Refuse To Lose: AAA Edition

Cheney Stadium
The Mariners are 10 games out of first place in the AL West. They are 8.5 games out in the Wild Card. There are several teams they would have to leapfrog to make the playoffs. Any projected standings out there (including my own) don't like the team's chances to make up the ground. The odds are stacked against the 2009 Mariners playing in the postseason.

In response, many fans are conjuring up 1995 memories. The M's were at one point 13.5 games back, and we all remember how that turned out.

However, just take a look down the road for inspiration. Meet the 2009 Rainiers.

Tacoma is back in town to finish out the season with an eight-game home stand, starting tonight with a four-game set against the Salt Lake Bees. The Rainiers are coming back from a nine-game road trip.

The Rainiers left Cheney stadium 7.5 games out of first place.

They went 9-0 on their road trip.

They are now tied for first place.

After playing four games against Salt Lake, Tacoma faces the Colorado Springs Sky Sox to finish the season. The Sky Sox are the team Tacoma is tied with for the division lead.

From a personnel perspective, it's worth paying attention to Tacoma, because a playoff run would delay September call-ups. The Rainiers need to field a team, after all.

However, more importantly, the Rainiers are living out a diamond fairy tale. Their last nine games are what sports is all about. Tacoma was finishing up a mostly mediocre season, but technically wasn't out of it. Then, out of nowhere, they got red-hot, and the Sky Sox stone cold. It's about the only way Tacoma was going to get back in the race.

Sure, the Rainiers got a big assist from the Sky Sox's parent club, the Rockies. Carlos Gonzalez, the best player in the whole PCL, is now leading off for Colorado as they surge in the NL West. This isn't the same Colorado Springs team that built a large lead. Still, it always takes a perfect storm of luck, breaks, and skill for the improbable to happen. It's stories like the one unfolding in Tacoma right now that I live for as a sports fan.

Maybe the Mariners can find a perfect storm too. It's not probable, but it's possible. I'll be keeping close tabs on Tacoma's remarkable run, because it stands by itself as a tremendous story. However, I'm also dreaming of a similar surge making its way up the I-5 corridor.

"Type A" Failing Baseball

Billy Wagner"Type A" has become a buzz term in baseball the past couple years. It signifies a certain status for a player as the hit free agency. In simple terms, a player is labeled a Type A free agent if they have performed well. In return, if they sign with a new team, their previous team gets a compensatory draft pick, as well as the first round pick of the team that signed them, as long as that team had one of the 15 best record in baseball the previous season. Since this is baseball, the system has several details and steps that I am glossing over. However, the general idea is to promote parody.

Rating free agents has been around for many years. In fact, there used to be Type A, B, and C free agents, but with the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement there are now only Types A and B. Type B free agents net a team compensatory picks in the second round instead of the first. Type B free agents also, in theory, have not performed at as high of a level as Type A free agents. The accuracy of the rating system is a whole separate debate though.

Despite the free agency rating system being around for many years, it has only garnered real attention that past couple years. This has directly coincided with teams valuing their draft picks more. Just today, Buster Olney talks about Billy Wagner's value when he hits free agency at the end of the year, and it centers on his likely Type A status.

Teams are valuing draft picks more than ever, perhaps partly due to the economy. However, revenue sharing is also to blame. It's allowing more teams to sign their young talent, depleting the talent in free agent pools. Even cracking down on PEDs is having an impact. That aging veteran in his mid to upper 30s is more likely to look like he is in his mid to upper 30s these days. Increasingly, any team's best chance to acquire an impact player is in the draft. So, giving up the best chance to acquire impact talent by signing a Type A free agent is a decision being taken very seriously.

As a result, the Billy Wagners of the world are getting unfairly penalized. They are the guys somewhere between productive starter and perennial all-star - plenty good enough to get Type A free agent status, but also not seen as central to a team anymore for some reason. They aren't perceived as impact players, particularly at their age, as much as strong complimentary pieces. In the end, players like Wagner are hurting their earning potential by producing.

That's a problem.

Moreover, that's a problem that the MLBPA has surely noticed, and should bring to the table in labor negotiations next year.

A fair amount has been written about the current draft system in the wake of Strasburg's deal. Everyone agrees it is broken to some degree, and will be an issue in labor negotiations next year. The Commissioner's office clearly wants to limit signing bonuses. Bud Selig has also trumpeted for years a desire to implement an international draft. That was a divisive enough issue last time around that it got tabled to get the current deal in place without a work stoppage. It is bound to come up again.

An international draft of some sort needs to happen, but it is not going to happen without giving the players something. That's how negotiations between any two sides works.

The owners have the carrot they need with the current free agency system. Changing the free agency climate to make it more friendly for veterans like Billy Wagner should be something that the MLBPA cares about. Getting that in return for an international draft and restrictions on earning power in the traditional amateur draft (which may also help veterans - a.k.a. players the MLBPA already represents), is the start of a deal with positive changes.

The draft is broken. Free agency is also broken. This is a case where concessions by both sides could make baseball exponentially better.

2009 AFL Rosters Released

Arizona Fall League rosters were released today, and seven Mariners will play for the Peoria Javelinas. Every franchise selects players from their system that they want to participate in the league. There are six teams total in the fall league, so five franchises feed each team. The Javelinas are comprised of Mariners, Brewers, Dodgers, Tigers, and White Sox players.

