When Chris Sale started to slide in the first round of the draft because of his perceived signability, it was a surprise that the thrifty White Sox were the team that selected him. Now comes a bigger surprise: the first- or second-rated college pitcher on most draft boards has agreed to terms for a bonus equal to MLB's bonus recommendation for his No. 13 slot a year ago: $1.656 million.
Sale will take a physical on Monday and likely will sign his deal on Tuesday. He's the highest-drafted player to agree to terms so far this summer.
Sale and Mississippi lefthander Drew Pomeranz were the two best college pitchers in the 2010 draft. In recent years, the top college pitchers who have set themselves apart from the pack usually have received major league contracts. From 2004-09, 11 college pitchers signed big league deals with an average bonus of $3.3 million and a guarantee of $5 million.
While Sale will get less money than anticipated, the White Sox will give him every opportunity to crash their big league bullpen, perhaps as early as August. He'll initially report to high Class A Winston-Salem, with an anticipated promotion to Triple-A Charlotte in mid-July. After spending this summer as a reliever, he'll work in the Arizona Fall League as a starter and get the opportunity to make Chicago's rotation in spring training next year.
"We know exactly how this deal would be perceived in the industry with Chris signing for slot," said B.B. Abbott of Jet Sports Management, which represents Sale. "That being said, our roles as advisors and ultimately as agents is to provide counsel to kids and families given their unique set of circumstances. It is not to apply an internal philosophy we may hold as an agency or as individuals. We owe this to the family and the player, no matter what the consequences may be to us as a firm.
"While we felt extremely confident that a larger bonus would be available later in the summer, we think Chris not only has a viable opportunity to pitch in the big leagues this year, but a very good chance to do so. As we did with Zack Wheeler last year, we considered the opportunity, the risk and the reward. As clear as it was that Zack should wait, it is equally clear that this is a legitimate opportunity for Chris to pitch in the big leagues in six weeks or less with a contending team. While this was not an easy decision, we believe it is the right decision."
The Giants drafted Wheeler, a Georgia high school pitcher, sixth overall in 2009. He held out until the Aug. 17 signing deadline before signing for $3.3 million—nearly $1 million over MLB's $2.34 million guideline for the No. 6 slot.
Sale had nothing left to prove as an amateur after ranking as the top prospect in the Cape Cod League last summer and going 11-0, 2.01 with 146 strikeouts in 103 innings as a junior at Florida Gulf Coast this spring. Abbott said Sale preferred to turn pro rather than return for his senior season or sign with an independent league team.
The Royals explored taking Sale with the No. 4 pick, where MLB's slot recommendation is believed to be $2.9 million. After being told that Sale would want to discuss comparable college pitchers from the past if he were the first college pitcher selected, Kansas City ultimately decided to take Cal State Fullerton shortstop Christian Colon.
Abbott said there were teams toward the end of the first round that were willing to pay Sale the market rate for a top college pitcher. That gambit usually works, because teams not inclined to exceed MLB's bonus guidelines usually pass on a player until he falls to club willing to meet his asking price.
However, Sale got selected by a club whose owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, is adamant about not exceeding slot recommendations. In fact, the White Sox usually make a point of signing their picks for slightly under slot. In recent drafts, the White Sox have gone over slot for only three players, and none by more than $375,000: Gordon Beckham ($2.6 million vs. $2.27 million as a 2008 first-rounder), Jordan Danks ($525,000 vs. $150,000 as a 2008 seventh-rounder) and Trayce Thompson ($625,000 vs. $596,700 as a 2009 second-rounder).
Sale's situation parallels that of Beckham, the eighth overall pick in 2008. The Reds opted for Yonder Alonso at No. 7 because he had a lower asking price than Beckham, then wound up giving Alonso a $4.55 million major league contract. The White Sox barely budged with Beckham, signing him to a straight bonus 10 percent above slot two days before the Aug. 15 signing deadline.
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