The Pittsburgh Pirates are facing a problem that they haven’t faced in the last several years: they were unable to reach a deal with a draft pick that was considered a difficult sign. In years past, all the Pirates had to do was throw money at the draft pick to get a deal done. This year, Major League Baseball reworked the draft to limit spending. The end result was that the Pirates were unable to sign first round pick Mark Appel, as the new Collective Bargaining Agreement rules prevented them from spending over a certain point without imposing harsh penalties and the loss of future draft picks.
Earlier in the week, the Pirates made their final offer to Appel, offering him $3.8 M. That would have put them over their draft pool, bringing a 75% tax on the overage, but falling just short of losing their first round pick in the 2013 draft.
“We were willing to go as far as we were able to under the new system,” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said. “Unfortunately it was not something that they had interest in. We knew it was a calculated risk when we drafted Mark. We knew it was going to be a tough sign. We were optimistic that he would want to join an organization on the rise, but at the end of the day we wish Mark nothing but success as he goes back to Stanford.”
There was very little the Pirates could have done. The Appel camp told the Pirates repeatedly that they wouldn’t be able to match the value on Appel. All the Pirates could do was offer the maximum amount, and move on to other players after Appel turned it down.
“When Mark declined our final offer and made us aware that there was no value that we could get to without forfeiting picks to have him sign with the Pirates, we then made the conscious decision to spend the remainder — as much of the remainder as we could — of the $600,000 that we created in the first ten rounds,” Huntington said. “And then we were going to stay under there from then on out.”
The Pirates created just over $600,000 in the top ten rounds, after going under-slot on compensation pick Barrett Barnes (saving $136,400), fifth round pick Adrian Sampson ($2,100), sixth round pick Eric Wood ($88,800), seventh round pick Jake Stallings ($138,000), ninth round pick D.J. Crumlich ($124,100), and tenth round pick Pat Ludwig ($120,000). They used that money to sign Max Moroff, Hayden Hurst, and John Kuchno to over-slot deals.
Moroff received $300,000 in the 16th round. He’s a prep shortstop who had a commitment to UCF. He runs well, and drives the ball well. He was 80-for-80 in stolen base attempts during his high school career and hit for a .408/.594/.750 line with five homers this past season.
Hurst received $400,000 in the 17th round. He touches 95 MPH with his fastball, but mostly sits in the 88-92 MPH range. He needs work on his other pitches. Hurst had a commitment to Florida State, then changed his mind and decided to go to JuCo before eventually deciding to sign.
Kuchno received $125,000 in the 18th round. He’s a college player from Ohio State who can touch 95 MPH with his fastball, and has a good power curve. When both pitches are working, they have the makings of a two plus-pitch mix. Kuchno profiles more as a power reliever, but will probably be used as a starter initially, based on how the Pirates use top arms in the lower levels.
After the tenth round, any amount over $100,000 counts against the bonus pool. The three signings took $525,000 of the available money the Pirates had. The Pirates also signed eighth round pick Kevin Ross for $130,000, which was $8,200 under the bonus pool.
“In Hurst and Moroff we feel like we added a third, a fourth round pick, and another fourth round type pick with the extra money we pulled out of the pool,” Huntington said. “In Kuchno we feel like we got a good college arm that has some growth and development upside. You add next year’s ninth pick in the country and this year’s draft class and we feel like overall we’re going to feel pretty good about it. There’s no question, we’d rather have Mark Appel, but it didn’t work that way.”
The Pirates had discussions with other players in the middle rounds. They were unable to meet the price of 14th round pick Walker Buehler. They negotiated with 35th round pick Jackson McClelland and offered him an over-slot deal on Wednesday night, but fell short of his total. There were also some cases where players changed their bonus demands after the draft.
“Unfortunately we also had some challenges, and while it’s been great to be the Pirates the last four years in the draft, we had some young men change their bonus requests after we drafted them,” Huntington said. “And that’s been a frustrating thing, and I think our history worked against us there as some people have struggled to adapt to the new system.”
With Appel returning to Stanford, the Pirates will receive the ninth overall pick in the 2013 draft. That will be in addition to their original first round pick next year. They will get additional bonus money for the additional pick. With the competitive balance lottery scheduled next week, there’s a chance they could end up with three of the top 45 picks in the draft next year.
“Some have argued that next year’s draft class is going to be better than this year’s draft class,” Huntington said. “We may end up with a player we like just as much as Mark. Again, the opportunity cost is a lost year of development. We might prefer to have Mark Appel. We drafted Mark Appel to sign Mark Appel. We were excited about the opportunity to add him to the plethora of quality young arms.”
It should be noted that under the old system, Appel probably wouldn’t have fallen to the Pirates, so not all blame can go to the system. However, the Pirates could have landed a top talent with the eighth overall pick. Lucas Giolito also fell in the draft, and ended up signing with the Washington Nationals for $2,925,000. The old system would have given the Pirates a chance to spend a little extra and sign some of those later round picks who were about $100,000 apart from what the Pirates could spend. They could have thrown big money at Walker Buehler to get him to sign. They wouldn’t have had to go under-slot for several of their picks in the top ten rounds.
You could make an argument that the old system was better for the Pirates, especially after this result. Huntington didn’t make that argument, but noted that clubs and agents are learning how to operate under the new system.
“The system seems to have worked for many, if not all of those involved,” Huntington said. “It was different. It was a challenge at times. But it is what it is. It’s the system going forward, and clubs are learning how to operate within that more that benefits them the best. The agents are learning how to operate in it that benefits them the best.”