Usually, the AFL does not get much attention. It will get a little more this year though, because Stephen Strasburg will make his pro debut as a Phoenix Desert Dog. The AFL gives teams a chance to get extra work for a handful of players. This year, teams are mostly using it to accelerate the development of their top prospects, so on paper this is one of the more talented AFLs. Here is a closer look at each player the M's are sending:
  • Dustin Ackley - Much like Strasburg, the second overall pick will debut in the Fall League. This was announced when Ackley signed, so it is no surprise at all. Gordon Beckham and Matt LaPorta played in the AFL the year after they were drafted, succeeded, and put themselves on the fast track to the majors. Ackley is certainly worth watching, because he seems capable of getting on a similarly fast track.
  • Philippe Aumont - The Mariners put Aumont on the fast track to the majors when they sent him to the bullpen. He has scuffled in recent AA outings, but a strong showing in the AFL may prime Philippe for a promotion to AAA...or maybe even the Mariners bullpen. Once Aumont is ready, he will be up, and the team is clearly giving him every chance to make it as quickly as possible.
  • Joe Dunigan - Lost in the shuffle of all sorts of stellar offensive performances in High Desert has been the steady production of Dunigan. It's partly because he is older than other High Desert prospects. Still, Joe has a nice blend of power and surprising speed for his size. He deserves more attention than he has received so far, and a nice showing in the AFL will help him garner it.
  • Josh Fields - Fields and Aumont are now both in AA, and both project as late-inning relievers. It sure seems like they are competing against each other, and they will yet again in the AFL. Josh still struggles with consistency, and on top of that he has been injured. Time spent in the AFL should help him out as much as anyone. He'll never become more consistent without ample opportunities.
  • Nick Hill - Nick seems to get stronger and stronger every year. He had been in the bullpen his entire time in the system until the second half of this year. The move did not faze Hill at all, as he continued to dominate in AA. I like his chances to make the 2010 Mariners better than any other Diamond Jaxx pitcher (that includes Aumont and Fields), and I like them even more now that he is going to get some work in the AFL.
  • Carlos Triunfel - The top M's position prospect in many minds pretty much lost the entire 2009 season to a leg injury. This is his chance to get some of that season back. If he can shake off the rust and play well, perhaps he will still be in line for a promotion to AAA to start 2010.
  • Anthony Varvaro - Varvaro has a great arm, but he lacks control, and is already 25 years old in AA. The Mariners need to decide what they think of him sometime soon. A little extra time in the AFL should help.
The Mariners are sending quite a bit of talent to the Arizona Fall League this year. It is a collection of players with high ceilings that are not that far from the big leagues. Between Ackley, Aumont, and Fields, the Mariners have all three of their most recent top draft picks going to the AFL. I thought Adam Moore and Matt Tuiasosopo might be heading to the league too, but it's hard to argue with this list. The 2009 AFL is more than worth keeping tabs on.

Mariners Acquire Bill Hall

Bill HallThe Mariners added depth today, acquiring Bill Hall from the Brewers for minor league pitcher Ruben Flores. At 25, Flores isn't young by prospect standards, particularly for someone who hasn't played above A ball. However, he had put together an impressive year in Clinton before being promoted to High Desert.

The Brewers designated Bill Hall for assignment last week, so they had to do something with him. Hall has a ton of money left on his contract, and presumably Milwaukee will pick up a ton of it in the trade. Otherwise, this deal doesn't make sense for the Mariners.

Hall has been a mess at the plate this year, and I don't think he's a strong candidate to bounce back all that much. He has power, but strikes out a ton. That's always been his hitting style, and ever since his breakout 2006 campaign, his numbers have declined dramatically. It looks to me like he was lucky in 2006, and on top of that pitchers figured out how to avoid his power better, while perhaps Hall has tried to muscle up a little too much for his own good. Now he's coming to the AL, which is a stronger league than the NL.

As a bench player though, I like Bill Hall. He's been a good defender throughout his career at several positions, most notably third base. His ability to play multiple positions well, and threat to hit the ball out of the ballpark, makes him a good fit for the M's needs right now.

Hall has hit lefties better than righties in his career. A platoon with Jack Hannahan at third while Beltre is out would make sense, and pinch-hitting for guys like Michael Saunders and even Josh Wilson (though Hall may take his roster spot) would make sense too.

Jack Zduriencik saw Hall at his best while both were in Milwaukee. Hopefully, Z sees something that can be fixed, not just visions of the past with hopes Hall will magically find it again. Even if Hall doesn't hit much, he's still a worthwhile addition.

Strasburg Debate Revisited

Stephen StrasburgMy 2009 College Players to Watch list, if it is to be remembered, will be remembered for one thing: I ranked Stephen Strasburg behind Dustin Ackley. Here is a portion of what I wrote about Strasburg when I posted the 2009 list:
...To say that Strasburg is the consensus top pick is an understatement. Many are calling him the best pitching prospect in decades, or even a prospect of the kind that we have never seen before. I will spare that debate for later...
Now, it's time for the debate. It's easier to have it now that both players are signed.

Stephen Strasburg is a special talent, but he is set up to fail. He really is. Scouts have gushed over him, calling him anything from the best prospect in the last 25 years, to the best pitching prospect ever, to the best prospect ever.

Really?

I don't want to come across as someone down on Strasburg, but somebody needs to bring some rational thought to this debate. Let's consider some other pitchers in recent memory:
  • Josh Beckett: Is Strasburg a better prospect than Beckett was? Strasburg wasn't drafted out of high school, yet Beckett went second overall in 1999 as a prep flame-thrower with a promising power curve. I think it's safe to say that Beckett panned out - he shut down the Yankees in one of the more memorable pitching performances of the past decade, with his complete game in old Yankee Stadium to clinch the 2003 World Series for the Marlins. He was 23 years old when he did that. Since then, Beckett was the centerpiece of the deal that netted Hanley Ramirez for Florida, and has won another championship anchoring the Red Sox staff. Clearly, Beckett was well ahead of Strasburg as an 18-year-old, and Strasburg will have to be an emerging ace by 2011 to even be in the debate with Beckett.
I could pick any high school pitcher and claim they were a better prospect though. Stephen really exploded in college, so it is more fair to compare him to college prospects. Consider some of these from recent memory...
  • Roger Clemens: Maybe Clemens is pushing the boundaries of "recent memory." However, he was drafted out of high school in 1981, but didn't sign. He signed when the Red Sox picked him in the first round in 1983. Clemens was in Boston's rotation in 1984, and won his first Cy Young in 1986 as a 23-year-old. Rumored steroid use has tainted his career, but I think he was clean until he became a Blue Jay in the late '90s. Clemens was the 19th pick in his draft, so arguably Strasburg is more highly touted. However, Boston clearly loved Roger. He was in the rotation immediately, and produced immediately.
  • Tim Lincecum: I think Tiny Tim is a fantastic comparison. Lincecum put up similar numbers to Strasburg in college, but did it in a tougher conference. He caught eyes with his blazing fastball, much like Strasburg. The biggest difference is that Lincecum is shorter than Strasburg, and has a funkier delivery. That's what kept him from going higher in the draft, but he still went 11th overall. Lincecum ended up spending only a few months in the minors, and in his first full season won the NL Cy Young award. He is a front-runner to win the Cy Young again this year. In other words, Strasburg arguably will have to win a Cy Young before his rookie deal is over to compare with Lincecum.
Perhaps I should limit myself to only top overall picks, since I'm yet to pick one of those to compare to Strasburg. I'd agree that Strasburg is better than many other college pitchers picked first overall - the last five before Strasburg are David Price (2007), Bryan Bullington (2002), Matt Anderson (1997), Kris Benson (1996), and Paul Wilson (1994). They have a combined zero all-star appearances between them, though Price is still active and promises to be a good pitcher in the near future. If anything, past history suggests that the best player in a draft class is rarely picked number one overall.

