It all began on Thursday, June 6, when the Pirates selected Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez with the second overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. The Pirates understood this was a high-profile player with a high-profile agent in Scott Boras, and likely knew it wouldn't be easy to negotiate early.
That appeared to be the case. According to a source close to the team, the Pirates made an initial offer of $5 million to Boras and Alvarez, $1 million over the suggested bonus for that slot. The initial response, says a team source, was that several teams behind the Pirates had made it clear to the Alvarez camp that they would be willing to pay $12 million for the talented college hitter. These teams set the market and Alvarez was prepared to go back to school, re-enter the Draft, whatever it took if the Pirates wouldn't meet that price.
Pirates president Frank Coonelly said in his statement Wednesday that "the Pirates made several attempts to commence negotiations immediately following the Draft." The team source says that every attempt to negotiate was met with the same response about the $12 million asking price.
Approximately one week before the Aug. 15 signing deadline, the Pirates met directly with Alvarez, with general manager Neal Huntington and scouting director Greg Smith in attendance. Both sides agree this meeting took place the Wednesday before the Friday deadline. There was no negotiation at this meeting, but the Pirates executives reportedly impressed upon Alvarez how eager they were to sign him.
Shortly after this meeting, the team source said, the Pirates let it be known they would be willing to entertain the possibility of a Major League contract, perhaps finding a way for the two sides to be creative in reaching a number more acceptable to both sides. The only way the Pirates would consider it would be if Alvarez took a physical ahead of time. Minor League deals signed with draftees can be voided because of injuries discovered after the fact. Major League deals cannot.
The response, the team source said, was a reiteration of the $12 million package -- a $9.5 million bonus plus incentives that added up to $12 million -- something similar to the deal Boras got for Angels first baseman Mark Teixeira when he was drafted by the Texas Rangers in 2001. In addition, the team source maintained Boras would not consent to a physical since the Pirates weren't remotely close to the asking price.
That was the end of discussions until Aug. 15, something both sides agree on. There appears to be some discrepancy over when communication resumed, however. One source close to the Alvarez/Boras camp claims a counter-offer was made to the Pirates at 8:58 p.m. ET, a discussion the team source refutes, claiming the only counter-offer from the Boras camp came at 11:58 p.m. ET, which is 8:58 p.m. PT, where the Boras headquarters are located.
There is agreement that there was communication at 11:56 p.m. ET, with the Pirates calling Boras to up the offer to $6 million. Shortly after that, the line disconnected, and the sides were reconnected shortly thereafter. When back on the phone, the team source reported, Boras rejected the $6 million offer and countered with an offer of $8.5 million or Alvarez would not sign.
At that point, Alvarez himself got on the phone. He had been in the offices at Boras Corp. the entire day, but had not been directly involved until this point. According to the team source, it took several moments for Boras to put him on the phone, something that -- along with the disconnection -- led some in the Pirates camp to feel some filibustering was going on from the Boras side of the negotiations.
The Boras camp source said Boras was simply removing himself from the process because he was aware the deadline was approaching very quickly, and it would not be acceptable for an agent to negotiate with a Major League team past that deadline. At any rate, Alvarez quickly accepted the terms of the Minor League contract and the $6 million offer. Both sides agree this occurred. With a verbal agreement in hand, the Pirates e-mailed confirmation to the Commssioner's Office in New York.
The main bone of contention revolves around when that confirmation took place. The Pirates claim it was in a "timely fashion," though the team source admitted it's possible it could have been 12:01 or 12:02 a.m. ET, technically after the deadline. A minute or two likely would not have created this uproar. The Boras camp source claims this occurred well after the midnight deadline and that a unilateral extension was given by MLB to all teams still negotiating with players, something that the Players Association would have to approve, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
In talking to several sources, it does now seem apparent that such a blanket extension was offered. The team source says the Pirates did not need it and had submitted their offer before receiving word of the extension. The club received confirmation from the Commissioner's Office at roughly 12:30 a.m. ET, according to the team source, and when they spoke to Boras, he offered no objection at the time, stating that he would advise his client of the confirmation. MLB executive vice president of labor relations and human resources Rob Manfred confirmed this to a degree with his statement on Wednesday: "The deadline was extended to accept Minor League contracts voluntarily entered into by the clubs and the players with the help of their agents."
The Players Association filed a grievance Wednesday on behalf of Alvarez, saying that Coonelly's account of the Aug. 15 negotiations as detailed in his statement is not accurate and that, according to the CBA, the Players Association must be notified of any desire to extend a deadline. Not doing so put some of the deadline deals in question. The Boras camp source felt it was a manipulation of the system, noting Coonelly's past work in the Commissioner's Office as a reason. The Commissioner's Office dismissed the claim as groundless.
"We believe the grievance is entirely without merit," Manfred said in his statement. "The deadline was extended to accept Minor League contracts voluntarily entered into by the clubs and the players with the help of their agents. It is settled law that the arbitration panel has no authority to disturb such Minor League contracts."
The team source agreed with that assessment, saying the Players Association had no jurisdiction to file a claim on behalf of drafted or Minor League players. Even if the blanket extension did break a rule as dictated by the CBA, the team source believed the most an arbiter would decide is to issue a cease and desist order, which amounts to a slap on the wrist and a stern, "Don't do it again." Undoing an agreement or contract would not be a result of this action, the team source believed.
The Pirates source said Boras did not bring up an objection to the timing of the agreement until the Monday following the deadline, as the Pirates tried to set up details to bring Alvarez to Pittsburgh for a physical and to meet the local media. It was at this time, the team source maintained, that the Pirates were told Alvarez would not be reporting until he received more money from the organization. Several industry insiders implied the claim could stem from Buster Posey, the No. 5 overall pick and client of rival agency CAA, receiving a larger bonus of $6.2 million and Boras' desire to equal or exceed that amount. Boras has denied such claims.
The timing of all of this could impact other deals as well. Coonelly, in his statement, mentioned that the deal Eric Hosmer, another Boras client who was drafted No. 3 overall, made with the Kansas City Royals was submitted after the Pirates' agreement with Alvarez. Another source agreed with that assessment and was confident that Hosmer's deal came after and that it would be difficult to argue to an arbiter that Alvarez's agreement should be voided but Hosmer's should be left alone. The Boras camp denied Hosmer's agreement was submitted after Alvarez's. Hosmer also has a signed a contract and has begun playing, something that could perhaps be used in the hearing set for Sept. 10.
A message was left for Alvarez, but there was no response. It's believed he will not speak publicly until after the hearing.