Throughout the entire Josh Bell saga, we’ve seen many imaginations running wild over what it could possibly take to get the prep outfielder to sign. When he was drafted, we were hearing numbers in the $4-6 M range. Now that we’ve come close to the August 15th signing deadline, we’re hearing that $10 M might not even do it. It’s to the point where there are rumors that the Pirates have offered $4.5 M, and that is seen as something that might have no shot of getting the deal done.
Let’s think about that bonus amount for a second. A $4.5 M bonus would be the third biggest in Pittsburgh Pirates history (fourth once you factor in what Gerrit Cole is sure to get). Only Pedro Alvarez (2008, 2nd overall pick) and Jameson Taillon (2010, 2nd overall pick) have received more. In the entire history of the draft, only 11 players have received a bonus of $6 M or more. None of those players went lower than fifth overall.
Josh Bell is a good talent. He’s not “$10 M” good. That’s Bryce Harper money, and Josh Bell is not Bryce Harper. Bell is a switch hitter with potential plus power from both sides of the plate. That’s valuable, but keep in mind that Bell was rated the 15th best prospect in the draft. When you’re picking 62nd overall, being able to get a top 15 guy is a great thing. But that doesn’t mean he’s worth top five money, much less record breaking money.
If I had to place a value on Bell, I’d say the maximum should be the $5.25 M that 2010 first round pick Zach Lee received. Lee was also considered an impossible sign, as he had a scholarship to play quarterback at LSU. The Dodgers drafted him, and gave him $5.25 M to break that commitment. Just like Bell, Lee wasn’t one of the top guys in the draft, but was valued high because of his rare potential coming out of high school. He was paid due to his talent, combined with his signability issues.
I’ve always been skeptical about Bell’s intentions that he won’t sign. If this is all a bluff, it’s a brilliant negotiating ploy. By setting no price, you let imaginations run wild, to the point where people suggest that $10 M won’t get it done. Then, if you get $4-5 M in the end, it’s seen as a huge value, even though that amount ranks up there with some of the top bonus amounts in history. Bell isn’t even one of the top draft prospects in history, so if all of this ends up netting him a $4-5 M bonus, then I’d expect to see a lot of future draft prospects sending letters out to every team saying they don’t want to be drafted.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.