The Final Word on Sano
On Tuesday I wrote that the Pirates got a raw deal on Miguel Angel Sano. Since that time, two important articles have come out, revealing a lot on the negotiations.
The first article
was by Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Kovacevic recaps the entire timeline on Sano, from the time the international signing period began and the Pirates were the top bidders, all the way to the point where Kovacevic broke the news to Pirates’ general manager Neal Huntington that Sano signed with the Minnesota Twins.
In the comments of that article
, you will find Sano’s agent, Rob Plummer, commenting to Pirates fans on the negotiation (as “baseballagentesq”). I’ll get to that later.
The second article
was from ESPN’s Jorge Arangure. Arangure sheds more light on the subject, including where the Pirates went wrong, and how this impacts them in the future in Latin America.
There’s nothing I could write as a recap on the Sano situation that would add to what these two have written. All throughout this process Kovacevic and Arangure have been amazing with their coverage, and they wrapped things up very well. So rather than providing another recap, I’m going to just skip to my final opinions, answering some key questions.
1. Where does the blame lie with the Pirates?
There were several areas where the Pirates went wrong. Dejan and Arangure both mention how talking to the Sano family got under Plummer’s skin. Arangure talked about how the Pirates also miscalculated their relationship with the Sanos, thinking they had a better relationship than Plummer did with the Sanos.
There was also the persistence by the Pirates, submitting offers from day one, even though Plummer didn’t want to start negotiations until more teams were involved. That’s understandable for both parties. The Pirates had the inside track on Sano thanks to their relationship, and no other bidders at the time. Plummer didn’t want bids because he didn’t have much leverage at the time with age questions, and no teams bidding after the investigations.
You can’t really fault the Pirates for these two things. The Pirates didn’t do anything here that was wrong. Plummer didn’t seem to have a problem with the Twins being in contact Sano’s family. He also didn’t seem to have a problem eventually negotiating with the Twins, despite telling the Pirates repeatedly that he didn’t want to negotiate (and nothing changed between the Pirates’ last offer, and the Twins’ deal, except that Wagner Mateo had his $3.1 M deal voided by the St. Louis Cardinals).
The Pirates went wrong by not taking Sano when they could. According to Arangure, Plummer told the Pirates that the price was $3.1 M, and the Pirates could have Sano for that amount. The Pirates offered $2.6 M, saying they didn’t believe Plummer could get that much, as $2.6 M was the current high bid. So the Pirates had their chance to sign Sano for the same deal, but in the end felt that Plummer wouldn’t get anything better than their offer, and passed.
2. How big of a miscalculation was the decision to turn down Sano for $3.1 M?
It’s easy to sit here in hindsight and say “What? We could have had Sano for an extra $500 K?”. I’m sure there will be people who say that. However, hindsight is 20/20. We need to go back and look at the situation at the time.
When the Sano negotiations started, Plummer was asking for a record setting bonus, with some rumors pinning that amount at $4.5 M. The Pirates were the only bidders, offering $2 M. Due to the age investigation, there were questions on whether Sano could get more than $2 M.
The age investigation finished, confirming Sano’s identity, and leaving his age “undetermined”. Teams eventually started showing more interest. The Pirates offered $2.6 M. The Orioles offered $2.5 M. Plummer turned down the $2.6 M offer from the Pirates, which opened the door for the New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners, and Cincinnati Reds to step in. None of those teams thought Plummer could get more than $3 M for Sano, according to Arangure, and as a result, none of them became serious bidders.
So the Pirates weren’t the only team balking at the $3.1 M figure. The Yankees, Reds, Mariners, and Orioles were also refusing to pay that price. The Pirates had the highest known offer, and with no other teams willing to top that, they seemed to be in good shape. There’s also the issue of whether Plummer would budge from the $3.1 M figure. Let’s not forget, Plummer started off seeking a record setting bonus. Who is to say that he wouldn’t have gone down further on the price, especially with little interest in that listed price?
Overall the Pirates mistake was that they didn’t think Plummer could get the $3.1 M asking price, but that was a mistake made by many teams.
