Kovacevic: Boras would love to beat system

| Wednesday, June 27, 2012, 12:17 a.m.

Spoke with Scott Boras for nearly an hour Tuesday and, to save you the skimming ahead for some hot scoop, no, he wouldn't discuss whether the Pirates will be able to sign first-round pick, Mark Appel, the Stanford pitcher he advises. He wouldn't say if he expects any talks heading into the July 13 deadline, what kind of money Appel might demand, how the young man is feeling or, really, anything specific to the case.

But that's not what I expected, anyway. That's not how sports' most prominent agent operates.

He thinks big.

As in big explosions.

As in blowing up entire systems, if need be, to best serve even a single client.

That's why it's always better, I've found, to look at Boras' broader focus. And right now, that's this: The man really, really hates Major League Baseball's new spending limits on the draft. And he sure isn't about to bow down to it.

“We're seeing now a system that's going to alter parity, that's going to hurt the game,” Boras was saying by phone from California. “A team like Pittsburgh, the ownership there was doing exactly what it should have done in the old system with the revenue-sharing money. They were signing draft picks, they committed to Andrew McCutchen … and now it's teams like Pittsburgh that get hurt.”

I'll repeat: Boras wasn't talking about Appel. Just generally.

I asked about concerns that, at some point, the Yankees, Red Sox and other big spenders were going to throw the old free-for-all system out of whack by simply outspending the Pirates at will.

“No, no chance,” Boras replied. “There isn't enough talent out there to throw it out of whack. Look, I've been doing this a long time. We're talking about the draft spending comprising about 2.5 percent of the industry. At most, it would have gone to 4 percent. And I don't think the talent level would have allowed it to get that high. This is something that, plain and simple, hurts the Pirates and other teams like them.”

Now, never mind whether or not Boras has the Pirates' interests at heart. That requires a massive leap of faith, to be kind.

Still and all, his stance on the system is dead-on. I wrote a column in November panning the new rules that was headlined, “Baseball sticks it to Pirates,” and boy, has that ever played out.

A quick overview …

No team spent more over the previous four drafts than the Pirates' $48 million, including record bonuses for Pedro Alvarez ($6.35 million), Jameson Taillon ($6.5 million) and Gerrit Cole ($8 million). Alvarez and Cole are Boras clients.

“All three of those players are a big part of what the Pirates are doing,” Boras said. “That's how you build a team, investing like that.”

Trouble was, the Pirates' approach upset some big spenders not used to not having their way. So they complained to Bud Selig and, naturally, got their way in the new labor pact last fall.

Teams now have an assigned spending limit, based on order of finish, for their top 10 picks. In the Pirates' case, they have $6.56 million in that pool. If they exceed it, they'll be punished — yes, the Pirates punished for overspending — by forfeiting two future first-rounders, paying $1 million in fines and losing revenue-sharing money.

So, when the Astros surprised the baseball world by passing on Appel at No. 1, then six other teams did likewise because they didn't feel they had enough in their pool to satisfy Boras, the Pirates snapped him up.

Of course they did. It's what they've been doing for years. As team president Frank Coonelly put it that day, “We'll take the best player.”

The Pirates' motivation was commendable. We'll see how wise it was.

If you ask me how this plays out, I'll answer that even the parties involved don't have a feel for it. This is new territory, new parameters and, maybe most important where baseball and Boras are concerned, new stakes toward future drafts.

It looks like the Pirates' backs are to the wall.

They have a chance to sign the best pitcher in the draft three years in a row and build from what would be the richest core of pitching prospects in baseball. That's tough to pass up.

At the same time, they've already signed eight of the other 10 picks in the top 10 rounds at a cost of $2.58 million, leaving about $4 million to offer to Appel if no other top-10 pick signs. That's far less than Appel was expecting to get if the Astros had taken him.

But Boras' back is to the wall, too.

Appel's only option if he doesn't sign is to wait for next year's draft, which will be deeper than this one. He could fall further down the ladder. And, in something not enough prospects weigh, he'll lose a precious year of development.

Boras addressed that notion in general, too, saying, “Talent will always find a way.”

Will Boras find a way around another system?

Should make for great theater.

Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dkovacevic@tribweb.com.

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