Pirates sign Alvarez at last minute for $6 million
It ticked to the final seconds, but the Pirates signed first-round draft pick Pedro Alvarez before Major League Baseball's deadline at midnight last night -- at 11:59 p.m. -- and did so with the largest bonus in franchise history: $6 million, plus the remainder of his college tuition.
"We are good at deadlines," general manager Neal Huntington deadpanned minutes later.
That was a reference to the three-team Jason Bay trade last month, also executed a minute before deadline.
It is wholly possible that this transaction, which brings Vanderbilt University's slugging third baseman widely regarded as the best hitter in the draft, will make that one look humble by comparison.
Start with the cost ...
Alvarez's bonus, part of a minor league contract, far exceeded the $4 million the Pirates paid to pitcher Bryan Bullington, No. 1 overall in 2001. More striking, it was part of total spending on this 32-player draft class that approached $10 million, a figure made possible when owner Bob Nutting early last month authorized a significant increase. That total included $8,166,000 on players in the top 10 rounds and an additional $900,000 yesterday to lure the 20th-round pick, pitcher Quinton Miller.
That not only was a record for the Pirates, but it was roughly $2 million more than any major league team spent on the draft last season. The high last season was the New York Yankees' $7.6 million.
And yet, a case also could be made that the Pirates did not end up being forced to give up all that they might have, as Alvarez, the No. 2 overall pick, wound up with the minor league contract the Pirates preferred and a bonus that ranked third overall: The San Francisco Giants last night signed catcher Buster Posey, the No. 5 pick, to a $6.2 million upfront bonus and minor league contract. A month ago, the Tampa Bay Rays signed shortstop Tim Beckham to a $6.15 million backloaded bonus.
Coonelly, who in his previous job worked for MLB in advising teams how to stay within slotted recommendations for bonuses, had pledged not to "grossly exceed" the market in signing Alvarez. They ended up greatly exceeding slot, which was $3.5 million, but not the market of the top five.
How exactly this deal got done remains to be fully unfurled, but this much already is known: Alvarez's agent, Scott Boras, followed his recent pattern of taking negotiations to the closing minutes before ultimately calling Huntington -- the team's lone voice in the talks -- to accept. The Pirates, according to one person intimately familiar with those talks, never budged off their number, and Boras' call came at 11:58 to accept.
It was not immediately clear if Boras advised Alvarez to accept or if he was overridden by Alvarez and his family, who live in the Washington Heights section of New York with Alvarez's father, Pedro Sr., driving a taxi to support them.
But it might have been noteworthy that Huntington and team president Frank Coonelly each acknowledged the family in statements issued early this morning.
"Pedro is a quality young man who comes from a very strong family," Huntington said. "We appreciate their trust in the Pirates organization."
"We greatly appreciate the faith Pedro and his family have placed in the Pirates organization," Coonelly said.
Before the draft, Boras, encouraged by the Pirates' new management, allowed them two lengthy meetings with Alvarez, with Huntington and scouting director Greg Smith participating in both. Those are visits Boras might not have allowed previous management, and it represented a sign that he viewed the Pirates as serious suitors.
Boras also, at the time, made the Pirates aware of Alvarez's price, which he made clear would compare to that of current Los Angeles Angels first baseman Mark Teixeira, whose $9.5 million bonus from the Texas Rangers in 2001 set a bar still unmatched by a position player.
The Pirates apparently did not blink.
On draft day, Nutting was in the room when Huntington, Smith and the rest of the staff selected Alvarez and, according to one source, let them know they would have his support.
Nutting also was in constant touch by phone last night, too, for the staredown with Boras.
"Bob Nutting has made a commitment to provide the club with the tools and resources necessary to return the Pirates to the greatness that this organization has achieved so often in its rich history," Coonelly said. "He has further demonstrated that commitment by his active involvement throughout this process and by providing us with the significant dollars necessary to sign Pedro Alvarez. We had to reach to sign Pedro and Bob was fully supportive of our decision."