3. What would have been the harm of taking the $3.1 M offer?
Had the Pirates taken the $3.1 M offer, the large benefit would be that they’d have Miguel Sano. The downside is that they’d lose leverage in future debates. Think about this. Why do people never take deals from Scott Boras before the final ten minutes of the draft pick signing period? They know that in those final ten minutes, Boras will come off of his astronomical prices, and they’ll get a better deal.
The Pirates were the high bidders on Sano at the time, and no team was showing interest in topping them. By taking the $3.1 M offer, they would be giving in to Plummer’s demands, which would hurt them in future negotiations. The next time they’re bidding for a top prospect in the Dominican, an agent would have just assumed they would take the offer eventually, and wouldn’t budge, leaving the Pirates with two choices: take the offer and continue the cycle, or stand their ground and break the cycle.
So why didn’t the Twins have to worry about this? They weren’t in the same situation. They had to top bids by the Pirates and the Orioles, both around $2.6 M. They weren’t the high bidders, and they weren’t bidding against themselves. In a way, the Pirates might have been better off with an approach that wasn’t so aggressive, as it wouldn’t have put them in a situation where they’d be bidding against themselves to meet the asking price, which is the situation the Twins were in.
4. How much blame goes to Plummer?
In my post about how the Pirates got a raw deal, I blamed a lot of the failure to sign Sano on Rob Plummer. That’s not entirely the case, it seems, but Plummer isn’t completely innocent in this one. First of all, it seems Plummer was playing with two different sets of rules: one for the Pirates, and one for the Twins.
Plummer made several comments on the PBC Blog. First of all, I feel this is totally unprofessional for an agent. Plummer was commenting to Pirates fans about a player of his that signed with the Twins. He had no business commenting to Pirates fans, or any fans really. Sure, people were making negative comments towards him, but that’s part of the job.
It seems like Plummer was only focused on his own interests, rather than the interests of Sano. Plummer gave the Pirates a chance to take the $3.1
M offer, and the Pirates declined, according to Arangure. At that point, Plummer refused to accept any more offers from them. This is basically Plummer saying “it’s my way or the highway”. That was a gamble Plummer took, and it paid off in the end, but let’s consider something.
This process was basically like an auction. The Pirates were in the lead with the top bid, leaving no incentive to meet Plummer’s demands. Had another team topped them, like the Twins with their $3.1 M bid, the Pirates would have incentive to either match that bid, or offer more, something Plummer admits that the Pirates would have likely done.
Plummer is supposed to be representing his client. Deliberately leaving money on the table, with other teams interested, is not in the best interest of his client. Plummer said on the PBC Blog:
I could have been here a year waiting for a team to step up if I hadn’t promised not to shop an offer of what I thought was ok to sign
That’s not exactly true. All Plummer had to do was go to the Pirates and say “I have an offer of $3.1 M from the Twins. I’m going to give you the chance to top it. If you don’t, Sano goes to Minnesota.” That doesn’t take a year. Plummer can limit the time period for the Pirates’ decision to a day in that case. According to Arangure, Plummer did offer the Orioles a chance to outbid the Twins, which makes this comment total BS.
Plummer also said this:
If you don’t promise not to shop their offer then why would the Twins go to ownership if they think that the Yankees are just going to beat their best offer. Why would the Yankees make a big offer if they think they have the opportunity to beat any offer.
This comment doesn’t really fit in with the report from Arangure. Arangure said that the Yankees refused to make a big offer, because they didn’t feel Plummer could get more than $3 M. The Yankees weren’t on the sidelines because there was no need to meet Plummer’s demands at the time, because no other team would.
As for the first line, it makes no sense. The Pirates obviously went to ownership before making the $2.6 M offer. Is Plummer trying to say that teams only go to ownership and submit a bid when they feel a deal is complete and there’s no chance of being outbid? If so, then why was he not concerned with the Pirates and their bids?
