We may never learn the complete truth behind the negotiations between Pedro Alvarez and the Pirates, now that the MLB Player Association's grievance likely will be settled with Alvarez agreeing to a renegotiated deal. But given that Pirates president Frank Coonelly had asserted that a) his club had signed Alvarez in a "timely fashion," b) the grievance was meritless and c) the Pirates wouldn't reopen the talks, it's very curious that Pittsburgh decided to give Alvarez a new deal.
Oh, the Pirates will spin that the original $6 million bonus was more valuable than the new $6.355 million major league contract. But does anyone really believe that Scott Boras would negotiate a worse deal for his client? A person familiar with the contract details says that Alvarez will make nearly $1 million more in pre-arbitration income than he would have before.
It looks like the Pirates and MLB wanted the grievance to go away, even if that meant Coonelly had to look bad going up against Boras, his nemesis for years when Coonelly tried to enforce the slotting system as an MLB senior vice president. While precedent and the burden of proof made it unlikely that arbitrator Shyam Das would have done something drastic, such as making Alvarez a free agent or voiding his and possibly other contracts, the Pirates and MLB apparently didn't want to take that risk.
When Julio Borbon's 2007 signing went past the deadline because of reporting issues, MLB contact the union to get its approval. Yet when Alvarez' signing went down to the wire, the commissioner's office didn't get in touch with the MLBPA.
In the grievance hearings, the union would have argued that MLB knew exactly what it was doing by extending the deadline. Rather than Boras and the Pirates trying to force each other to compromise with time running out, it took leverage away from the player and gave it to the team. As this affair continues to play out, that looks more like a calculated decision than an innocent move.
Editor's Note: For Coonelly's perspective on the Alvarez saga, please see our Draft Blog.
My latest column for the magazine, which should be posted online soon, related to this very question. While the Angels have won four of the five American League West titles and ran away with the division this year, they won't have it so easy in a couple of years because the Rangers and Athletics have put together the game's two deepest farm systems.
I'd rank Texas ahead of Oakland because I like their depth and their balance of hitters and pitchers a little more. The Rangers have done an impressive job on all fronts recently, picking up talent via trades (Andrus might be the best shortstop prospect in the minors, while Feliz might have the best pure fastball), the draft (getting Smoak and Ross with the 11th and 57th overall picks this year was a huge coup) and the international market (Perez drew some Johan Santana comps in the short-season Northwest League this summer).
Just imagine if Texas had been able to sign prized Dominican righthander Michel Inoa this summer after reportedly offering him more than the A's, who landed him for a record $4.25 million.
Under the free-agent compensation rules, a team that signs a Type A free agent (in the top 20 percent of a statistical ranking at his position grouping) has to surrender its first-round choice under two conditions. First, the player's former club has to have offered him arbitration. Second, that pick can't fall in the upper half of the first round.
While there would be a potential "reward" for not finishing with one of the 15 best records in the majors, I think there's even less incentive to try to tank to get it than there would be to try to obtain the No. 1 overall choice. There's no guarantee that a team will land a prime free agent, and even if it did, it wouldn't be worth the risk of having it discovered that it purposely played at less than its best. Such a plot would need the involvement of multiple club officials and players, increasing the possibility of exposure.
Entering the final week of play, the Indians and Diamondbacks would get the last two protected slots (Nos. 14 and 15) in the first round, with the Dodgers and Cardinals right behind them. Los Angeles and Arizona still were battling for the National League West title, so they wouldn't entertain such a scheme.
The Diamondbacks didn't officially acquire Zavada in a trade with the Frontier League's Southern Illinois Miners, because MLB didn't want to set a precedent where a player could be sent to an independent league without his consent. But for all intents and purposes it was a trade, because the Miners didn't charge the Diamondbacks for the purchase of Zavada's rights, and Arizona released first baseman Brad Miller so he could sign with Southern Illinois.
Zavada's numbers after joining low Class A South Bend were spectacular: 3-1, 0.51 with eight saves in 24 games, including a 54-5 K-BB ratio in 35 innings and a .056 opponent average. Zavada has an average fastball and a plus changeup, and how that combination will play as he moves up the ladder remains to be seen. Pitchers who can command a good secondary pitch usually carve up low Class A hitters, but they often find the going a lot tougher as they face better competition.