According to Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, talks with top Dominican prospect Miguel Angel Sano have stalled, with the Pirates removing their offer from the table two weeks ago. What I find interesting is that, despite the hype on Sano, no other team has made an offer.
The offer made by the Pirates, which is reportedly less than $3 M, is the only offer reported on paper. The offer was made the first day of the international signing period, July 2nd, and was pulled two weeks ago. There was the lengthy investigation by MLB which could have held the bidding back. MLB did release the results of that investigation, and ruled Sano’s identity to be correct, and his age unknown.
Even though the exact offer made by the Pirates isn’t known, we do know that it’s not the top offer made this year, as the Cardinals hold this year’s record by signing Wagner Mateo to a $3.1 M deal. It makes you wonder why no one is even offering $3 M for Sano, which would reportedly top the Pirates’ offer. My guess as to some possible reasons:
1. Sano has a relationship with the Pirates, and the Pirates have money to spend. While Plummer wants more teams in the bidding, teams could be worried that the Pirates will eventually match or beat their bid, and Sano will choose the Pirates. It may be a situation where teams have to spend more than Sano is worth just to beat out the Pirates, thanks to the relationship.
2. Teams could still be concerned with his age. Sano still has to pass a US Customs test, and I’m not sure when the results of that will come about.
3. Maybe Sano was over-hyped, and teams don’t consider him worth record setting money, or even more than the Pirates are offering.
4. The Baltimore Sun is reporting that Sano’s agent, Rob Plummer, is asking for $5.5-7 M. Teams may be watching what is happening with the Pirates, and assume a bid is pointless if it’s below the asking price.
In any case, I think the Pirates are making the right move here. There’s no sense in raising their bid, as they’d only be bidding against themselves with no other team making an offer. There’s no sense in keeping their offer on the table either. Plummer isn’t taking the offer, which means that it’s only purpose right now is to provide Plummer with negotiating strength with other teams, by providing an offer they have to beat.
Let’s put the asking price in perspective here. Only four players in the 2009 draft received $5.5 M or more. They were Stephen Strasburg, Dustin Ackley, Donovan Tate, and Jacob Turner. Only two other players, Tyler Matzek and Zack Wheeler, received $3 M or more. After Ackley and Tate, the highest bonus for a position player was Grant Green, who received $2.75 M.
Signing bonuses are all about the risk/reward factor. A guy like Ackley, who was dominating the ACC last year, is less of a risk than a 16 year old like Sano, who has yet to play anything close to professional baseball. The common misconception about international players is that you need to spend money to guarantee success. While a guy like Sano is less of a risk than a guy signing for $15 K, there’s still risk involved. That doesn’t mean Sano is a guarantee to become “Hanley Pujols”, just like it doesn’t mean a $15 K signing won’t be good.
Last year the Pirates signed Exicardo Cayonez to a $400 K bonus. Cayonez, an outfielder, hit .300/.398/.418 in 213 at-bats in the VSL, with one homer and four steals. The Pirates also signed Jorge Bishop for $15 K. Bishop, a shortstop, hit .307/.370/.466 in 264 at-bats in the VSL, with nine homers and 24 steals.
Then there’s Starling Marte, who signed for $85 K a few years ago, and is currently hitting for a .321/.380/.444 line at West Virginia, with two homers and 20 steals. What’s even more impressive is that Marte has a hit in 42 of his 45 games played.
I’m not saying the Pirates shouldn’t sign Sano. I’m saying that spending huge money because Sano is labeled as closer to being a sure thing than other players is foolish. There is no sure thing, not even in the draft, and especially not in the international signing ranks, where players are at least four years away from showing signs of whether they’re going to make it or not.
The Pirates had the highest bid, and the only bid with no other teams bidding. Hopefully pulling their offer from the table will get Plummer to actually respond to their offer, rather than putting the Pirates on the back burner while he tries to get a record deal for a top prospect who is seeing little to no financial interest from other teams.