The whole scene was a far cry from last year, when former general manager Dave Littlefield and his scouts bypassed a Boras client -- Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters -- and drafted reliever Danny Moskos fourth overall, drawing outrage from the public. The bulk of that was aimed at Nutting, but multiple accounts since then support the notion that it was a baseball decision rather than a financial one, despite what now has become apparent is a great gap between the two prospects in terms of talent.
If the Pirates had not signed Alvarez, they would have received a compensatory pick in the draft next year, No. 3 overall, in addition to their regular first-round pick. Alvarez would return to Vanderbilt for his senior year, then re-enter the draft pool.
Next, in absorbing the scope of the transaction, look at the player ...
Alvarez, 21, established himself as an exceptional left-handed power hitter in three years at Vanderbilt, batting .349 with 49 home runs. This season, in which he lost six weeks to a broken hamate bone in his right hand, his average dipped to .317 with nine home runs and 30 RBIs in 40 games, but Baseball America still ranked him its No. 1 draft prospect.
Initial projections were that Alvarez could play in the majors as soon as late 2009, had he signed sooner and had some seasoning in the minors this summer. But he surely will remain on a fast track, likely beginning with time in the Arizona Fall League after some conditioning in Bradenton, Fla.
Regardless of the path, he instantly becomes the Pirates' top prospect, passing outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata, possibly their best prospect since Aramis Ramirez.
"Pedro Alvarez is an accomplished college hitter with the potential to be a middle of the order bat at the major league level for us," Huntington said. "Pedro is a high-end talent. We are excited to add him to our system and about the potential impact he can have."
On another draft front, the Pirates decided not to sign second-round pitcher Tanner Scheppers, partly because he never convinced management that he was fully healthy after missing two months of Fresno State University's junior season to a torn labrum, partly because he sought a bonus in line with a top-10 pick.
As it was, his injury caused him to plummet to No. 48, where the Pirates took a gamble.
"It became clear that Tanner's financial expectations were not in line with the risks presented by Tanner's current status as a pitcher in the early stages of a rehabilitation program," Huntington said. "Unfortunately, Tanner's rehabilitation program timeline changed dramatically from what his representative presented to us prior to the draft. Had Tanner been able to demonstrate that he was fully recovered, we are confident that we could have found common ground."
Scheppers was supposed to pitch for management at the beginning of this month, but it was delayed until Tuesday, and that session was diluted further by less-than-peak velocity and an inability to throw breaking balls.
The slot at No. 48 is $809,000, and the slot for No. 10 was $2.07 million.
The gamble was minimal: For not signing Scheppers, the Pirates' compensatory pick will be the third of the second round, something Huntington mentioned as a factor on the day Scheppers was drafted.
Scheppers can return to Fresno State.
Miller, the 20th-round pick whose $900,000 bonus was the highest for any player taken beyond the 10th round, thought he would be going to college, too.
But the Pirates, upon accepting that Scheppers was not going to lower his price, began at mid-week making strong overtures to bring two high school picks into the professional ranks: One was sixth-round outfielder Robbie Grossman, who signed for $1 million Thursday despite a letter of intent with the University of Texas, and the other was Miller, who had committed to the University of North Carolina.
In fact, as Miller told the Web site InsideCarolina.com, he was preparing to move from his home in Medford, N.J., to the Tar Heels' campus when the Pirates called Thursday.
"Talks had been dead for a couple of weeks," Miller said. "They called, and things picked up from there out of nowhere. They said that they had the money. It was one of the hardest decisions I've had to make, but they gave me an offer I couldn't turn down."
Miller, an 18-year-old right-hander, was ranked the No. 1 prospect in New Jersey by Baseball America -- No. 158 overall -- by going 6-3 with a 2.13 ERA, 85 strikeouts and 14 walks in 522/3 innings as a senior at Shawnee High School.
"Based on potential alone, Quinton was projected to be an early-round selection in the draft but was still available due to his commitment to North Carolina," Huntington said. "We're thrilled to have him join our organization."
First Published August 16, 2008 12:00 am