By Allan Simpson
April 20, 2005
Shortstop Stephen Drew, the unsigned first-round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks, signed a contract today to play with the Camden Riversharks of the independent Atlantic League. His signing will be announced at a 3 p.m. press conference in Camden, N.J.
Drew will begin scrimmaging with the Riversharks on Friday and will be in the lineup at shortstop when Camden opens its 2005 season at home against Nashua on April 28.
"It's an opportunity for him to get a uniform on and play some baseball," said Bob Brower, a representative for the Scott Boras Corporation, Drew's agent.
Drew hasn't played organized baseball of any kind since Florida State, where he starred for three years, was eliminated from NCAA tournament play last June. He was projected to be one of the top selections in the 2004 draft but slid to the Diamondbacks with the 15th pick overall when teams became concerned about his bonus demands.
According to the Boras camp, they had an understanding on the economics of what it would take to sign Drew with former Diamondbacks managing general partner Jerry Colangelo. The amount was similar to the contract Mark Teixeira signed with the Rangers in 2001. Teixeira¹s contract was for a guaranteed $9.5 million, with a $4.5 million signing bonus.
Shortly after the draft, Colangelo was later relieved of his duties–in part because of his willingness to pay Drew a bonus that was substantially above the parameters for first-round picks established by Major League Baseball, and the amount other owners in the D-backs hierarchy had expected to pay.
Negotiations stalled as representatives for the Diamondbacks countered with offers more in line with the contract Rickie Weeks signed as the No. 2 overall pick in 2003. Weeks was given a major league contract by the Brewers that guaranteed him $4.79 million, including a signing bonus of $3.6 million. However, one industry source said Arizona's offer would make Drew's deal the richest in the '04 draft class, surpassing "by a significant margin" the $5.2 million guarantee and $3.2 million bonus the Devil Rays gave Rice righthander Jeff Niemann.
The Diamondbacks met with Drew and his representatives as recently as April 13 and made headway on a deal but still could not reach an agreement.
"We're still not on the same page," Brower said. "We came off the Teixeira number and worked towards finding a middle ground. We couldn't, but we've left the door open. No bridges were burned.
"In the meantime, Stephen has a forum to keep playing."
The Diamondbacks have until June 1, the beginning of the closed period, to sign Drew or he would go back into this year's draft. Scouting director Mike Rizzo said Brower's characterization of negotiations was fair in terms of the amicable nature of talks, and said the news shouldn't affect his organization's chances of signing Drew.
"We're still trying to find a vehicle to get the deal done," he said. "Stephen hasn't played since last May, so it's probably a good idea for him to get out and play. It's important for him to get out and compete and face live pitching, just to knock off some of the rust. But the tools and the ability is still going to be there."
Drew is following a similar career path as his older brother J.D., now an outfielder with the Dodgers. The elder Drew also played three years at Florida State before being selected by the Phillies with the second overall pick in the 1997 draft. When negotiations bogged down, Drew elected to play in the independent Northern League and went back into the 1998 draft. He was redrafted by the Cardinals with the fifth overall pick that year and given a bonus substantially larger than the best offer the Phillies made.
That's the biggest difference in the two Drew holdouts. Negotiations with Stephen Drew and the Diamondbacks have remained amicable, Rizzo said. "And the dollars are a lot different," he added.
Contributing: John Manuel.