I understand that there is a difference between potential and development. Some players with great potential never realize it, while others develop seemingly out of nowhere. Because of that, I can pick virtually anyone to make any argument I want.

Still, Josh Beckett was clearly a much more highly touted prospect in high school than Strasburg was. Doesn't that make him arguably a better prospect, especially considering what Beckett has become? He had high expectations as the second overall pick, and delivered.

Roger Clemens stepped into Boston's rotation immediately, much like Strasburg is expected to do with the Nats. Clemens was expected to do that as the 19th pick overall in his draft, so should we expect even more out of Strasburg? Expecting comparable production out of a guy as highly touted as Strasburg seems fair.

Tim Lincecum had comparable production to Strasburg in college, and was also a first round pick. It's hard to say he came out of nowhere. Should we expect at least two Cy Youngs out of Strasburg before he hits arbitration? After all, Stephen doesn't have some of the question marks that scouts had about Lincecum.

These are the expectations that have been put on Stephen Strasburg. Beckett, Clemens, and Lincecum are all exceptions, but Strasburg is expected to be an exception as well. On top of that, Stephen enters a situation where he is expected to be the savior, and everyone involved in scouting, drafting, and negotiating with him may be gone in a few months.

A big reason Strasburg went to San Diego State was to stay close to home, because he needed some support as he grew up some. By no means does Stephen have character issues, and he's certainly better prepared to handle a cross-country move now than he was three years ago. However, between moving far away from home, becoming a savior, becoming a millionaire overnight, and facing competition that will push him harder than ever before, Strasburg could use some support. Anyone could. A franchise in upheaval like the Nats right now aren't well equipped to give him that.

All things considered, Stephen Strasburg is set up to fail. In reality, he is among the best pitching prospects in recent memory, not far and away the best. From a production standpoint, he only caught Dustin Ackley this past season. It can't be overlooked that Ackley put up his numbers in the ACC, which is always one of the strongest baseball conferences in the nation. Ackley's higher level of production over a longer course of time, combined with the more realistic expectations surrounding him, and the history of position players panning out on a more consistent basis, make him a player I am more comfortable handing big money. Hence, I favored Ackley when I ranked college players, because I couldn't decide which one was actually a better prospect.

Strasburg's saving grace is his talent. He is good enough to beat the odds, and I hope he does. Just don't be shocked if he doesn't live up to the hype. Who could live up to what he is expected to do?

Breaking Down the Ackley Contract

Dustin AckleyI will warn you right from the get-go, this will be a very technical post. We're going to dig into the Collective Bargaining Agreement to understand exactly what the Mariners gave up when they gave Ackley a guaranteed major league deal. This will be a somewhat dense post, but I find baseball economics fascinating.

Dustin Ackley's contract is highly deceiving. It was originally reported that it's for $9.5 million. Then, it came out that it was $7.5 million with escalators. On top of all this, it is a major league deal. There is a bunch of technical language getting thrown around, and it's worth understanding. Digging in to Ackley's deal reveals that the M's hardly got a bargain, but also did some significant negotiating.

According to Jim Callis at Baseball America, here are the terms that Ackley agreed to:
  • $6 million signing bonus
  • MLB contract for 5 years (2009 - 2013)
  • $1.5 million in guaranteed in salaries
  • An additional $2.5 million is available based on how quickly Ackley reaches the majors
Let's start with the signing bonus. That's the easiest to understand. That's the money that is Dustin Ackley's once he signs his name. It's essentially a one-time lump sum. When it comes to the MLB draft and you hear a player "signs for 'x' amount of dollars," 99 times out of 100 that is the signing bonus. That's because draft picks are typically signed to minor league deals with a signing bonus.

Already, we can see why Ackley's deal is deceptive. Surely $6 million is well above MLB's recommended bonus for the second overall pick, but third pick overall Donovan Tate got a $6.25 million bonus.

The MLB contract is a big deal though. Tate did not get one, and few prospects get a guaranteed one straight out of the draft. To begin with, it requires the player to be added to the MLB 40-man roster. That means a team loses some roster flexibility while the player develops in the minor leagues. More importantly, from the player's perspective, it immediately puts them under the provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

What exactly does that mean?

It basically means a prospect is going to live the good life as they work towards the majors. Only players that have appeared in the majors, or are on a team's 40-man roster, are covered in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. All other players (the majority of minor-leaguers) are pretty much at the mercy of the franchise that controls them, until they are eligible for the rule 5 draft. Let's not get started on the Rule 5 draft here though.

Minor League Baseball's website says a minor leaguer makes at most $1,100 per month in their first season. After that, contracts are "up for negotiation."Assuming a player makes $1,100 a month for a six months (which is pushing it because a minor league season is more like five months), they will make $6,600. However, a player on his first major league contract, according to the CBA, must make a minimum of $32,500 in the minor leagues. So, to recap, a prospect not covered by the CBA gets $6,600 at most. A prospect covered by the CBA gets $32,500 at least. That's the difference a major league contract makes.

However, Ackley has it even better. He has a guaranteed $1.5 million in salaries for the duration of the contract, which averages out to $300,000 per year. That's well above the $32,500 minimum. However, it is also well below the $400,000 minimum major league salary. Hence, the $2.5 million "based on how fast Ackley makes it to the majors."

For this post's sake, let's assume that $2.5 million is spread evenly throughout the deal. That essentially makes it a $500,000 bonus per year for every year Ackley is in the majors. That would make his salary $800,000 per year for every year he is in the majors. That, of course is well above the $400,000 minimum.

Now it's time to throw out a hypothetical: What if Dustin Ackley had signed a more traditional contract? What if he had simply signed a minor league deal with a $6 million signing bonus?

