I was talking to my dad yesterday about the Pirates draft, and something occurred to me: I probably have way too much of the MLB Rule Book committed to memory, specifically the rules involving player contracts. I kind of just assume everyone knows these rules, so they go unsaid most of the time on here. After my conversation with my dad, I thought up some more topics, and decided to cover a lot of the comments and questions that are being made about Jameson Taillon following the completion of his contract.
1. The Pirates paid Jameson Taillon $6.5 M. Bryce Harper got a five year contract. How many years does Taillon’s contract cover?
There are two types of contracts that can be issued during the draft: a standard minor league contract, and a major league contract. The minor league contract just pays a straight bonus, and this is what Taillon received. His bonus will likely be split up between two seasons, which is also standard (although minor league bonuses can’t be split up in to any more than two payments).
Harper got a five year contract because he signed a major league deal. The contract pays him a bonus ($6.25 M in Harper’s case), plus it gives him guaranteed salaries in his first five years, which are much higher than what he normally would receive. It also speeds up his path to the majors.
So how long is Taillon signed for? Here is a breakdown of the maximum amount of time that Taillon, signed in 2010, can be under the Pirates’ control:
2011-2014: Minor League Contract, has to be added to the 40-man roster no later than November 20, 2014, or risk being selected in the 2014 Rule 5 draft.*
2015: First year on the 40-man roster.
2016: Second year on the 40-man roster.
2017: Third year on the 40-man roster.
2018: Out of options, has to be added to the major league roster for good at the start of the 2018 season, or be designated for assignment.
2018-2020: League minimum years.
2021-2023: Arbitration years.
2024: Eligible for free agency.
*Note that this is the timeline for Taillon, a high school draftee. A player drafted out of college in 2010 would be eligible for the 2013 Rule 5 draft, speeding up the remaining process by one year.
The maximum control that this bonus pays for is 13 years, although it would be an extreme disappointment if Taillon isn’t in the majors by 2018. The main difference between Taillon and Harper is that Harper received a major league deal, which means he skips the minor league contract portion and jumps to his first year on the 40-man roster right away. He also has his league minimum contracts with guaranteed salaries, likely to be slightly more than what the normal player would receive. The main benefit, though, is the quicker path to the majors, as the maximum Harper would be in the Washington system is ten years.
2. Is the bonus Taillon received his salary throughout his minor league career?
Taillon’s signing bonus was just that: the bonus he received to sign with the team. From there he is under a minor league contract, until the point he gets added to the 40-man roster. The details of individual minor league deals are unknown, but players usually get a set amount per month, and only get paid during the months of the regular season. That set amount is usually something like $1,000, which means a minor league player will make $6,000 a year. This is part of the reason why teams have to pay out such big signing bonuses to prep players.
Taillon’s minor league contract could pay more than that, but probably not much more. From there, Taillon’s next step would be the 40-man roster. Taillon might not spend any time in the minors on the 40-man roster, as he might just have his contract purchased one day down the line (2013-2014), and go to the majors. If he did spend time in the minors, while on the 40-man roster (similar to what players like Bryan Morris and Gorkys Hernandez are doing now), he would receive the following pay scale:
-$32,500 his first year in the minors on the 40-man roster
-$65,000 his second year in the minors on the 40-man roster
-$97,500 his third year in the minors on the 40-man roster
Those numbers are based on this year’s salary structure. They could change by the time Taillon is added to the 40-man. Once Taillon is called up, he’s eligible for standard major league contracts: league minimum pay in his first three years of service time, and arbitration in years 4-6, then eligible for free agency after six years of service time.
3. Bryce Harper signed a five year major league deal. Pedro Alvarez also received a major league deal in 2008. Does that mean he’s a free agent when that deal is up?
The major league deal just outlines what the salaries will be during the duration of that deal. In the case of Alvarez, he received $88,750 in 2009, when he normally would have received $32,500. This year he received $88,750 in the minors, rather than the normal $65,000, and he is receiving $500,000 in the majors, rather than the normal $400,000. His salaries over the next few years, under the deal:
2011: $550,000 (Normal: $420,000)
2012: $700,000 (Normal: $440,000)
2013: $700,000 club option (Normal: $460,000)
2014: $700,000 club option (Normal: Arbitration eligible)
Alvarez has a clause in his contract that allows his to void his 2013 option if he’s arbitration eligible, although he won’t be eligible until the 2014 season. I’m assuming the same clause exists for the 2014 season, so we’ll assume he becomes arbitration eligible that year. The major league contract, from 2009-2013, gives Alvarez an additional $755,833 over what he normally would have made during that time (and the 2011-2013 “normal” prices are estimates).
So what happens in 2014 when his contract runs out? Nothing out of the ordinary. Alvarez would follow the normal cycle. In 2014, assuming the option would be voided, he would become arbitration eligible for the first time. From there, he’d have two remaining years of control (2015, 2016) before he could be free agent eligible for the 2017 season. The main benefit of the major league deal is that it gets the player to the majors quicker. There is some financial gain, but it’s minimal in the long run. When the initial deal is up, the player still has to follow the same basic MLB contract rules, which means he can’t become a free agent until after six years of major league service time.
4. So how long until Taillon is scheduled to see Dr. James Andrews?/Will the Pirates take the same approach with Taillon that they are taking this year with the 2009 prep pitchers?
