Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Trying to sort out the Alvarez situation

It has been rightly pointed out to me that my "Pedro Alvarez will never play for the Pirates" statement below was a pretty bold and quick thing to say given the situation and the amount of things we actually know about this. So let's take some time to sort through this, piece by piece, and see if we can figure out what's going on and what might happen. If my reasoning is off from a legal basis, feel free to let me know.

What do we know right now? As far as I can tell, we know two things:

  1. The MLBPA has filed a grievance with the commissioner's office regarding the time at which Pedro Alvarez signed his deal with the Pirates, contending that it was after midnight.
  2. In light of this grievance, Scott Boras has asked the Pirates to renegotiate the deal they've made with Alvarez, presumably for more money.
  3. The Pirates have placed Alvarez on the restricted list and contended that they fairly signed Alvarez, that this grievance jeopardizes the Eric Hosmer deal (supposedly consummated after Alvarez's), and that Boras has no legs to stand on.
From those things, I think we can fairly infer the following:
  • Boras is behind the grievance.
  • The Pirates have no intention of renegotiating Alvarez's contract.
Things are obviously not this cut and dried. It seems incredibly unlikely that Boras's actual complaint is with the time the Pirates filed the deal. The deadline has neutered Boras's influence as it cuts down the negotiation time and forces college players like Alvarez to choose between money or college. In the past, they had the entire winter to haggle and could talk up to the night before the next draft. Boras hates the deadline because of the power it robs him of, and it looks to me like he's finding another way to flex his muscles.

The real question here is what legs Boras has to stand on. The Commissioner's Office approved of the verbal deal the Pirates and Alvarez made, so it seems unlikely to me that this intial grievance is going to stand unless there are literally time-stamped faxes or emails just lying around proving it to be wrong. If the grievance is upheld (which is possible because no contract has actually been signed and I just don't know how that will be interpreted), I can't imagine there's any room for renegotiation. It would seem to me that it would mean that Alvarez was signed to an illegal contract which would be voided and he'd go back into the draft pool with us getting the #3 pick next year.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that the Pirates/Alvarez contract is upheld by the arbitrator. At that point, Boras (assuming he's behind this) will have a couple of options. There are probably a couple of other grounds that he can question the verbal agreement on. "I accept," is a nice sentiment, but it's a pretty nebulous situation given that it was over the phone and Boras can probably argue that the Pirates' terms were misleading and Alvarez agreed to something different than what he thought he was accepting. He could also keep holding Alvarez out, requesting the Pirates to rework the bonus. As Greg Schuler pointed out in the comments, this is similar to the Luke Hochevar situation from a few years back. The Dodgers drafted Hochevar and negotiated with Boras. Hochevar fired Boras, hired another agent, agreed to a deal, then re-hired Boras the next day, reneged on the deal, and ended up going back in to the draft. This all may or may not be applicable because it happened before the deadline was instituted, but it's something that's certainly worth noting.

As far as I can tell, Alvarez is in a pretty gray area right now in that he verbally accepted his contract but hasn't signed it. I don't know what the official distinction is, but it seems like the Commissioner's Office seems to think of him as a member of the Pirates' organization while the MLBPA isn't so sure. If Alvarez continues his de facto holdout, the Pirates are in one hell of a bind. They can keep him on the restricted list, but then they don't reap any benefits of drafting him. Trading him is an insane proposition (there's no such thing as equal value for a prospect with almost no ceiling), but certainly less insane than releasing him. Given the way that Coonelly and Huntington operate, I would be shocked if they renegotiate the contract because doing so sets such an insanely dangerous precedent that I think they'd be blackballed from baseball if they tried it.

My guess is this: IF the arbitrator rules in favor of the Pirates and IF Alvarez and Boras continue the hold-out beyond that point, then the Pirates will try to argue that Alvarez voided the original deal before signing it and that they're entitled to the compensatory pick with Alvarez going back into the draft. There are a lot of things that can happen before then because it seems to me that it's in Pedro Alvarez's best interests to end this and get in to the Pirates' system and that there are lots of people that are going to tell him that.

The bottom line is this: Coonelly and Boras are both extremely smart guys that know their stuff inside and out. Boras wouldn't be pushing this if he thought he didn't have a crack to slip through and Coonelly excels at plugging those cracks. It's much harder to read Alvarez here, but I think he may partially be a kid caught up in something that's over his head who's listening to Boras because he doesn't know what else to do. If that's not true ... that's an entirely different story that the Pirates will be forced to deal with later. The truth is that it's almost impossible to predict how this situation is going to play out, because there are a ton of variables at play here and it's hard to know what all of them are. The fact that we're dealing with Boras and that he seems to have some kind of plan of attack in mind makes me very, very nervous about the chances of this being resolved in our favor, but I'm certainly happy Frank Coonelly is on our side for this one.