We'll have to make some educated guesses. Let's say that Ackley spends all of 2010 in the minors, not even on the 40-man roster. Let's say he spends all of 2011 in the minors too, but on the 40-man roster. After that, we will assume he is in the majors, where he would earn the major league minimum through 2013. Even though at that point there will be a new CBA, we will assume the minimum salary stays at $400,000. In all likelihood, it will go up, but I'm trying to be as conservative as possible.

We'll say Ackley doesn't even play in 2009, and earns $5,000 in the minors in 2010. Then, he earns $32,500 in 2011. After that, he earns $400,000 for two seasons. That's five years (the same length as the deal he signed), and an additional $837,500 in salary paid to him. With the $6 million bonus, that's a total of $6,837,500.

Let's make a little more realistic estimate. Let's say Ackley spends all of 2010 in the minors, but is up in the majors halfway through 2011. Also, let's assume the minimum salary goes up to $425,000 for 2012 and beyond. Since Dustin is a top pick, let's say the M's give him $6,000 total in 2010. We also already know he will play in 2009, so let's give him $1,100. Then, he makes around $220,000 total splitting time between the minors and majors in 2011. The next two years, at $425,000 per year, Ackley makes $850,000 total. So, over 5 years, with the the $6 million bonus, Dustin Ackley makes a total of $7,077,100.

Consider the same hypothetical career track from the last paragraph with Ackley's actual deal. We'll estimate the prorated amount of $300,000 per year for 2009 to be around $60,000. Spending all of 2010 in the minors gives him $300,000. Splitting time between the majors and minors in 2011 comes to $550,000. Finally, for the last couple years, Ackley makes $800,000 annually. With the signing bonus, that comes to a grand total of $8,510,000.

More terms on Ackley's deal are not known right now, and the odds are he probably earns more in the back end of the deal. That would drive up the the total money he earns. Still, the difference between Ackley's MLB contract and what he would have received otherwise is likely in the neighborhood of $1.5-2.5 million dollars. It's hardly a bargain for the Mariners, but a portion of the money agreed to in the contract is money that Ackley would have earned anyway without the guaranteed MLB deal. Also, that extra $1.5-$2.5 million is spread over five years, making it easy to absorb.

Dusting Ackley's deal did not happen in a vacuum though. Scott Boras said he was going for Mark Teixeira-type money. Teixeira, when he was drafted in 2001, also got a guaranteed MLB contract. Furthermore, Ackley was one of three 2009 draftees to receive a Major League contract, along with top pick Stephen Strasburg and ninth pick Jacob Turner. All these deals were negotiated by Boras. Here is a look at them side by side. Estimated values are in italic:

TeixeiraAckleyStrasburgTurner
Bonus $4.5 mil $6 mil $7.5 mil $4.7 mil
Year 1N/A$200K$400KN/A
Year 2$250K$250K$2 mil$800K
Year 3$750K$500K$2.5 mil$900K
Year 4$1.5 mil$850K$3 mil$1.1 mil
Year 5$2.5 mil$1.1 milN/A$1.5 mil


The known terms of Turner's deal right now is that he makes anywhere between $800,000 to $2.15 million annually depending on how quickly he reaches the majors. There are also some options years, and a few opt out clauses I chose to neglect to keep this comparison somewhat simple. Furthermore, Turner's terms only start with the 2010 season (which is why year 1 in the table is marked "N/A"). For this comparison, I'm assuming Turner spends two and a half years in the minors. That's a very fast track for a high school pitcher like him, but he went to the Tigers, who brought up prep pick Rick Porcello after only one full season in the minors. I'm taking complete guesses on how Turner's contract escalates, in case you are wondering.

For Ackley's deal in the comparison, I decided to take guesses at how it might escalate (since it likely does). I assumed he makes the majors part way through the 2011 season. That's a full year ahead of Turner in this projection. My guesses on how Ackley's deal escalates are what cause the table's numbers to look different than my initial analysis, where I simply averaged total values over the length of the deal. You'll notice that the total in the table for Ackley comes to a little over $9 million, which is within range of my above analysis. The Year 1 total would be prorated, just as Strasburg's is.

Compared to other guaranteed MLB deals in draft history, Ackley's looks good. His total approaches Teixeira's, but the structure is noticeably different. The bonus is bigger, but this is also 2009 versus 2001. Inflation must be considered. Also, Ackley will only maximize his deal if he gets to the majors in a hurry - a provision that wasn't a part of Teixeira's initial deal, or Strasburg's for that matter.

By the way, any doubt that the Nationals want Strasburg in the majors on opening day 2010 at the latest should be gone. Just look at the deal he signed. Nobody is paid millions to develop in the minors. Boras knows that too. It's no mistake Strasburg's contract runs out after what will be presumably three full seasons in the majors. It preserves all of Stephen's arbitration years. In the end, Washington gave up all the years that they could have payed Strasburg the league minimum, and got no breaks in return. Talk about a player-friendly deal.

Strasburg is a special case though, at least in most people's eyes. What's more interesting is comparing Ackley's contract to Turner's. Dustin Ackley is a college position player, while Turner a high school pitcher. Clearly, Turner is a higher risk pick. He was also selected later than Dustin, albeit only four slots later. However, while Turner's bonus was smaller, he probably will have higher annual salaries than Ackley. That's remarkable, considering Turner will probably spend longer in the minors, and is a much higher risk to flame out.

In the end, Dustin Ackley got paid. He's a clear winner in the deal. Not only did he get a bonus way above slot recommendation, he got an MLB contract that will pay him above MLB minimum salaries to boot. Scott Boras represented him quite well.

The Mariners should be happy too though. Compared to the other MLB deals signed this year, Ackley's is the most conservative, even though he is the safest bet to pan out. Furthermore, Boras did not get a Teixeira deal, even though the money could be similar. Ackley will have to earn it though, because of the $2.5 million tied to when he makes the majors. That's a safeguard that wasn't in Teixeira's contract.

I'm not a fan of giving draft picks MLB contracts, but Ackley is worth it. The deal is reasonable. The M's had room on the roster right now. There is a decent chance Dustin would have forced his way on to the 40-man roster by as early as next year anyway. I'd still say Boras won these negotiations, but I'm not going to call the Mariners losers.

