Just why Miguel Angel Sano, the teenage Dominican shortstop who's drawn comparisons to stars like Miguel Cabrera, remains unsigned illustrates the pitfalls and questions surrounding the international signing scene.
The holdup on Sano has been due to a Major League Baseball investigation designed to verify his identity and age. According to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it was determined that his identity was accurate, but there still is uncertainty about his age, something the league continues to investigate.
The issue, other than not wanting to overpay for a player much older than he pretends to be, is that if he's caught lying about his age, he won't be able to get a work visa. It's been more common than MLB would like it to be. Three years ago, the Nationals gave Esmailyn Gonzalez a rich contract. Then he turned out to have a different name and was four years older than advertised. Current White Sox reliever Tony Pena was once Adriano Rosario and claimed to be three years younger than he actually was.
In the Post-Gazette report, Sano's agent, Rob Plummer, maintained that a clause would be put into any deal "that no money will be paid until he receives a visa, in that way protecting teams from any investment."
Asked specifically two weeks ago about the Pirates, considered by many to be the front-runner for Sano, Plummer said, "I'm going to wait to start negotiating until I contact all other teams that might have been waiting for the investigation. I haven't decided yet when to start negotiating. Money will be the No. 1 factor in deciding where he signs."
Since then, MLB.com has learned that the Pirates are the only team to submit an official offer to the Sano camp. That offer, which would have been on the condition that he could indeed get a work visa and pass a physical, was believed to be far shy of the leading bonus figure for an international signee this season: The Cardinals signed Wagner Mateo for $3.1 million. Last year, the A's set a record when they inked pitcher Michel Ynoa for $4.25 million.
At this point, the Pirates' offer to Sano is no longer on the table, with both sides offering different reasons as to why. Sano's agent, Plummer, never took the offer seriously since he had specifically requested that interested parties wait. The Pirates say the offer always had a deadline attached and when the investigation went on longer than expected, time expired. That, coupled with Plummer's desire to wait for the process to run its course, meant the offer was pulled off the table.
"I told every other team to hold off and I didn't want their offers," said Plummer, who might get to go through a similar process a year from now with outfielder Eskarlin Vasquez. "I didn't want the Pirates' offer, either. Every other team obliged, other than the Pirates.
"Since then, I've talked to [Pirates general manager] Neal Huntington and they're going to wait, as well, as the process continues. We've smoothed out everything between us in terms of the timetable regarding the negotiations. It's an indefinite period of time, but hopefully something will be done by the end of September."
Until Major League Baseball officially verifies his age as 16 as Sano claims, and therefore making it more certain a visa will be approved, any teams that might be willing or able to bid higher on Sano are sitting back and waiting. The risk, without knowing for sure, might be too high for teams like the Twins or the Orioles, two clubs that have been reported to be interested in -- and have worked out -- Sano. Or perhaps teams have merely been respecting Plummer's wishes and are waiting for the green light to engage in negotiations.
Assuming his age is confirmed, there certainly is plenty of time for Sano to get the kind of bonus many felt he'd get when the process began. Whether it climbs higher than Mateo's or even reaches the Ynoa signing remains to be seen. But even despite the cross-communication and what has seemed like a rocky relationship between team and agent at times, the Pirates would still like to be players in the Sano sweepstakes.
"We obviously still have interest in attempting to sign Miguel Sano," Huntington said. "Our interest is significant and legitimate. We'll work extremely hard to come to an agreement to make him a Pirate.
"Our pursuit of Miguel hasn't been inhibited by the length of time the investigation has taken. We were willing to put an offer on the table, contingent upon the normal parameters and the execution or completion of the Commissioner's office's investigation. Our interest wasn't impeded by that process."
And they're hoping it's not impeded by Plummer's, either. With that initial offer now a thing of the past, they're willing to try and play by Plummer's rules as things progress.
"We're trying to be respectful of his process," Huntington said.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.