Every year there seems to be some “what if” fear over the Pittsburgh Pirates failing to sign their top draft picks. In 2008 it was Pedro Alvarez, plus the later round over-slot guys. In 2009 it was Zach Von Rosenberg, Colton Cain, and all of the prep pitchers. This year it’s Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie. I’m almost certain that we’ll hear the same talk next year about a guy like Matt Purke, even if they sign Taillon/Allie this year.
There’s a few reasons for this. First, this is a fairly new process for Pirates fans. The Pirates haven’t really had many tough draft signings before 2008, the first draft under Neal Huntington. There’s only been two drafts under the current management group, and I get the feeling that people are waiting for the Pirates to fail to sign a guy, because they don’t think the Pirates can continue doing what they did in 08/09.
Pirates fans also cite a few instances as proof that the signings aren’t going to be easy, although none of the instances cited are relevant. The instances I’m referring to are the Pedro Alvarez negotiations, not signing Tanner Scheppers, and missing out on Miguel Sano.
The Alvarez situation, where Alvarez held out after agreeing to the deal because he signed after midnight, wasn’t limited to the Pirates. It was a ploy by Boras with a focus on Alvarez, all so Boras could make Alvarez the top paid player in the 2008 draft. It’s no coincidence that Boras didn’t throw the same fit over third overall pick Eric Hosmer (also a Boras client, signed after midnight like Alvarez, and received a $6 M bonus like Alvarez), and it’s no coincidence that Boras dropped the appeal once the Pirates gave Alvarez a $6.355 M major league deal, which was the highest contract in the draft, $155 K more than what Buster Posey received.
Scheppers was a case where he was injured. The Pirates had a well documented try out for Scheppers at PNC Park in which Scheppers performed poorly. The Pirates made an offer, Scheppers refused, and they moved on to Quinton Miller. The Scheppers scenario can’t be compared to Taillon and Allie, as both of these players are healthy, unlike Scheppers.
Sano was a totally different situation, as he was an international free agent, eligible to sign with any team. Taking out the issues with his agent, Sano had leverage, as he could just wait until another team made him a higher offer. Taillon and Allie don’t have the same leverage. If they decide to wait, they’re waiting three years, and at that point they will be negotiating with one team once again, and probably won’t be in line to receive more than what they’d get this year.
However, the fear of missing out on a pick isn’t a situation limited to the Pirates and their fans. Every day on Twitter, Jim Callis is answering questions about first round picks and whether they will sign. It’s extremely rare for first round picks to go unsigned. Off the top of my head, I’d say 95% of them end up signing. The problem is that fans really want their pick signed, and have no control over the process. The fans would do whatever it takes to get the player in the system, because they aren’t thinking in terms of business.
The teams, on the other hand, are looking at this from a business perspective, which means they end up negotiating for a long period of time with the players. Those negotiations sometimes go public, revealing how far apart the two sides are, which only fuels the fear of being a part of that other 5%.
About two years ago my wife and I were in New York City on Canal street. She wanted a NYPD shirt, and a NYFD shirt. We went in to one of the shops, asked how much the shirts were, and were told that they were $30 each. I said I could get them for much cheaper elsewhere, and started to leave. The guy immediately comes back with a two for $40 offer. After a few minutes of negotiating, which included me starting to walk out of the store to go elsewhere on two occasions, I ended up getting the shirts at two for $25.
As we were walking around town afterwards, my wife was talking about how she would have paid $40 for both shirts, the initial offer, and kept thinking she wasn’t getting the shirts every time we went to walk out the door. It’s for that reason that I didn’t bring her along when I was negotiating for the car she wanted earlier this year. No way was I going to feel the stress coming from her direction, especially when I was to the point of haggling over the last $50.
Fans of a team are kind of like my wife in this scenario. They want the product, and are fine paying the list price, and every time there is a disagreement in the negotiations, they think the talks are actually over. The teams are like myself: they want a good deal so they can spend that extra money on additional draft picks, or perhaps a Nathan’s hot dog and a brownie at the Fat Witch Bakery. The most important thing though is that the teams, like myself in the above scenario, are going in with one primary goal: make the purchase. They might fake that they’re walking away from the table, or that no deal can be reached, but in the end they have one goal, and that is to make the deal. The same is true for the players and the advisers on the other side.
My wife’s not going to be happy if I say “I didn’t get you the shirt, but I got you a slice of Junior’s cheesecake instead” (actually, I’d be happy with that trade-off). Pirates fans aren’t going to be happy if the Pirates say “We didn’t land Taillon, but here’s every other pick in the 2010 draft”.
I can’t say I’m immune to this whole concept. I never thought they would fail to sign Alvarez, and without any knowledge of the situation, I think there’s a 100% chance that they sign Taillon. However, I wasn’t 100% on guys like Von Rosenberg, Cain, and I’m not 100% on Allie, Austin Kubitza, or Zach Weiss this year. The reason for that goes back to my t-shirt example. Only the two people in the negotiations know how serious they actually are. My wife, the spectator in the shirt example, didn’t know that I wasn’t serious when I was walking out the door, twice. That’s necessary, because I also didn’t want the store owner knowing I was serious. For all I know, the store owner might not have been serious about never taking my two for $20 offer.
The next week will be full of questions surrounding Taillon and Allie, mostly because neither player will sign until right around the deadline. The questions will come for natural reasons: the fans are out of the loop, and want updates so that they can settle their fear of these players not signing. That fear only exists because fans are out of the loop, and thus left to speculation, which usually means they’re focused on the worst case scenario coming true. If you’re wondering about Taillon and Allie over the next week, just consider these facts:
-Both sides want a deal done
-The Pirates will be offering a lot of money to each player
-The next time Taillon and Allie enter the draft, the draft could have a hard slotting system, making it impossible for both players to top what they’re getting now
That last bit of information is what makes me think the Pirates have a good chance of signing both players. Of course none of this will stop the questions on Taillon, Allie, or any player for any team. In the end we’re all just spectators, waiting for the final decision around midnight August 16th.