Dustin Ackley Signs

A few minutes after the deadline, the Mariners announced that they have signed their top pick, Dustin Ackley. As of now, reports are that the deal could be worth as much as $9.5 million. It is also a guaranteed major league deal, meaning he is on the 40-man roster.

Initial reaction: that's a huge deal. Like, one of the biggest in draft history huge. Not only is the money big, but it's also a big deal that he is already on the major league roster. The M's pretty much forfeited all the team-controlled years, which are the ones where a player is typically a bargain. The combo makes it a clear victory for Scott Boras.

I will write more in the morning, but in the end pretty much everyone signed, and it took figures well above slot recommendations. I'll have more cogent thoughts in the morning, and hopefully more concrete details.

Ackley is a Mariner though. That's good news. The price was really steep, but it's hard to feel bad that he's under contract. It will be easier to put the deal in perspective once more details come out on all the deals.

Tigers Sign Turner

The Tigers have signed their top pick, high-schooler Jacob Turner, for a rather staggering $5-6.7 million. Even as the ninth overall pick, that is well over slot. However, Detroit has gone way over slot to sign picks in recent years. Justin Verlander, and especially Rick Porcello, are prime examples.

A couple notes about this deal. This is one that may impact Ackley negotiations. There are rumors that Tate has agreed for $6-7 million as well, so something in the neighborhood of $6-7 million may be what it takes to get Ackley. That's well over slot value, but also well under what it will take to get top pick Stephen Strasburg done.

Also, this announcement gives credence to the thought that baseball is trying to keep deals under wraps because they are way over slot value. Seriously, this is collusion at work if that's the case, and it's hard to imagine it not having impacts on labor talks. It would be hyperbole to say we're watching the next work stoppage unfold right now, but I think we're watching an issue develop as the seconds tick away towards the deadline.

Calm Before the Storm?

It's shocking that so few deals have been announced so far today. There is NO way this many first-round picks don't sign. Keith Law offers an explanation though. He's hearing that many agreements are in place, but that MLB is keeping them from being announced to prevent players and agents from using them as leverage.

I've got three thoughts on this report. First off, Law is well connected, and on top of that it makes sense. I'm thinking he's right, which means we should see a flood of announcements starting around an hour from now.

Second, if baseball is worried the contracts will be used as leverage by players and agents, that probably indicates most deals are for over suggested slot values. This probably should not be shocking to baseball since they reduced recommended bonuses this year.

Third, labor negotiations will begin next year, and the draft is sure to come up. What baseball is doing is essentially collusion. They already have a "recommended" bonus, which they try to hold teams over a barrel to follow. Now, the collusion is even more apparent if they are hiding information as well to try to keep bonuses down. I'm sure the MLBPA will want to talk about the system. They need to anyway, but what may be unfolding right now is ridiculous. I'm a strong supporter of keeping draft bonuses under control, but the system in place right now isn't working.

Royals Sign Chris Dwyer

Kansas City announced that they have signed their fourth-round pick, Chris Dwyer. The bonus is believed to be around $1.5 million, which is well over the suggested slot. The Royals have been more than willing to go over slot under Dayton Moore, so it is not terribly surprising.

However, sometimes a team will pick a batch of players with signability issues, and hope to get one of them. The Royals also selected Aaron Crow, who was the highest pick not to sign last year. As mentioned before, Kansas City has gone over slot several times in the past, so signing both Dwyer and Crow is not out of the question. Still, it is possible that coming to terms with Dwyer on a near-record deal for a fourth-rounder is an indication that the team is not hopeful it will ink Crow.

I'll really question what Aaron Crow is looking for if he does not sign with the Royals. He should have signed with the Nationals last year, but he lucked out and didn't fall a ton. Even more fortunately, he got picked by the Royals, a team that could use him in the majors ASAP, and that is willing to go well above slot value to get draftees signed. I'm not sure I'd even consider Crow in the 2010 draft if he is available, considering the opportunities he is passing up.

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION (5:58 PM PDT) - Aaron Crow doesn't need to sign by tonight because of his age. Same goes for Scheppers. However, the point I made still stands. KC can only have so much money to spend on draft picks, and I still wonder if they are a little concerned if they can sign Crow. There just isn't the urgency to get a deal done tonight though.

LeVon Washington Not Signing

According to a report, the Rays will not sign either of their first or second round draft pick. Kenny Diekroger, the second-round selection, said all along he wanted to go to Stanford. He is an example of a player that preferred to go to college instead of the pros immediately.

LeVon Washington, the first round pick, is a bit of a different story. He said on draft day he wanted to be a Ray. However, in a press release this morning, Rays GM Andrew Friedman said he was offered a bonus "consistent with late first-round picks," but it is also as clear that it's not enough. Washington is a Boras client.

Reading between the lines, it looks like Tampa Bay refused to go above slot, and in return Washington refused to sign. It likely indicates that it will take more than the recommended bonus to sign any Boras client today, which is no surprise. It's the first indication that contracts may favor players more than teams today.

If anything though, this is good news for negotiations with Strasburg, Ackley, and Tate. Boras has one less client to worry about today now with negotiations between Washington and the Rays dead. Washington's contract numbers weren't going to impact the top three, or vice versa.

Tampa Bay will receive compensation picks for both selections. Their farm system is strong, so they can afford to lose out on a few prospects this year, especially since the price was not right. They know they have to get great bang for their buck to compete in the AL East. The Rays need to be very selective when handing out bonuses above slot, and Washington isn't exactly Stephen Strasburgh.

12 Hours To '09 Signing Deadline

Even though the Mariners do not play today, this will be a very active day. 9 pm (on the west coast) tonight is the deadline to sign draft picks. 14 first-rounders still haven't signed, including Seattle's top pick Dustin Ackley. It should be a busy day.

That may sound like an alarming number of first-rounders not under contract, and it is. However, last year about as many went down to the final day, and all about two signed. One was Aaron Crow, who hasn't signed yet this year either. The other was Gerrit Cole, who picked college baseball at UCLA over the Yankees. Neither was a case where the team and player simply ran out of time.

