Major League Baseball and its players' union were negotiating last night to settle a grievance that would clear the way for the Pirates and first-round draft pick Pedro Alvarez to sign a revised contract.
The team and Alvarez agreed to terms on a four-year, $6,355,000 deal Sunday night, one that superseded a previous verbal agreement, and all the ground that now remains to be covered, according to two sources, is the following, in order:
1. The union's grievance against commissioner Bud Selig's office -- alleging that more than one team, including the Pirates, received an extension to negotiate with draft picks beyond the midnight Aug. 15 deadline -- must be dropped.
2. Alvarez must report to Pittsburgh for his physical.
3. The contract must be signed.
- Game: Pirates vs. Milwaukee Brewers, 8:05 p.m., Miller Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Jeff Karstens (2-6, 4.37) vs. RHP Dave Bush (9-10, 4.22).
- Key matchup: The Brewers vs. their own hands gripping their throats. On the day they swept three from the Pirates Aug. 31, they were 24 games above .500 and 5 1/2 ahead in the wild-card chase. Since then, they have gone 5-15 this month and are now one game behind the New York Mets in the chase.
- Of note: Ryan Doumit's 14 home runs are the most by a Pirates catcher since Jason Kendall, now with Milwaukee, hit the same number in 2000. Mark Parent had 15 in 1996.
To the first item: Talks between MLB and the union began early yesterday and continued into the night, possibly to extend into this morning.
The urgency stems from the second hearing in the case being scheduled for this morning in New York before arbitrator Shyam Das. Neither MLB nor the union appear to wish that it will proceed, given that the principal parties have settled and the massive legal costs involved. Moreover, Das, whose docket is jammed, no doubt would welcome freeing time today and tomorrow, when the third hearing would be held.
The union is believed to be seeking assurance from Selig's office that it no longer will unilaterally grant extensions to the deadline, as happened with the Pirates and Alvarez, and, thus, strictly abide by baseball's labor pact. The parties could issue a simple statement to that effect, or they could go further and amend the labor pact with stronger language.
Once that is done, the Pirates and Alvarez can move to the next step, and the Kansas City Royals' Eric Hosmer, another drafted player whose agreement was completed after the deadline, will be allowed to resume playing. MLB ordered Hosmer, even though his contract was signed, to stop playing for his minor league team in late August because of the grievance.
Neither MLB nor the union issued comment yesterday.
The same was true of the Pirates and Scott Boras, the agent for Alvarez and Hosmer.
Dayton Moore, Kansas City's general manager, expressed optimism that the Pirates' settlement would bring an end to the grievance.
"We never thought we were going to lose the player," Moore told the Kansas City Star, referring to Hosmer. "If [the Pirates and Alvarez] have reached an agreement, I would think we'll hear something [last night] or [today]."
There remained, as of last night, no set date for Alvarez to arrive in Pittsburgh for the physical. Nor was there any indication that the team had made contact with him. In large part, according to one source, that was because the Alvarez side wishes to wait until the MLB-union matter is done.
It remained unknown yesterday which side, the Pirates or Boras, instigated the talks toward a revised agreement, but it became clear that initial contact between the parties happened Thursday, the day after Selig testified before Das at the opening of the hearing.
That could be taken as a sign that MLB saw from that hearing how long the case could drag out -- months, in some estimations -- and urged the Pirates to try to work things out independently. From the other perspective, it is believed that the union also had been eager for the parties to settle independently, to the point where the union delayed by a day or two the grievance that ultimately was filed Aug. 27.
At any rate, one source said yesterday that the talks that led to the revised agreement came with the full blessing of MLB and the union, as did the settlement itself.
The agreement's numbers would indicate significant compromise.
The Pirates kept the same bonus amount, $6 million, as the original agreement, but were allowed to stagger it over four years rather than the original two. That, combined with the annual $88,750 Alvarez would make in the minor leagues those four years, brings the guaranteed total to the headline figure of $6,355,000. But the team can make the case that, because the payments are so staggered, interest and appreciation lowers that figure to $5.67 million.
From Boras' side, the headline figure gives his client, the No. 2 overall pick, the highest bonus in the draft, narrowly edging the San Francisco Giants' Buster Posey, taken at No. 5. His bonus was $6.2 million. But Boras' stronger case can be that, because Alvarez is likely to shoot through the Pirates' system quickly, the major league money he will collect -- the contract changed from minor league to major league in the revision -- will work out best for his client.
In his four years, Alvarez would make $400,000, $500,000, $550,000 and $700,000 for time spent in the majors. The major league minimum salary -- $390,000 this year -- is all the Pirates otherwise would have been required to pay Alvarez for his first three years in the majors.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .