The 5:00 PM deadline for 2012 MLB draft selections to sign contracts passed Friday afternoon and Stanford RHP Mark Appel declined to sign his tender with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The number-eight overall draft pick and Scott Boras ‘advisee’ was the only first-round selection (31 players total) to go unsigned by the time of Friday’s deadline. Appel will return to Stanford for his senior season and figures to try his luck again in next summer’s draft.
Projected by some to be the top pick, the right-hander was selected eighth by the Pirates. That pick has a signing slot of $2.9 million in baseball’s new labor contract, and the team could have signed him for about $3.5 million to $3.9 million without incurring any penalties, such as a tax and the loss of future draft picks.
Pittsburgh’s final offer was $3.8 million.
“After much thought, prayer and analysis of both opportunities, I came to the conclusion the best decision is to remain at Stanford continuing my studies, finishing my degree, and doing all I can to assist the Cardinal baseball team in our goal to win a national championship,” Appel said in a statement. “I greatly valued the prospect of a professional opportunity and I will pursue a professional baseball career after getting my Stanford degree.”
Appel’s name was thrown around as a potential number-one overall pick prior to being drafted, but the pitcher fell down the board as teams ahead of Pittsburgh were thought to have known that if there were an agent who would stand up to MLB’s new slotting system (read: the one that puts a cap on his or her commission as well as player contracts), it would be Boras.
The Pirates selected Appel despite the risk of dealing with Boras under the terms of MLB’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, continuing their recent trend of signing the best talent available despite concerns over signability.
In the past, Pittsburgh was known to pass over consensus talents like Ryan Howard and Matt Wieters because of cost concerns. Drafting Appel with those concerns made very clear was a move in the direction of improvement for the Pirates.
Pittsburgh receives the ninth overall selection in the 2013 Draft as compensation, additional to the pick they will already have as a result of this year’s final standings.
“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.”
For the Pirates, losing out on Appel is not indicative of a systemic failure on their part, but of the failures of Major League Baseball (who saw fit to penalize small-market teams building through the entry draft with the hard-slotting system), of the teams ahead of them (who concerns over the signability of a player like Appel were driven directly by the new draft rules) and, perhaps more than anyone, the failures of agent Scott Boras.
Boras made a statement by challenging the new hard-slotting system, which establishes maximum values for drafted players according to the pick with which they were drafted.
It cost Pittsburgh a draft pick, but given the uncertainties of injury, performance and a 2013 draft class that projects to be much stronger than this years’, Boras may have cost his client the security of a $3-plus million dollar payday.
In the past, Boras was able to get massive sums for early first-round picks, including a $6 million bonus in 2008 for Pedro Alvarez and a record $8 million bonus for pitcher Gerrit Cole last summer. The Cole signing is part of what spurred MLB to cap spending on draft picks, as Pittsburgh set a league record by spending over $17 million in the 2011 Draft and a league-leading $52.057 million on the 2007-11 Drafts.
The new slotting system put a stop to such deals, but Boras and Appel were the only first-round player-agent tandem disinclined to comply.
That spending may have committed many millions to unproven talents, but it allowed Pittsburgh to lock up Cole, who has become the best pitching prospect in a system already containing names like Jameson Taillon and Luis Heredia. They also nabbed outfielder Josh Bell in the second round by being able to spend an unprecedented $5 million on his deal (as a second rounder).
Spending relatively little on highly valued draft picks (Pittsburgh’s $17 million in 2011) was the best way for small market clubs to compete against baseball’s richer half (NYY’s $195 million payroll in 2012).
That the Pirates lost out on Appel shows that the new system isn’t benefiting small market teams as much as an aggressive draft strategy would have in years’ past, but given that Appel was the only player not to sign, the system is sure to continue for at least a few more years.