I will post throughout the day as significant news pours in. With so many first-rounders yet to sign, I won't write a post about every single one of them. However, here are the stories I will be paying close attention to:

  • Do all of the top three sign? They are all Scott Boras clients, and all unsigned. It's going to be a busy day for baseball's most infamous agent. Reports over the weekend came out indicating that deals with Dustin Ackley and Donovan Tate may be close to done. Stephen Strasburg is anybody's guess right now though.
  • Will teams stick to slot recommendations? This is always a storyline worth following, but especially this year. Recommended slot bonuses went down about 10 percent this year, meaning in theory most draft picks should be getting smaller bonuses. Usually, agents start at the bonus the previous year's pick got and go up from there. Baseball is serious about keeping picks to recommended slot figures, considering teams have to notify MLB if they plan to go over slot. Teams even need to come up with some sort of logical reason too. On some level, particularly in negotiations that are still far apart, today is a game of chicken: who bends in, the player, the team, or neither?
  • What will Aaron Crow and Tanner Scheppers do? Neither signed last year with hopes that they would get more money this year. It doesn't look like that will work for either, particularly Crow. Will either of them not sign again and take their chances in the 2010 draft? Both should sign this year, at least in my opinion, because both will be a year older in 2010, and also carry the issues that come with walking away from a guaranteed multi-million dollar contract two years in a row.
The day will get more and more fun as the deadline approaches. Stay tuned; there will be drama, intrigue, and surprises, just like with any deadline in baseball.

Franklin Signs; All About Ackley Now

Nick FranklinGood news for the Mariners today (which they could use after a tough last couple days). First round pick Nick Franklin has signed. The shortstop received a $1.28 million signing bonus, which is a bit higher than I anticipated a few weeks ago. It is also about $100,000 over the recommended slot bonus, so all in all Nick Franklin should be considered the winner of these negotiations.

However, from the M's perspective, $100K is not all that much, and the team has been consistently signing their higher selections to bonuses slightly above the recommended amounts by Major League Baseball. More importantly, the Franklin signing leaves only top pick Dustin Ackley among the M's top selections yet to sign. That means they should be able to focus all attention on Ackley, which is important given that the signing deadline is this Monday.

Ackley is a Boras client, so it is not surprising that negotiations are coming down to the last minute. Boras is the agent for the top three picks in the draft (a group that of course includes Ackley), and none of them have signed.

As unsettling as going down to the wire is, I think the surest bet to sign among the trio is Ackley.

Donovan Tate, the third pick, is a prep star with a strong commitment to North Carolina for baseball and football. Tate was practicing with the Tar Heels football team, but has left because Boras is close to striking a deal with the Padres according to a report. Still, reporting to practice is more than a bargaining tactic. I think it will take San Diego some pretty serious cash to pry away Tate from college, especially with Boras negotiating. Considering the Padres are dumping money left and right, I wonder how much money they have to offer.

San Diego wouldn't have drafted Tate if they did not think they had the money to sign him though. Ultimately, it will likely come down to Tate weighing a college football career versus a guaranteed multi-million dollar signing bonus. Depending on how much Tate enjoys football, and how much he enjoyed practice, that could be a very tough decision.

Top pick Stephen Strasburg's negotiations are fairly well-publicized, and will become a major story over the next couple days as the deadline gets closer. The most current reports are that the Nationals have offered a record deal, but no agreement is imminent. It has been known for a full year that it would take a record contract to ink Strasburg; the only question is how much of a record it will be.

Although on some level it makes sense for Strasburg to sign, given he can't go any higher than number one overall, there are several factors to consider. Scouts think he is one of the greatest prospects of all-time, so he will go high again next year, and could/will demand a record contract again next year. By 2010, the economy will likely have recovered some (or at least stabilized), so teams may be willing to shell out more money. Furthermore, Strasburg and Boras in 2010 should not have to deal with an interim GM that could be replaced any day. The haphazard mess that is the Nats front office right now, combined with an uncertain economic climate, and Strasburg's lofty status among scouts, likely make the Strasburg negotiations uniquely difficult.

Then there is Dustin Ackley. Even if Strasburg signs, the hype over prep catcher Bryce Harper has already begun. He seems to be somewhere between the 2010 version of Stephen Strasburg and Josh Hamilton (remember Hamilton went first overall when he was drafted). The point is that Ackley has maximized his draft position. On top of that, he got drafted by an organization that needs bats, so he has the opportunity to move quickly if he performs. Plus, Jack Zduriencik has a terrific player development track record, and he has infused the Mariners with a remarkable amount of talent, stability, and vision already.

Between Jack Z, the M's resources, and how the 2010 draft looks early on, it should be clear to Scott Boras (and Dustin Ackley too) that Ackley will not find a better situation next year than the one he is in right now. Negotiations will go down to the wire, but a deal will be reached. It makes too much sense for all sides involved. Expect it to be well over the suggested slot value, but expect it to happen sometime Monday evening.

Hardy Down And Hall Out

JJ HardyRemember all the trade rumors around Brewers SS JJ Hardy? How he would have been a perfect fit for the Mariners, with their clear need to upgrade at shortstop, and SS Alcides Escobar sitting in AAA for Milwaukee? Especially once Jack Z got hired by Seattle, a trade never seemed imminent, but awfully realistic.

In the end, JJ Hardy stayed in Milwaukee. He's on the move now though.

He's going to Nashville, as in AAA Nashville. Alcides Escobar will take his place on the major league roster. Also, the Brewers designated INF/OF Bill Hall for assignment. Hall had a big year in 2006, and cashed in with a lucrative contract. He is still due around $10 million before the 2011 season, so that looks pretty bad at this point. Hall is too versatile to not get a chance with another team though, especially only for the veteran minimum that another team would have have to pay to Hall.

JJ Hardy is the more interesting case. He has really struggled at the plate this year, and the Brewers are in a bit of a tailspin right now. Changes were likely, and on some level sending Hardy down is a logical move. Escobar is one of baseball's best prospects right now. He is the reason Hardy has been rumored in trades for most of this season.

However, why send Hardy down now? Why bring up Alcides Escobar now? It feels a bit like a move for the future, a bit as if the Brewers are waving the white flag. Presumably, Alcides Escobar could grab the shortstop job and never look back.

However, if it was a move for the future, where does that leave JJ Hardy? It has seemed likely that Hardy would be traded once Milwaukee decided Escobar was ready, and it also seemed likely that Hardy could net a helpful pitcher in a deal. Sending Hardy down should hurt his trade value.

