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Reds agree to terms with Espinosa, Sardinha

By Allan Simpson

Friday, September 1

Dane Sardinha
Second-rounder Dane Sardinha
Photo: Larry Goren

The Cincinnati Reds, in danger of not signing a number of their premium picks from this year's first-year player draft, today signed first-rounder David Espinosa and second-rounder Dane Sardinha.

The signings were announced in Cincinnati by Scott Boras, the agent for both players.

Both agreed to major league contracts, only the second and third given this year and the 12th and 13th in the history of the draft. Shortstop Jace Brewer, a fifth-round pick of the Devil Rays, was the only other player from this year's draft to receive a major league contract, which requires that a player be placed on the team's 40-man roster.

Espinosa's deal is spread over eight years and guarantees him $2.95 million with the potential for him to earn as much as $5 million through unique incentives and roster bonuses, unless he is released. Righthanders Josh Beckett (1999) and Todd Van Poppel (1990) and shortstop Alex Rodriguez (1993) are the only previous high school players in the draft era to receive major league contracts.

Sardinha's financial package is spread over six years. It guarantees him $1.95 million with incentives and other roster bonuses providing for a maximum of $2.4 million.

"We had to find a creative way to get things done in today's complicated times," Boras said. "I think this is the first time that performances bonuses have been built into the contract of a draft pick."

Normally a player is no longer eligible to sign once he sets foot in his first college class, so Espinosa and Sardinha stayed out of college beyond the scheduled first day of classes at Miami and Pepperdine, respectively, in hopes of structuring a deal with the Reds.

The situation was complicated because the Reds are in a severe cash-flow crunch and had little or no available cash to pay their draft picks. The team had already allowed their fourth-, fifth- and eighth-round picks to enroll in school, and it was expected that righthander Dustin Moseley, a supplemental first-round pick, would not sign as well.

The Espinosa and Sardinha contracts were structured so that they received no signing bonuses but would begin to be paid immediately under the terms of their major league contracts (payments are spread out over a 12-month period). Most of the remaining compensation will be paid out down the road.

By signing major league contracts, both players have a limited period of time they can spend in the minor leagues before they must be kept in the majors for good. Sardinha must remain in the majors beginning in 2003 and Espinosa beginning in 2004, or risk being lost on waivers.

Both players were expected to be selected in the top half of the first round but fell when they would not agree to financial parameters before the draft. The commissioner's office had appealed to clubs to spend bonus money more judiciously this year and most clubs complied with that request, simply passing on players who wouldn't commit to taking prearranged amounts.

Espinosa, 18, had sought a deal in the $4 million range before the draft and fell to the 23rd pick overall. He never really came close to signing with the Reds until Boras and Reds GM Jim Bowden sat down and hashed out a non-conventional deal with a deadline at hand. Classes began at Miami on Aug. 23 but today was the final deadline for Espinosa, an incoming freshman, to attend. Boras, however, said Espinosa had another couple of weeks to keep his options open.

Classes at Pepperdine started Monday, but it was expected that Sardinha, a rising senior, would not attend this fall.

Boras also represents two other unsigned draft picks who have delayed the start of the fall semester while they continue to negotiate with their respective clubs.

Righthander Chris Bootcheck, the second of two Angels first-round picks, has not returned to school at Auburn as negotiations with the Angels have lingered. The Angels have not budged from a standing $1.6 million offer.

Third baseman Xavier Nady, a second-round pick of the Padres, has missed the first three days of classes at California. However, there are indications that he will sign a major league contract with the Padres early next week.

Moseley, now the Reds' highest unsigned pick, has not attended classes this week at Arkansas as he tries to work out a deal that is also complicated by Cincinnati's acute financial squeeze. It is expected he will enroll in classes next week at Texarkana (Texas) Junior College barring an unforeseen development. By enrolling at a junior college, he would remain property of the Reds until a week before next year's draft.

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