Having already made UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole the top pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, the Pirates must now get Cole signed in order to officially welcome him to the organization. And time to do so is running short.
All unsigned players taken in the Draft have until 12:01 a.m. ET on Aug. 16 to come to an agreement with the team that drafted them, meaning official notification has to be in the Commissioner's Office when the clock strikes midnight. Twenty-four of the 33 players drafted in the first round remain unsigned, though that's not all that surprising given that players and advisors believe that they can squeeze more money out of clubs by waiting until the final days or hours to negotiate.
Among the unsigned is Cole, who is being advised by Scott Boras. Boras is also negotiating with the Pirates on behalf of Josh Bell, the club's second-round selection. Of course, those negotiations will only proceed if Bell even wants to listen to what the Pirates have to offer.
Bell made it clear prior to the Draft that he intended to honor his commitment to play collegiately at the University of Texas. It's believed that his stance has not yet changed.
If there has been any recent progress in negotiations with either player, the Pirates aren't letting on. As is the club's policy, the organization will stay extremely tight-lipped throughout the entire process.
"While the deadline is fast approaching, we remain optimistic we will be able to add both Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell to our system," general manager Neal Huntington said.
The Pirates near the end of the signing period having already inked 20 of the 50 players the organization selected two months ago. Seven of the team's Top 10 picks have agreed to deals, with ninth-rounder Clayton Holmes (RHP) the only other holdout besides Cole and Bell.
Pittsburgh already went significantly over recommended slot to lure right-handers Tyler Glasnow (fifth round) and Jake Burnette (seventh round) away from college commitments. It would take even more to keep Bell.
While Bell seems unlikely to sign -- even though the Pirates are willing to offer him a substantial bonus -- the expectation is that the organization will get things finalized in time with Cole. Though Cole could return to UCLA for his senior season, he doesn't have much reason to do so given that it would be impossible for him to improve his Draft status.
The Pirates gave No. 2 overall pick Jameson Taillon a $6.5 million signing bonus last season, and Cole's should be higher. He'll also likely lobby for an immediate spot on the 40-man roster, which is something the Pirates gave third baseman Pedro Alvarez back in 2008.
Cole isn't likely to reach the record deal signed by No. 1 pick Stephen Strasburg two years ago, though Boras will surely push toward that benchmark. Strasburg's deal totaled $15.1 million, with $7.5 million of that a signing bonus and the rest covering four years of salary.
The Pirates knew the moment they selected Bell with the first pick of the second round that he would be a tough one to sign. However, it was a risk worth taking since Pittsburgh is guaranteed a compensatory pick in the 2012 Draft if Bell does head off to college.
That selection will come at the same slot, plus one. In other words, if the Pirates don't sign Bell, they will receive the second pick -- technically 1A -- of the second round next season.