But does it?

Hardy, if he is down long enough, may have to wait another year for free agency. That could increase his value some. Would that really be the main reason that the Brewers sent him down though? I doubt it, but it's an interesting twist to the move.

More than anything, it is just kind of fun to watch players on other teams that have been talked about as potential Mariners. With Jack Wilson in the fold, JJ Hardy doesn't make sense for the M's anymore. He will make sense for someone though, and it's hard to see exactly what the Brewers are thinking right now. That's not to say they have made bad moves today, just ones that could be motivated by a number of factors.

White Sox Claim Alex Rios

Alex RiosToday, the White Sox acquired Alex Rios from the Toronto Blue Jays. Actually, acquired is not quite the right word. It is clear that Chicago claimed him on waivers, and it looks like the Blue Jays just let the White Sox take him.

My how just a few months change things drastically. Remember this past winter, when Rios was shopped as the centerpiece for a deal to get Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum? Now, he's worth nothing, literally nothing, in return.

So what exactly are the Blue Jays doing, letting a 28-year-old former all-star go?

The short answer is saving money. Toronto needs to cut back payroll, partly because ownership is pressuring them to, and perhaps also partly to line themselves up to make a legitimate run at keeping Roy Halladay in town. Rios was signed through 2014 with an average salary of north of $10 million for the remaining years of the contract. Since it looks like the Blue Jays may have simply let Rios go, the White Sox have to take on the entire contract.

While Rios the last couple years has easily played at a level to justify the salary, that is not the case this year. His game across the board is worse. He has gone from an elite to defender to just a mediocre one. He also seems to be trying to hit more home runs, but that has ultimately hurt his offensive production.

It's another bold move by White Sox GM Ken Williams, who continues to make big splashes with a team a shade above .500. Chicago can afford to take this risk though. Jim Thome's big salary is up at the end of the year, and they could also buy out the rest of Jermaine Dye's deal.

There is no obvious explanation for Rios's major drop in production, outside of perhaps trying to muscle up a little too much at the plate. At his age it is reasonable to think he will bounce back. I would expect him to as well, particularly defensively. The dramatic drop-off wreaks of an off-year.

It's got to be fun to be a White Sox fan right now. The President of the United States of America is rooting for your team. You just acquired Jake Peavy in one of the boldest deadline deals in recent memory. Gordon Beckham, your first round pick from only a year ago, is a rookie sensation at third base. Now, your team has gone out and plucked a former all-star outfielder from the Blue Jays for nothing. Talk about a team doing everything it can to win.

It can't be that fun to be a Blue Jays fan right now. The national media showed up to follow Halladay's every step, assuming he would be traded. Now, Alex Rios goes away for nothing, mostly because too much money for too many years was handed out to too many players. Something had to give.

Long-term, big-money contracts are very scary things. They often turn out bad. Texas is only now digging out from the A-Rod debacle (though Chan Ho Park's monster deal should not be overlooked). The Yankees had a handful of awful long-term deals that resulted in a $200 million team that wasn't ever really in the playoff hunt last year. Now, Toronto had to give up a pretty good player for nothing.

Of course, now the White Sox have a couple big long-term contracts with Jake Peavy and Alex Rios. It's a high-risk, high-reward strategy. I probably wouldn't have made either transaction, but that's what makes Ken Williams one of the gutsiest GMs in the business.

Doug Fister Called Up

Doug FisterLost in the midst of one of the most thrilling M's games this year was a small move by the ballclub yesterday. Jason Vargas was sent down to Tacoma, and Doug Fister was called up. Fister will make is MLB debut whenever he appears for the first time.

A tall righty at 6'8", Fister's greatest asset is his command. He has only walked 11 batters all year in AAA in 106.1 innings pitched. Opponents are batting over .300 against him, but great command allows a pitcher to get away with that.

Doug may get hit pretty hard in the majors, but at least he will throw strikes. Nothing has been said about his role on the team, but my best guess is that he will relieve if needed, but may be in line for a start. Vargas was sent down to make room for Fister, so someone has to take the lefty's place in the rotation.

I would have stuck with Vargas, because I think he is better than Fister. However, Vargas and Garrett Olson are a little redundant. Fister's height and command give a little different look on the mound. I just think it's a very hittable look.

Corcoran a Free Agent

The Mike Koplove move makes even more sense now. Roy Corcoran passed through waivers, but refused an assignment to AAA. So, he is now a free agent, and no longer a Seattle Mariner. I doubt it is a coincidence that the Koplove move happened the same day Corcoran officially refused the assignment. Koplove is certainly a comparable replacement. Considering no team claimed Corcoran, it's doubtful he will land a place in an MLB bullpen real soon.

Minor Move Adds Bullpen Depth

The Mariners made a minor league trade with the Pirates today. Unbelievably, Pittsburgh continues to find players to dump. This time it is RHP Mike Koplove, and in exchange the Mariners gave up SS Deybis Benitez.

Koplove, 32 years old, is hardly an up-and-comer. He has significant major league experience, mostly with the Diamondbacks. He is a quintessential AAAA reliever - too good for AAA, not quite good enough to stick in the majors. One look at the Tacoma staff says they could use a guy like Koplove, which in turn means the M's could use a little more depth.

It's hard to say much about Deybis Benitez. He is 22 years old, and is yet to log much playing time at any professional level. I've seen him listed as a shortstop and an outfielder, which leads me to believe he does not even have a well-defined defensive position (or that he is being transitioned to the outfield).

In the end, this is likely an extremely insignificant deal. Koplove may show up in September. Benitez probably will never reach the majors. If Koplove shows up at any point, now you know where he came from. More than anything, it is yet another example of how easy it is to acquire mediocre bullpen talent.

