates' stance on Pedro Alvarez, according to team president Frank Coonelly, is this: They want to sign their first-round draft pick by Major League Baseball's deadline, now 10 days away, and remain optimistic that will happen. But they will not "grossly exceed" the bar set by recent high draftees, including those represented by super-agent Scott Boras.
Not if it has a negative impact on the current or future draft classes.
And not if it costs the team the money it will take to sign outfielder Nate McLouth, catcher Ryan Doumit and starter Paul Maholm to long-term contracts, as it now is planning to attempt, perhaps before season's end.
"If we complied with a demand to grossly exceed the well-established market for drafted players, we would severely harm the Pirates' ability to build the championship-caliber club our fans so richly deserve," Coonelly said yesterday from Pittsburgh.
He did not discuss details of the talks with Alvarez, the No. 2 overall pick out of Vanderbilt University, as was the case when first speaking publicly on the topic two weeks ago. But Coonelly strongly suggested that Boras' bar is similar to others he has set in the recent past where he sought bonuses in the range of current Los Angeles Angels first baseman Mark Teixeira's standard-setting $9.5 million from 2001.
Boras had two high-end players drafted last year, and each had his talks go to the wire with, ultimately, the player agreeing to much less than the initial demand.
The No. 2 pick last year, shortstop Mike Moustakas, agreed to a $4 million bonus and minor league contract from the Kansas City Royals minutes before the midnight deadline.
The No. 5 pick, catcher Matt Wieters, agreed to a $6 million bonus and minor league contract from the Baltimore Orioles, also minutes before midnight. Until 11:30 p.m. that day, according to numerous reports, Boras' price was $11 million.
"If we move the market from a range of $4 million-$6 million to more than twice that for a high draft choice, the Pirates would need to pay that new market price next year, then year after year," Coonelly said.
In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette two weeks ago, Boras declined comment on the Pirates-Alvarez talks because of Alvarez's status as a student-athlete at Vanderbilt, but he did discuss his agency's general practices with high-end draft picks.
"One thing that fans should understand about the draft is that we've only asked for 11 players, in my 36 years of doing this, to get bonuses that have exceeded $4 million or $5 million. All 11 of those players are highly successful," Boras said at the time. "And we've only asked for bonuses that exceed $7 million or $8 million a couple of times, and those players are Mark Teixeira, J.D. Drew, Stephen Drew and people of that nature who are all either stars or coming stars. I think it's important to have that context of the work we've done in the past."
The bar for the two most recent No. 1 overall picks, each selected by the Tampa Bay Rays and neither represented by Boras, has been well below eight figures.
The No. 1 pick last year, pitcher David Price, agreed to a six-year, major league contract worth $8,125,000, including a $5.6 million signing bonus. But, because the deal was heavily backloaded, it has what baseball officials call a "net present value" of $4.8 million. That means, if Price were handed $4.8 million the day he signed, he would receive that same $8,125,000 -- through inflation and interest -- by the time the final payment is made.
The No. 1 pick this year, shortstop Tim Beckham, agreed to a record $6.1 million bonus and a minor league contract. His bonus was spread over five years, though, because the Rays were able to take advantage of an exemption for two-sport athletes. Beckham's contract's "net present value" is $4.7 million.
Players unsigned by Aug. 15 go back into the draft pool next year. Teams in the upper rounds who do not sign such players are compensated with a comparable pick. In the Pirates' case, if Alvarez, a third baseman, does not sign, they will have the No. 3 overall pick in 2009, in addition to their regular one.
Coonelly previously worked for MLB as chief legal counsel, and one responsibility was advising teams on how to handle signing draft picks. Perhaps leaning on that experience, he said that "grossly exceeding" precedent for Alvarez could have a detrimental effect on the Pirates in the long term.
"The draft, properly executed, is a major source of talent acquisition for a club like ours, and the ripple effect of such an irresponsible action would escalate significantly our cost not only this year but also 2009 and beyond," Coonelly said.
That included, he added, signing other key selections from the current class. Still unsigned among players targeted are the No. 2 pick, pitcher Tanner Scheppers; the No. 5 pick, pitcher Justin Wilson; the No. 6 pick, outfielder Robbie Grossman; and the No. 10 pick, pitcher Andrew Gagnon.
The Pirates saved roughly $3 million in the two recent trades, and that apparently has emboldened some representatives for those players to ask for more. But the team is responding that the well is limited, in large part because nine current players on the major league roster will be eligible for salary arbitration after this season.
Six will be eligible for the first time, including McLouth, Doumit and Maholm. Management plans to approach those three, among the team's top performers this season, with contract offers that could include buying out multiple years of free agency. Preliminary contact has been made on at least one front, and talks could begin in earnest as early as September.
"Complying with a demand to pay whatever it takes to sign Pedro Alvarez would impair the club's ability to execute that plan," Coonelly said.
McLouth is making $425,500, Doumit $412,000 and Maholm $424,500.
Coonelly reiterated his optimism that a deal with Alvarez will get done.
"We very much want to sign Pedro and continue to believe we will," Coonelly said. "We have been and remain willing to be aggressive to get it done."
First Published August 6, 2008 4:00 AM