Is signability a concern?

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For the second time this week at BP, it’s suggested that the Pirates might go a little cheap with their first round pick in order to have enough money to sign Miguel Sano (this time Kevin Goldstein suggests as much in a chat, if you’re not a BP subscriber and can’t see the link). I’m pretty sure the Pirates are suggesting the same thing here, but I really can’t wade through the Littlefield-esque language to figure out what Huntington means.

“We’re not going to walk away from a guy because of his agent or financial demands only, and it’s going to be a long summer,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said this week, amid preparations for the draft. “Some guys you evaluate at X, and they want X times 7, and other guys you evaluate at X, and they want X times 2. All else being equal, you go with X times 2.”

It seems to me that that’s what you say when you’re planning on drafting a guy at least partially based on the ability to sign him.

So what does this mean, exactly? Some quick back of the envelope math says the Pirates spent about $10 million between Latin America and the draft last year; their draft hit slightly above $9 million and I don’t think their Dominican and Venezuelan signings totaled up to more than $1 million (correct me if I’m wrong here). A huge chunk of that was Pedro Alvarez, who signed for about $6 million after all the legal wrangling was wrapped up, meaning the Pirates spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million on other draft picks last year.

Now, let’s assume that with the fourth pick, the Pirates take Aaron Crow, who refused to sign with the Nats last year for slot money for the ninth pick ($2.15 million) and supposedly turned down an offer from the Nationals for $3.5 million, supposedly about a million less than Crow wanted. By contrast, last year’s fourth overall pick, Brian Matusz, received about a $3.2 million signing bonus and pro contract, which (I think) is slightly above slot. We’re all familiar with the two players taken in the four-slot the two years prior to Matusz; Danny Moskos signed for $2.5 million and Brad Lincoln signed for $2.75 million.

If we assume that picking someone like Crow, Alex White, Grant Green, or Donovan Tate (the best high school outfield prospect who also has an offer from Butch Davis to come play football in Chapel Hill) will cost $4 million or more, while drafting someone like Kyle Gibson could cost $3 million, do the Pirates make that move? I feel like that’s what Huntington’s setting us up for with that quote, taking a player that’s rated slightly lower and saying they valued him the same as the guys who were left on the board.

Of course, there’s not really any consensus at all on who the best prospects are after Strasburg and Ackley, so it’d be really hard to know that the Pirates were doing something like that. If we assume the Pirates’ budget is roughly the same as last year’s and we budget $4 million for Sano (and the bidding could go above that), the Pirates could have a lot less money to spend on low-round picks this year. The million dollars they could save on a first round pick could go towards signing another Quinton Miller in a late round.

Is that an acceptable path? We can certainly argue with capping the draft/Latin America budget, if that is indeed what happens. Why can’t they spend a little more? Where else is the money being spent? And what happens if they do go cheap on the draft in June, only to watch Sano sign with someone else in July? That would certainly be a nightmare, both for the front office and the PR staff.

Of course, the key to remember is that we don’t know what the Pirates are planning on doing right now. Since Littlefield’s firing, Huntington, Coonelly, and their team have handled all of these kinds of situations properly, so why are we expecting them to screw things up now?

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.

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