2009 Trade Deadline Recap

Here is a look at every deal that happened yesterday on what turned out to be a busy trade deadline:
  • Tigers acquire LHP Jarrod Washburn from the Mariners for LHP Luke French and LHP Mauricio Robles - I already wrote a whole post about this one. Check it out here.
  • White Sox acquire RHP Jake Peavy from the Padres for LHP Clayton Richard, LHP Aaron Poreda, RHP Adam Russell, and RHP Dexter Carter - I already wrote a whole post about this one too. Check it out here.
  • Red Sox acquire C Victor Martinez from the Indians for RHP Justin Masterson, LHP Nick Hagadone, and RHP Bryan Price - I am still a little surprised Victor was traded, but leave it to the Red Sox to find a way to get a deal done. Jason Varitek and David Ortiz are both old, and Victor is a good bat that will allow both aging BoSox stars to rest more. The cost was high though. People know about Masterson at this point, but the key to the deal was Nick Hagadone. He is coming back from an arm injury, but he does not look any worse for the wear. Hagadone is a tall lefty with powerful, heavy stuff. He's been getting lots of grounders and strikeouts. He probably will not be up by the end of this year, but he is not far away. Hagadone could develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter. Lastly, Bryan Price is just 22 years old, and also has a good arm. His ERA is high, but the rest of his numbers suggest that some bad luck is involved. Cleveland got three quality arms in this deal. They all have a good chance to reach the majors and stick around for a while. I'm not sure I would have given up this much for Victor if I was Boston.
  • Red Sox acquire 1B Casey Kotchman from the Braves for 1B Adam LaRoche - Once Boston acquired Victor, it was clear that Adam LaRoche didn't have much of a place on the team. So, it is not surprising he got traded, but getting Kotchman in return is a surprise. He looks awfully similar to LaRoche. However, Kotchman is cheaper, which makes adding Victor Martinez's modest contract even easier. Also, Kotchman is not a free agent at the end of the year like LaRoche, and Boston is getting old. It would not surprise if Boston does not re-sign Jason Varitek at the end of this year, makes Victor Martinez their everyday catcher. That makes Kotchman the primary backup at first base, which is important because it will allow Kevin Youkilis to play third when Mike Lowell needs days off or gets hurt. As for the Braves, the move is easier to see. LaRoche has a better bat than Kotchman, and it might be nice that he is a free agent at the end of the year. They have a first baseman they like in AAA called Barbaro Canizares.
  • Reds acquire 3B Scott Rolen from the Blue Jays for 3B Edwin Encarnacion, RHP Josh Roenicke, and RHP Zach Stewart - This was one of the more intriguing trades at the deadline. Both the Reds and Blue Jays are out of the playoff hunt, so the Reds acquired Rolen for the future. To get him, they gave up their current third baseman, who is younger and cheaper, and a couple pitchers. Rolen is the best player in this deal right now, but this is a puzzling trade for Cincinnati. It must have been fueled by a serious mancrush on Rolen. That wouldn't be surprising since their GM, Walt Jocketty, was the Cardinals GM when Rolen was in his prime in St. Louis. From Toronto's perspective, this is an outstanding deal. They get rid of Rolen's big contract. In the process they get Edwin Encarnacion, who I've always kind of liked. He's an underrated hitter, but his defense is horrible. Toronto has Jose Bautista playing left field, but he has experience at third. I would consider moving Bautista back to third and trying Encarnacion in the outfield, or really anywhere besides third base. On top of that, the Blue Jays got Roenicke, who should be a solid, cheap bullpen arm for several years. And, as if that was not enough, they also got Zach Stewart, who has blazed through the minor leagues. Stewart is not a premium prospect, but he could be plugged into the back end of the rotation soon, and maybe develop into a good middle-of-the-rotation type. That's a heck of a haul for a third baseman in his mid-30s making a ton of money with back problems. Sneaky good deal for Toronto.
  • Rockies acquire LHP Joe Beimel from the Nationals for RHP Ryan Mattheus and RHP Robinson Fabian - Colorado wanted bullpen help, and they got about as average of a left-hander as you could imagine. In return, they gave up very little. Mattheus is somewhat old at 26, but he has heavy power stuff. His high strikeout and ground ball rates are pluses, but he's a little too hittable and a little too old to see him being much more than a marginal middle reliever at this point. As for Fabian, he's a throw-in. Nothing about him screams big league potential to me.
  • Marlins acquire 1B Nick Johnson from the Nationals for LHP Aaron Thompson - The Marlins have struggled to fill third base all year, and the acquisition of Johnson will allow the team to move Jorge Cantu over to third. He also gives Florida a very good left-handed bat. In return, the Nats received a 22-year-old left-hander who is already in AA, but does not miss many bats. I am not as high on Thompson as some, but Johnson was gone at the end of the year anyway, and the move frees up room for some pieces that could be in Washington's future. It all adds up to a decent deal, though I think the Marlins got the better end of it.
  • Brewers acquire RHP Claudio Vargas from the Dodgers for C Vinny Rottino - Milwaukee desperately needed starting pitching, and I doubt Vargas is who fans had in mind. He has battled hard to come back from an arm injury this year, and in limited opportunities did a solid job out of the Dodgers bullpen. He will give up more than his fair share of hits. It's hard to say much bad about the deal, because Rottino is a minor league catcher at this point. It's a no-risk, likely no reward move for the Brewers.
  • Yankees acquire INF/OF Jerry Hairston Jr. from the Reds for C Chase Weems - New York gets depth on their bench with Hairston. He can play all over the field, and in particular his defense is good in the outfield. He also is a decent pinch-hitting option off the bench. In return, the Reds got 20-year-old catcher Chase Weems. He is in A ball, and is yet to hit. All in all, he looks really raw, so it is hard to say what kind of player Cincinnati got.
  • Twins acquire SS Orlando Cabrera from the Athetics for SS Tyler Ladendorf - I like this deal for Minnesota. Cabrera is not the defender he used to be, but his bat has shown life. He fits the Twins style perfectly, and I see him settling into the second spot in their lineup behind Denard Span and ahead of Mauer and Morneau really nicely. He also will allow Brendan Harris to slide over to second, filling the biggest problem area on their team all year. As for Oakland, Cabrera was not coming back. He profiles as a Type A free agent, so if he was offered arbitration the A's would have received a compensatory first round draft pick if they had lost him. They must value Ladendorf more than that pick, or at least that pick with the risk of Cabrera accepting arbitration thrown in. Ladendorf is only 21, and has barely played as a professional. Oakland must have liked him when he was drafted, because based on Ladendorf's minimal pro playing time, I would have taken my chances with a draft pick.
This was a fun deadline to watch. Financial worries did not seem to hamstring teams at all in the end. Teams also did not seem willing to trust that big-money players would make it through waivers after July 31 either. With all the big names moved this year, the trade deadline certainly will impact the pennant races and the playoffs.