After Failing To Sign Appel, Pirates Say They Have No Regrets

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Trying to end a streak of 19 consecutive losing seasons, the Pirates have spent more aggressively than any team in the draft. In Neal Huntington's first four years as general manager from 2008-11, Pittsburgh paid out $47.6 million in bonuses, including a record $17 million last year.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement reshaped the draft rules this year, apportioning specific bonus pools to teams and levying harsh draft-pick penalties for outspending those limits. Nevertheless, the Pirates made another bold move by selecting Stanford righthander Mark Appel with the eighth overall pick.

Though Appel ultimately declined Pittsburgh's $3.8 million offer, Pirates assistant GM Greg Smith said the club doesn't regret drafting him.

"The knee-jerk reaction as a scout is that you want to sign the player," Smith said. "When you step back from it, you say he slid and you knew it was a risk going in. We have the ninth pick next year, plus our own pick, so we're good with it."

Appel declined to return phone calls for this story, but did release a statement in which he said he concluded his best decision was to return to Stanford to finish his degree and try to win a national championship. Via Twitter, he thanked the Pirates for drafting him.

Most teams and prognosticators thought the Astros would select Appel with the No. 1 overall pick on June 4. There have been conflicting reports that Houston did or did not offer him a $6 million bonus, reports that the Appel camp denies. The Astros ultimately selected Carlos Correa and signed him for $4.8 million, shaving $2.4 million off his assigned pick value and using that savings to spend liberally elsewhere in the draft.

Smith said Pittsburgh had no inkling Appel would fall to No. 8 and took him without having talked to his family or his adviser, Scott Boras. The assigned value for the eighth choice was $2.9 million and the Pirates' bonus pool for the first 10 rounds was $6,563,500, so they knew signing Appel would be difficult.

Pittsburgh saved $479,100 versus its pool by signing its picks in rounds 6-10 to below-value deals, and it was willing to pay a tax penalty by spending up to 5 percent over its allocation. Anything more would have cost the Pirates a first-round selection. If they had gone to $4.5 million, they would have been 15 percent over their pool and forfeited two first-rounders.

"With the new CBA, you just can't keep going," Smith said. "Teams are not going to give up draft picks. There was no way that we were going to give up one, let alone two. If the landscape were different, sure, things might have worked out."

Another option for Pittsburgh would have been to take players it could have deeply discounted with the rest of its selections in the first 10 rounds and given Appel almost all of its bonus pool. Smith said the Pirates didn't want to tie up their entire draft in one player, however. They signed supplemental first-rounder Barrett Barnes, second-rounder Wyatt Mathisen, third-rounder Jon Sandfort and fifth-rounder Adrian Sampson for close to market value.

Once it became apparent Appel wouldn't sign, Pittsburgh spent $300,000 on 16th-rounder Max Moroff and $400,000 on 17th-rounder Hayden Hurst on deadline day.

Had the Pirates not gambled on Appel's upside, they would have taken David Dahl, who went 10th overall to the Rockies. Pittsburgh will receive the No. 9 overall pick in 2013 as compensation for not signing Appel.

Of the dozen first-round or supplemental first-round picks who declined to sign in the previous 10 drafts, four were Boras Corp. advisees: Luke Hochevar, Gerrit Cole, LeVon Washington and James Paxton. All four eventually signed for more money than they would have received the first time around. Now the No. 1 prospect in what's shaping up to be a mediocre 2013 draft, Appel will try to continue that trend though he'll have less leverage as a college senior next year.