Alvarez talks could go 'deep into the night'
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By the time the clock strikes midnight tonight for Major League Baseball's deadline to sign draft picks, the Pirates will know whether they have signed Pedro Alvarez.
Maybe not a minute sooner.
"As we anticipated from the beginning, this process has been a challenge," general manager Neal Huntington said last night in a rare comment on the topic. "We're fully expecting it will go deep into the night."
This is what was known as of late last night about management's talks with Alvarez, Vanderbilt University's standout third baseman and the No. 2 overall pick in the June draft:
• The Pirates remained privately optimistic a deal will be reached, but cautiously so. They sounded confident they have made an offer that is fair market value for a player of Alvarez's caliber and that he will recognize that.
No figures have been disclosed out of an airtight negotiation being conducted almost entirely between Huntington and Scott Boras, Alvarez's advisor, but the offer surely is miles above MLB's slot recommendation of $3.5 million and possibly above the $6.15 million backloaded money the Tampa Bay Rays paid to the No. 1 pick, shortstop Tim Beckham.
It had appeared yesterday that the bar was raised when the San Jose Mercury News reported that the No. 5 pick, catcher Buster Posey, agreed to a major league contract with the San Francisco Giants with a $7.5 million bonus. But all aspects of that report were being disputed by baseball officials last night.
Six of the top 10 overall picks were unsigned, though the Baltimore Orioles were close on a $3.1 million bonus for the No. 4 pick, pitcher Brian Matusz.
Boras, who represents four other unsigned first-round picks, has made a habit of making teams wait until the final minute. His only top-10 players in the first round last year, shortstop Mike Moustakas with the Kansas City Royals and catcher Matt Wieters, each agreed to terms within 10 minutes of midnight, Moustakas at 11:58.
Boras strongly suggested in an interview with the Post-Gazette two weeks ago, without naming Alvarez, that this negotiation would be comparable to that of Mark Teixeira, who got a guaranteed $9.5 million as part of a major league contract in 2001. That bar has not been reached since.
• A major league contract remains a possibility, if unlikely, but the larger issue -- a "sticking point," as one source described it -- is the physical being performed before the deadline.
Boras prefers not to have his players take pre-signing physicals. If something major is found amiss with Alvarez after he signs a major league contract, the team has no recourse. If it happens after he signs a minor league contract, the deal can be rescinded.
• Alvarez and his closest family have been away from their New York home and out of communication with acquaintances for the past week, according to a family friend yesterday.
That likely is an indication that the Boras/Alvarez side is seeking isolation in advance of the decision. Alvarez has not spoken with anyone in the media since June 5, the day he was drafted, on Boras' advice.
On another front, the Pirates signed their sixth-round pick, outfielder Robbie Grossman from Texas' Cypress-Fairbanks High School, to a $1 million bonus plus a paid college education.
It was the highest bonus in franchise history for a player taken that late, comparable to that of a player taken in the supplemental first round, and it was well above the $155,000 slot level for fifth-rounders. (There are no slots beyond the fifth round.)
Grossman, 18, had signed a letter of intent with the University of Texas before the draft, which chased some teams away. Huntington said the Pirates viewed him as a second-round talent -- a stance supported by Baseball America ranking him No. 49 among all players before the draft -- but gambled that he would be available later because of the commitment to the Longhorns.
But the Pirates' Texas scout, Mike Leuzinger, pursued Grossman aggressively, and management followed through with what Huntington called "a very tough signing."
"As part of our calculated strategy, we were thrilled that a player of his ability was still available when we selected in the sixth," Huntington said.
How set had Grossman been on attending Texas?
"I thought I'd go to school, but the Pirates went after me, and I respect that," he said. "I feel like it's the right decision."
Grossman is a 6-foot-1, 195-pound switch-hitter with some power -- 11 home runs as a high school senior -- and a hard-nosed playing style that reminds some scouts of Lenny Dykstra. That makes him sound something like Pirates newcomer Brandon Moss, but there is an exception: Management is projecting that Grossman can play center field, which would add value.
He attended the game last night and will join Bradenton of the rookie-level Gulf Coast League today for the final two weeks of that season.
That raised the Pirates' number of signed picks to 30 out of 50, three more than last year, and there are three targets remaining besides Alvarez: No. 2 pick Tanner Scheppers, plus two others not yet known.
Scheppers, a pitcher out of Fresno State University who is seeking a bonus above his slot figure of $809,000, still was being seen as 50-50 as to whether he might sign.
The only other player in the Pirates' top 10 who is unsigned, California high school pitcher Drew Gagnon, will remain that way. He told management yesterday he will honor his commitment to Long Beach State University.
The bonus for the fifth-round pick, Fresno State pitcher Justin Wilson, who signed Wednesday, was $195,000, right at slot.
First Published August 15, 2008 12:00 am