I put these two questions together because they’re pretty related. First, the Pirates have dealt with a lot of injuries to their first round pitching prospects. In the last 11 drafts prior to the 2010 draft, they have selected seven pitchers with their first overall pick. Five of those pitchers (Brad Lincoln, Bryan Bullington, John Van Benschoten, Sean Burnett, Bobby Bradley) suffered major arm injuries.
It’s very common for fans to believe that their pitchers suffer more major injuries than other teams. The reason for this is because fans only follow one team. I’m guessing most fans can’t name five minor league pitching prospects for any given team, outside of the Pirates. Simply put, the reason you only hear about the Pirates having pitching injuries is because you probably only follow the Pirates.
As for the approach, I expect Taillon to take a similar approach to the 2009 prep pitchers. He will likely start the 2011 season in extended Spring Training. Around June he should start off with State College for a start or two. The difference is that I think he will move to West Virginia quickly. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he bypasses State College all together.
This approach provides a huge benefit: it reduces the risk of injury. Taillon hasn’t pitched anywhere near the equivalent of a full season. In 2010 he pitched just 62.2 innings in high school. Putting him in the West Virginia rotation in April pretty much guarantees he will more than double that amount. That’s an excellent way to guarantee an arm injury in the future.
5. If pitching injuries are so common around the majors, why would the Pirates spend so much on a pitcher?
Taillon projects as a future ace. There’s really only four ways to get an ace. You can draft a guy like Taillon, you can draft a guy like Zach Von Rosenberg and hope he develops in to an ace, you can trade half of your farm system for an ace, or you can sign a free agent for $160 M. The last two aren’t options for the Pirates. They can’t afford to trade a ton of players away, as the farm system should be their bread and butter. They also will never get a free agent ace, as the big market teams like the Yankees will always out-bid teams like the Pirates (SEE: New York and Milwaukee in the battle for C.C. Sabathia).
There are no guarantees that Taillon will become the ace everyone hopes he will become. However, the odds of Taillon becoming an ace are much higher than guys like Von Rosenberg or Colton Cain, just because Taillon already has the ability needed, with his upper 90s fastball being the key feature.
One thing is certain: regardless of the risk of injuries with pitchers, you can pretty much guarantee that you will never get your ace if you avoid pitchers due to their injury risk. You can either take a chance on them, with a certain risk that they will get injured and leave you without an ace, or you can avoid them, and have a 100% guarantee that you will be without an ace.
6. Why didn’t the Pirates take a safer pick like high school shortstop Manny Machado?
This has been a common question since the Pirates drafted Taillon, and even came up well before the draft. Back in June, in my 2010 draft preview, I looked at some historical numbers to see just how much of a risk a top ranked prep pitcher was. Historically speaking, based on the results so far of the 2001-2005 drafts, a guy like Taillon has a 56.7% chance of reaching the majors. Compare that to a top college pitcher (69.8%), a top prep hitter (64.7%), and a top college hitter (84.9%), and you can see why people are concerned about the risk of taking a prep pitcher, even if he’s highly ranked like Taillon was.
That said, when looking at what type of player produced the above-average and star players, the prep pitchers were one of the best bets. 43.4% of the top ranked prep pitchers from 2001-2005 draft went on to be above average or better players in the majors. 13.3% of the top ranked prep pitchers went on to be star players. Compare that to top college pitchers (39.5%/11.6%), top prep hitters (44.1%/14.7%), and top college hitters (54.6%/18.2%) and you see that, if no top college hitter is available, prep pitchers have just as much chance of success as prep hitters, and more of a chance than college pitchers.
What that means is that a prep hitter like Machado has a better chance of reaching the majors than Taillon, but they both have about the same chance of being an above average player, or even a star player.
7. Why should I care about Taillon? By the time he’s in the majors, the current group will be gone.
A common theory now that Taillon is signed is that he won’t arrive for at least five years, which is about the time Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen, and Jose Tabata will be nearing free agency. That timeline may be true for most prep pitchers, but not necessarily Taillon.
Taillon is a very special prep pitcher. He throws in the upper 90s, he’s got a big frame that can support a starter’s workload in pro ball, and he’s got the makings of two plus breaking balls. He’s not a guy that needs a lot of development in the lower levels of the minors. He’s advanced for his age, which is why many people have suggested he could move through the minors like a college pitcher.
I mentioned above that I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in West Virginia by mid-season in 2011. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he splits the 2012 season between Bradenton and Altoona, putting him on pace for a June 2013 arrival in the majors, after two months in Indianapolis. That’s an optimistic view, but not unheard of. It’s similar to the path Josh Beckett took to the majors out of high school, although Beckett arrived a year sooner than this suggested path.
If Taillon is up in June 2013, that gives him at least three and a half years with Alvarez and Tabata, plus at least two and a half years with McCutchen, assuming there are no extensions for those three players. It’s also very likely that the first round pick in 2011 could join the team by June 2013, as there are a lot of top college prospects in the 2011 draft who could speed through the system. I’ll expand more on this later in the week.
Perhaps a five year timeline is true for a guy like Stetson Allie, who has the stuff, but isn’t as polished as Taillon. That timeline is definitely the case for guys like Nick Kingham, Zach Von Rosenberg, and Colton Cain. However, Taillon is a special pitcher, which is probably why the Pirates drafted him and gave him the second biggest signing bonus in MLB draft history.