Pirates Notebook: Did MLB stand in the way of draft signings?

There’s been a lot of talk going around that the MLB commissioner’s office has been putting pressure on teams to wait until later in the draft pick signing process before announcing any above slot deals. It started with some rumblings from Baseball America. Then there was a Peter Gammons report that suggested a team in the Central with poor success over the last few years had agreed to an above slot deal with their fourth round pick, but the deal was being blocked by the commissioner’s office. Speculation limited that to the Pirates or the Kansas City Royals (who have yet to sign their fourth round pick).

Recently a lot of above slot signings have been coming out all at once. The Pirates agreed to terms with Trent Stevenson, setting a record at the time of $200 K over the recommended slot price. Not long after the Braves agreed to terms with Mike Minor, their first round pick, for about $242 K more than the recommended slot price. I wrote about that deal here, including the rumors from Jim Callis at Baseball America about how two sources said the Braves had a deal in place with Minor before the draft, which MLB blocked due to the deal being above slot.

Then there’s the Pirates recent signings of Zackry Dodson, Colton Cain, and Zach Von Rosenberg, all coming in the span of days at above slot deals, despite all three players considered tough signs. It becomes very obvious that MLB was holding back the above slot deals for all teams, but just how long were these deals held back. Let’s go back to June 12th, just after the draft, when this article came out about Dodson. An interesting quote from the article, from Dodson himself:

“I’m pretty sure I’m going to sign, but I’m not sure about when,” Dodson said. “There’s still a lot of stuff to work out.”

Dodson said he likely won’t sign until after he plays in the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Game on June 21.

Just one day after the draft ended, Dodson was saying he was going to sign. The Pirates went in to this situation knowing they would have to go above slot to get these high school arms to sign. In fact, they went in to this draft planning on offering above slot deals to these guys. I can’t imagine that the Pirates were spending all of this time offering the slot price to Dodson, when they could have had him in the system early for $600 K.

Then there’s Cain and ZVR. Both players were in Pittsburgh at the end of June for a “recruiting visit”. We didn’t hear much about how the visit went, and didn’t hear much on the negotiations from that point forward. Then we started hearing things on ZVR. First, his coach inexplicably set his own deadline for ZVR to commit to LSU.

This move was strange. There was already a deadline for ZVR, and it’s not like the baseball season for LSU starts anytime soon after the August 17th MLB deadline. I don’t see what advantage LSU’s coach would have by knowing a week or two ahead of the MLB signing deadline. The only way this makes sense is if the LSU coach caught wind that ZVR was going to sign, but that the deal couldn’t be official yet.

Take a look at some comments from ZVR just a few days before signing with the Pirates:

“The main thing for me is I’m getting frustrated with how long it’s taking.

“I’d like to make a decision sooner rather than later and know what I’m going to do. I really don’t want to go all the way to the deadline. It’s aggravating to know pro teams can keep you tied up until then.”

Those comments sound like ZVR felt the situation was out of his control. Later in the article he says that the recent offer by the Pirates was the highest, but not enough to reach a decision. So there’s a chance that the Pirates hadn’t agreed to terms with ZVR before Saturday. However, it’s obvious that the Pirates weren’t going for a hard negotiation here, and they didn’t want to go to the August 17th deadline. If that was their plan, they’d still be haggling with ZVR over the price, rather than signing him with over a week remaining.

So did Dodson agree to a deal in June? Did the recruiting visit work for Cain and ZVR? Did MLB hold back the signings to protect their useless slot system? In the end we’ll never know. That said, with all three signings happening at once, and right at the start of the period where MLB is allowing over-slot signings, I wouldn’t be surprised if we learned that at least one of these three players had agreed to terms over a month ago.

Other Stuff

-The Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect Watch for 8/10 is up.

-The MVP Tracker is updated through the 8/9 loss.

-Jim Callis talks about the Pirates’ above slot signings in a Baseball America Q&A.

-Charlie at Bucs Dugout has a great write up about how it’s not a good way to judge the rebuilding efforts by current big league losses.

-Speaking of Bucs Dugout, I forgot to post this the other day, but here are Charlie’s top 30 prospects.

-Jim at North Side Notch has his wishlist for September callups.

-Brian at Raise the Jolly Roger looks at the players the Pirates have traded away, and their recent performances.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect Watch 8/10/09

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