After this situation I had two theories on Plummer. The first was that he was trying to have his Scott Boras/Tim Belcher moment. This deal was a big win for Plummer. Next time around teams will be more willing to jump at his asking price, knowing that he’s not going to budge until a team takes it, and the team that takes it is guaranteed to get the player for that price, no tricks involved.
The second thought was that Plummer was petty, and let his emotions lead the way. This was shown big time in his comments in the PBC Blog. A professional agent doesn’t comment to fans in the comments section of a blog, even if he feels the need to defend himself. There’s going to be criticism in that line of work. If Plummer can’t handle comments from Pirates fans in a blog, then how can we assume that he can keep his emotions in check in the negotiations for Sano?
As a recap, Plummer cut the Pirates out, not because they weren’t willing to offer the most for Sano, but because they didn’t play by his rules. He also left money on the table for the sake of getting the offer he wanted, which spelled a big victory for him, and justified his actions towards the Pirates and their $2.6 M bid. He followed that up by showing up on the PBC Blog to defend himself, and in the process, hype up a 13 year old labeled as “better than Sano”, which seems like his whole agenda was to get Pirates fans started on that prospect, thus putting the Pirates in a situation where they are the enemy if they don’t go after this new guy who is better than the last guy.
5. How big of a loss is this for the Pirates?
The “Hanley Pujols” nickname was thrown around a lot, due to Sano’s potential being described as “Albert Pujols in Hanley Ramirez’s body”. The problem is that most people looked past the “potential” disclaimer, and assumed Sano was a lock for that future success.
One thing I’ve noticed about Pirates fans (and I can only speak about Pirates fans here, but it might be all fan bases) is that there are a lot of people with a “grass is greener” approach to prospects. Matt Wieters is a future Hall of Famer before he even plays a single game in the minors. Pedro Alvarez? We need to see if he performs in the majors. Zach Von Rosenberg is a must sign because he’s a future ace. After he signs? Let’s see if he can live up to the hype.
It seems that in every situation, the player in question is always better before they sign with the Pirates, and once they’re in the system, that’s when people temper their expectations. Personally, I feel this is due to our history. The Pirates have long been without top prospects, and have seen many prospects fail along the way. So it’s probably a feeling of “if we were able to sign this person, how good can they possibly be”. There’s probably a medical term for that, but I’m not a psychologist.
In this case we need to first realize that Sano was not a guarantee to be anything in the majors, not even “Hanley Pujols”. I’ll admit, I got caught up in that hype as well. That’s not saying Sano isn’t a great prospect to have.
No prospect provides a guarantee. Pedro Alvarez isn’t a guarantee. Matt Wieters isn’t a guarantee. ZVR isn’t a guarantee. It’s all about playing the odds. Alvarez has a much better chance of success, simply because he competed against higher levels of talent in college before signing with the Pirates. ZVR is less of a guarantee, because we haven’t even seen him perform outside of the prep level. Sano hasn’t even played professional baseball, and comes from poverty, which adds a new element: how will he react to the sudden change in lifestyle?
A lot of reactions treat this as if we didn’t sign Pedro Alvarez. I feel this is closer to not signing Von Rosenberg (and yes, I know we signed both Alvarez and ZVR, but this is just an example). This move wouldn’t have upgraded us right away. Sano won’t be in the majors until 2014 at the earliest. It’s not like Alvarez, who will likely be up after a year and a half in the minors. How upset can we be about a move that might or might not help us four years from now? We don’t even know if we’ll need Sano at that point, since he projects to be a right fielder in the majors. At that point our major league outfield could be Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and Starling Marte, or maybe someone else along the way.
Overall it would have been great to have Sano, Im not going to deny that. However, he isn’t a savior of the franchise. He isn’t going to end the losing right away. The Pirates also won’t get shut out of the Dominican for failure to sign Sano, as they have shown the willingness to spend on a top prospect like Sano. In the end, adding Sano is the same as adding a guy like Robbie Grossman or ZVR. He’s a first round talent, several years away, and there’s no guarantee that he lives up to his potential. In the end the Pirates aren’t doomed in the future because they didn’t sign Sano.