That’s what I think the whole negotiation between the Pirates and the Scott Boras/Mark Appel camp was about. Well, precedent and money.
I turned on Baseball Tonight this afternoon to watch their update on the Pirates and Justin Upton and left the TV on. About 15 minutes later, Jayson Stark did a quick blurb about the Appel not signing and casually dropped a line that caught me off guard. I didn’t write it down, but the jist of it was that the Pirates were pretty disappointed that Appel didn’t sign because they thought that he was going to be able to use him in the bullpen as early as this fall in a potential playoff run.
That caught me off guard; the Pirates didn’t think Gerrit Cole was ready for that last year and there’s been no indication that they think he’s ready for it this year. Appel is a good pitching prospect, but by pretty much any account he’s not in Cole’s league. Why would the Pirates want Appel in their bullpen this quickly?
The only reason I can think of is that if the Pirates put Appel on their 25-man roster right away, that they could theoretically negotiate a Major League contract with him over the winter that would pay him even more money than the $3.8 million bonus they were able to offer him at the deadline. That they were going to try and use a brief cup of coffee as an end-around the whole system to get Appel more of the money he wanted. That’s obviously not something that they could put in writing and it’s something that they’d probably get in trouble for if they got caught, but it’s an interesting idea to a difficult situation.
Clearly, if the Pirates did make that offer (I strongly suspect that if they did, we’ll never ever know for certain), Boras and Appel wanted nothing to do with it. That’s their right, of course, and it’s hard to blame them; the idea of a $6 million bonus is much more attractive than the idea of a $3.8 million bonus with an extra however many million contingent on a nod-and-wink deal that might draw red flags from the league or the union. Still, if the Pirates had promised Appel that sort of nod-and-wink deal, I’m sure they would’ve made good on it and I’m sure that Boras doesn’t really have any doubts they would’ve. They played ball with his Pedro Alvarez shenanigans and they forked over a ton of cash to sign Gerrit Cole last year. The Pirates are very aggressive when it comes to getting their prospects. So why turn it down?
At nearly the same time this afternoon, Dejan Kovacevic put up a blog post with some quotes from Boras about how the Pirates could’ve drafted college seniors in rounds 2-10 and saved even more money than they did and if that had been the case, that Appel might’ve been more receptive to signing with the Pirates. Boras’s implication is that Appel is worth more than Wyatt Mathisen and Jonathan Sandfort and Adrian Sampson combined, so he’s worth the money the Pirates paid those players and it was up to the Pirates to make that decision. By drafting and signing other prospects, they wasted the money they need to get Appel to sign, is the implication.
I don’t think it was about the total dollar value, at least not for Boras. What Boras wanted was a team to establish a precedent in which they use up all their draft money to sign a first round pick. If Appel fell further down the draft to a team that only had a $4 million draft pool and that team managed to save $3.8 million for Appel, I can’t help but wonder if suddenly that would’ve been enough money to get the deal done because it would’ve given Boras the precedent he wanted to use in future years. Maybe it wouldn’t have; maybe the Boras company line that Appel was just worth more money is the absolute truth. By most accounts it’s certainly possible Appel will be one of the top guys in next year’s draft and that he’ll get picked high enough to get the bonus he wanted this year. It’s a calculated risk on his part, but given the fragility of pitchers it’s not necessarily the wrong one.
With Boras gets involved, though, I can’t help but wonder if something else is going on. Boras always works on precedent; remember that Pedro Alvarez’s value was pegged to Mark Teixeira’s and Gerrit Cole’s was pegged to Stephen Strasburg’s. Had the Pirates (or someone) given up their whole draft to sign Appel, that’s a starting point for Boras in the future. It didn’t work out that way because the Pirates (rightly, in my opinion) decided that getting guys like Mathisen and Sandfort and Sampson and Barrett Barnes and Hayden Hurst and Max Moloff into their system, plus next year’s ninth overall pick was worth more than Appel.
The Pirates didn’t blink, Boras didn’t blink, Appel didn’t blink. Everyone in this situation rolled the dice, and we’re not going to have any idea how those dice will turn up for quite some time. That being said, I wouldn’t have done anything differently than what the Pirates did in this situation. They picked a good player, they made him a good offer, they had lots of reasons to believe that the money and leverage they had would pay off. It didn’t, and now Boras and Appel are betting that there’s more money for them somewhere else. Maybe there is and maybe there isn’t; one thing that’s obvious to me is that everyone involved is still learning the ropes in this new draft system.