I’m going to be up front here and say that I don’t really know what to expect from the Pirates and Mark Appel and Scott Boras this afternoon at the 5 PM deadline to sign picks from this year’s amateur draft. There’s been a lot of noise coming from Appel’s direction lately that he’s not going to sign, but I find it really hard to see that as anything other than a negotiating tactic at this point. My basic opinion all along has been that he would eventually sign for the $3.8 million the Pirates can owe him, but I’m starting to evolve to a line of thinking where that might not be the end of it.
Let’s break a few things down: it’s certainly in Mark Appel’s best interest to take the Pirates’ offer. Nothing is a sure thing in athletics and $3.8 million is a lot of money, whether your dad is a Chevron executive or not. It’s a long shot that Appel will make more than that next year, so the only possible interpretations (for me) if he goes back to school are that he either absolutely does not want to play for the Pirates or that he’s dumber than a rock. He might say it’s about money if he goes back to Stanford, but it won’t be.
I’ve talked this over with a few people and I feel pretty certain that if Boras and Appel want to challenge baseball’s new hard slotting system for their draft with some kind of lawsuit or grievance, the best way for that to happen is for Appel to sign. If Appel turns the Pirates’ offer down, he’s chosen not to accept their money and I find it pretty hard to believe that anyone could make a compelling case that it was the draft system that cost him money. No matter what he and Boras argue, what cost him money was his own decision not to sign. If he does accept the Pirates’ $3.8 million offer, then he and Boras can build up some kind of case around previous draft signing bonuses and a system created and accepted by a union that doesn’t represent them on their behalf (Disclaimer: Scientist, not a lawyer. Related to some lawyers, know some lawyers, but not one myself.)
Now, in most cases I’d be sitting here and telling you that Boras is a lot of bluster, that he huffs and puffs and in the end, he does what’s best for his client if the team is willing to play ball with him, that the Pirates went out of their way to save extra money to offer Appel, and that what’s best for his client in this case is taking the Pirates’ offer and starting his big league career. That’s all the truth. What kind of worries me is that today, both Dejan Kovacevic and Jon Heyman have written stories that raise a bunch of red flags for me. DK wrote that someone in the Appel camp told him that, “Whatever happens, it won’t be the Pirates’ fault” and Heyman’s piece went out of its way to say that “…the somewhat slim hope for a deal may rest on some sort of intervention by MLB higher-ups, or the ability to prove a flaw in the rules or how they were followed by other teams. There is no accusation or thought the Pirates did anything wrong.”
These statements seem very weird to me. No one, at any point, has even begun to imply the Pirates have done something wrong; they picked the best player, they rounded up a bunch of extra money, and they seem willing to pay the 75% penalty for going 5% of their draft pool. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would even begin to blame them if Appel doesn’t sign here. It’s certainly possible that Appel just takes the money and gets on with his career, just like it’s possible that he just turns it down and goes back to school. I think, though, that there’s a very real possiblity that we find ourselves faced with a third option, and that it’s something that we haven’t quite considered yet.