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Young, Rays Not Close to Deal

July 23, 2003
By Jim Callis

CHICAGO—No. 1 overall draft pick Delmon Young sported a Devil Rays cap as he took in the Futures Game at U.S. Cellular Field. But the likelihood he’ll appear in the uniform of a Devil Rays affiliate this summer is diminishing.

Since the Devil Rays chose him, the Camarillo (Calif.) High outfielder has trained on his own and hung out with friends. He has taken batting practice while his father Larry and adviser Arn Tellem handled negotiations.

As much as he’d like to get his pro career started—on draft day he stated a goal of reaching the majors in two years—Young is accepting that he may have to wait until 2004.

“If it was a fair deal, I would be out there quick,” Young said. “But I’m not going to sign until I get a fair deal.”

The Devil Rays’ financial situation makes it more difficult to reach an accord. They opened 2003 with the lowest payroll in the majors ($19.6 million, less than half of the next-lowest club) and haven’t paid an up-front bonus to a first-rounder since giving No. 1 overall pick Josh Hamilton $3.96 million in 1999.

Under a draft provision for two-sport athletes, Rocco Baldelli ($2.25 million, 2000) and B.J. Upton ($4.6 million, 2002) will have their bonuses paid over five years. Dewon Brazelton (2001) signed a five-year major league contract worth $4.8 million.

Both Brazelton and Upton signed late in the summer and didn’t make their pro debuts until the following year. Cam Bonifay, Tampa Bay’s scouting and farm director, said it’s hard to say whether Young will take the same path.

“You always like to get your players out playing as soon as possible,” said Bonifay, who had signed just two of his first six picks. “Sometimes negotiating issues have to be resolved. There’s no timetable. We have issues on both sides that we have to work through.”

Though neither side would comment, the Devil Rays are believed to have offered $3.75 million, while Young’s camp is thought to be seeking a deal comparable to Upton’s. Before the draft, Major League Baseball recommended a $3.6 million bonus for the No. 1 pick.

Young doesn’t have a two-sport option, so the only way to spread his bonus is to make him the fifth high school draftee ever to receive a big league contract. Bonifay confirmed that remains a possibility.

Young eventually should receive a deal similar in money and length to Upton’s, which was backloaded. While trying to suppress bonuses, it’s in MLB’s best interest to have an agreement come later rather than sooner, so other first-round picks can’t try to use it as a comparison in their negotiations.

All that leaves Young as a spectator rather than a player. As Futures Gamers were taking batting practice, Young was asked if he wanted to jump in the cage.

“I don’t want to put anyone to shame,” he joked. “I just came to watch.”

Five First-Rounders Unsigned

Four other first-round picks remained unsigned, including the rest of the top four: Southern second baseman Rickie Weeks (Brewers), Wake Forest righthander Kyle Sleeth (Tigers) and Richmond righty Tim Stauffer (Padres). The other was Florida high school outfielder Lastings Milledge (Mets, No. 12.

Here’s where the negotiations stand, according to baseball sources:

• Weeks and the Brewers have agreed not to discuss negotiations publicly, but both sides are watching Young and the Devil Rays. MLB pegged the No. 2 slot as worth $3.5 million—just $100,000 below the No. 1 pick.

Milwaukee has never given a draft pick a major league contract. But the Brewers are expected to offer one to Weeks in order to defer some of the cost.

• The Tigers have offered Sleeth $2.75 million, just below MLB’s recommendation of $3 million. After having recent first-rounders Matt Wheatland (2000) and Kenny Baugh (2001) succumb quickly to injuries, Detroit won’t be bothered if Sleeth takes the summer off and doesn’t pitch again until 2004.

• Stauffer’s situation is similar to Sleeth’s. The Padres are at $2.65 million, just $150,000 shy of the MLB guideline for the No. 4 pick. He’s unlikely to get more than slot money, and San Diego isn’t planning on him pitching much this summer in any case.

• Milledge was arguably the best five-tool player in the draft, though he slipped to No. 12 for a variety of reasons, including his perceived bonus demands. MLB says the pick should be worth $1.85 million, and the Mets have come within $75,000 of that.

He’ll probably become one of the few first-rounders to exceed the bonus recommendation, which means his signing could take some time. No. 11 choice Michael Aubrey (Indians) got $2.01 million, $60,000 more than MLB’s suggestion.


• John Danks became just the third 2003 first-rounder to exceed the bonus the corresponding pick got a year ago. Drafted ninth overall, the Round Rock (Texas) High lefthander signed with the Rangers for $2.1 million. The Rockies signed Jeff Francis, the No. 9 choice in 2002, for $1.85 million.

Jeff Allison (No. 16, Marlins) and Brad Sullivan (No. 25, Athletics) became the third and fourth first-rounders to exceed MLB's slot recommendations. Allison, a Massachusetts righthander who was BA's High School Player of the Year, got $1.85 million. MLB's original guideline was $1.575 million, which it later revised to $1.8 million. Allison also is the fourth first-rounder to surpass what his corresponding pick got a year ago, as Nick Swisher signed with the A's for $1.78 million as 2002's 16th pick. Sullivan, a University of Houston righty, signed for $1.36 million—$10,000 over slot.

• Outfielder Ryan Harvey, whose $2.4 million bonus as the No. 6 pick is the highest from the 2003 draft so far, won’t make his pro debut this summer. The Cubs want Harvey to take it slow after he blew out his right knee in an outfield collision at a showcase last November. Harvey returned for the second half of Dunedin (Fla.) High’s season.

• The Royals have been the thriftiest club, landing their two first-rounders, Pennsylvania high school outfielder Chris Lubanski ($2.1 million) and Toledo catcher Mitch Maier ($900,000), at well below slot money. Kansas City also gave its fifth- through ninth-rounders—Georgia Tech righthander Chris Goodman, Nevada-Las Vegas righty Ryan Braun, Concordia shortstop Michael Aviles, Coastal Carolina second baseman Brandon Powell and Bethune-Cookman lefthander John Gragg—just $1,000 each. All signed within eight days of the draft.

• Santa Ana (Calif.) JC lefthander Matt Lincoln (Cubs, eighth round) and Hawaii prep catcher Kala Kaaihue (Red Sox, 22nd) had their contracts voided because their physicals revealed pre-existing injuries.

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