By John Manuel
January 11, 2005
The logjam of unsigned players from the 2004 draft might be starting to clear.
The Mets, who have grabbed headlines with high-profile free-agent signings such as Pedro Martinez and now Carlos Beltran, ended the impasse with their first-round pick, Rice righthander Philip Humber. They brought him to New York for a physical Tuesday and signed him for a $3 million bonus. Humber’s contract is a five-year major league deal with a $5.116 maximum value, with $4.2 million guaranteed.
Humber’s agent, Michael Moye, and the Mets were motivated to sign now by a change in federal tax law, which make signing subject to FICA and Social Security taxes. “That put an artificial deadline on it,” said Jim Duquette, who was the lead man in negotiations for the Mets as the senior vice president of baseball operations. “It made us feel we wanted to get it done sooner than later.”
That deadline—the change goes into effect Wednesday—could also speed negotiations for other holdouts. The end of Humber’s holdout leaves three players unsigned from the first round—No. 4 overall pick Jeff Niemann (Devil Rays), his former Rice teammate; No. 12 overall pick Jered Weaver (Angels), Baseball America’s 2004 College Player of the Year; and No. 15 overall pick Stephen Drew (Diamondbacks), the top-rated position player in the draft. Negotiations between Niemann and the Devil Rays were rumored to have picked up lately, with Tampa Bay general manager Chuck LaMar traveling to Houston for negotiations.
Former Rice righthander Wade Townsend, the other unsigned first-round pick, did not sign with the Orioles and will re-enter the draft in 2005.
The Mets had no official comment on the signing Monday. Jack Bowen, a special assignment scout with the club who was the scouting director when Humber was chosen, and new scouting director Russ Bove were both in meetings at the club’s mini-camp in St. Lucie, Fla., and said they had no knowledge of Humber’s trip to New York and signing.
Humber went 35-8, 2.80 in three seasons with Rice, winning at least 11 games in each of his three seasons. He struck out 422 in 354 innings, ranking second in school history behind Kenny Baugh, who played four seasons to Humber’s three.
Humber’s best season was his junior year, when he went 13-4, 2.27 with 154 strikeouts and just 37 walks in 115 innings. He showed three plus pitches at times during that season, running his fastball up to 97 mph (it sits in the 90-94 range) to go with his 12-6 curveball (his best pitch throughout his college career) and his splitter, which acts as a changeup.
He relied on the splitter heavily in his biggest game, when he tossed a complete game as Rice beat Stanford 14-2 in the last game of their best-of-three set to win the 2003 College World Series. Humber usually relies on his curve as his strikeout pitch, as his fastball tends to flatten out and his splitter is usually his third option. He has a strong, durable 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame, and he isn’t afraid to pitch inside, as evidenced by his 42 career hit batsmen at Rice.
Humber also lost his final two college games in last year’s regional, the first a shocking upset to Texas Southern in the regional opener, the other a season-ending loss to Texas A&M in the regional final.
Alan Schwarz contributed to this report.