Diamondbacks, Drew Reach Breaking Point

By Ed Price
August 26, 2004

The Diamondbacks may be about to lose the rights to first-round pick Stephen Drew. The reason may not be money or talent but politics.

Drew, Baseball America’s top-rated position player in the 2004 draft, may attend classes at Florida State by the end of the week. If he does, Arizona loses the right to sign the 15th overall pick.

A Florida State spokesman confirmed that Drew will meet with university academic officials today to advance the process of enrolling for the fall semester. Classes began Monday, and today is the deadline for students to register.

Seminoles coach Mike Martin said he felt Drew’s chances of returning to school went from 10 percent to 90 percent overnight.

“I don’t think we’re going to have anything to say about this till we see if he does in fact go back to school,” Diamondbacks general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. said Wednesday.

Scouting director Mike Rizzo said he’s still trying to make a deal with Drew, who hit .344-17-56 in 57 games as a junior. But a breakdown in negotiations, multiple industry sources said, is tied to the hiring of former agent Jeff Moorad to replace Jerry Colangelo as Arizona’s CEO and the ensuing approval process.

Ken Kendrick, one of the team’s four general partners, denied the two issues are related. “Any internal changes had not one whit of impact on what we’ve been willing to do,” Kendrick said.

The Padres were expected to take Drew with the No. 1 overall selection as late as three days before the draft, before they balked at his price tag. He reportedly wanted a major league contract worth at least as much as Rickie Weeks got from the Brewers as 2003’s second overall pick ($4.79 million) and possibly as much as Mark Teixeira received from the Rangers as 2001’s fifth overall choice ($9.5 million). Drew is advised by agent Scott Boras, who also represents Teixeira and Drew’s older brother J.D.

Baseball sources say the Diamondbacks believed they could sign Drew for somewhere between Weeks and Teixeira money. On the day of the draft, neither Garagiola nor Rizzo seemed daunted by the challenge of signing Drew, whom the Diamondbacks ranked second overall on their draft board.

“When a player of Stephen Drew’s capabilities is there, you can’t walk past it,” Garagiola said. “I don’t think we have any illusions about this. We’ve dealt with Scott Boras before.”

Said Rizzo: “We understand why Stephen Drew was there at the 15th pick in the country, but I wasn’t afraid of it. This guy doesn’t come around every year. I don’t think there’s a guy with Stephen Drew ability in every draft.”

But now, the sources say, the Diamondbacks are reluctant to exceed the commissioner’s office’s recommendation for Drew’s bonus. While Major League Baseball has raised its original guideline for the 15th slot—believed to be $1.65 million—the new figure is believed to be less than half of what Arizona was willing to guarantee earlier this summer. If the Diamondbacks give Drew more than MLB wishes, the fear is that they would draw the wrath of other owners.

Anyone who is purchasing more than a 5 percent stake in a team or will represent the club at ownership meetings is subject to approval by three quarters of the other owners. Thus Moorad, who’s expected to become a full partner in the Diamondbacks, must be okayed.

Many people in baseball believe the approval is no foregone conclusion. Owners may be wary of a former agent taking the reins of a team, especially one who has angered some teams and had conflicts with other agents—including a bitter rivalry with Boras. The Rocky Mountain News reported that the Diamondbacks may have upset some owners by announcing Moorad’s appointment as CEO-elect effective Sept. 1 and CEO effective Jan. 1 without prior approval.

“They applied for approval four months ago with a plan to keep Colangelo in place,” a major league source who requested anonymity told the News. “Now they are changing that structure, but they haven’t come to the owners to get approval.”

So the irony is that to protect Moorad—who negotiated hefty contracts for draft picks such as Travis Lee ($10 million as a draft free agent with the Diamondbacks in 1996) and Pat Burrell ($3.15 million bonus, $8 million guaranteed major league contract with the Phillies in 1998)—Arizona may pass on signing a player it rated second in the draft. It’s also questionable as to how much Moorad would be willing to authorize spending on a player tied to Boras.

Boras declined comment Wednesday, saying he’s acting only as the Drew family’s advisor.

Kendrick said ownership was aware going into the draft that Drew might be an expensive sign but had no specifics.

“They see themselves as expecting top dollar,” Kendrick said. “Each side has an idea of what top dollar is.

“There’s a point beyond which no team should go. It isn’t a factor of our budget or our wherewithal. There’s always a sense of fair play in anything.”

The Diamondbacks are on track to pick first in 2005—their record is seven games poorer than that of the Royals, baseball’s second-worst team— but may not get another shot at Drew. If a team drafts but fails to sign a player, it can’t select him again unless he put his consent in writing. Drew isn’t expected to allow Arizona to take him again if he returns to Florida State.

If they fail to sign Drew, the Diamondbacks would get a pick at the end of the compensation round between the first and second rounds. That would give Arizona at least three choices among the top 40 or so. The Diamondbacks could gain perhaps one of two more if right fielder Danny Bautista is ruled a Type A or B free agent, is offered arbitration and signs elsewhere.

Ed Price covers the Diamondbacks for the East Valley (Ariz.) Tribune. Will Kimmey contribued to this story.