The Washington Times - September 5, 2008, 12:02AM

By TOM STAD
September 5, 2008

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An interesting little situation has developed between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the second overall pick in June’s Amateur Draft. Just minutes before the August 15 deadline for draft picks to either sign a contract or re-enter the draft, Pittsburgh and Alvarez’ agent Scott Boras allegedly agreed, over the phone, to a contract that included a $6 million signing bonus. What happened next is anyone’s guess, and now up to an arbiter to sort out.

Apparently Boras, from his California office, agreed to the deal. Just a couple minutes later is where things get murky. Alvarez was on the phone with the Pirates while sitting in Boras’ office, and at this point, it was nearing midnight. Whether Alvarez verbally agreed after the clock struck midnight or not - which would allow him to re-enter the draft and thus give Boras a second chance to negotiate a more lucrative deal - is at the center of the suit filed by the players’ union. The Pirates are adamant that they received a verbal commitment from Alvarez that night just a minute before the deadline and hope that the agreement will be upheld in court.

It wouldn’t be all bad for the small-market Pirates if the arbiter ruled that Alvarez’ deal with is invalid. The Pirates would be awarded the third overall pick in next year’s draft as compensation and could use it on a player more likely to stick with the organization. The most likely outcome that is being tossed about is that the contract would be valid and the arbiter would define clear parameters for negotiations that go right down to the wire in future years, essentially, laying down the law for the future and ignoring the Alvarez case completely. Regardless of how this real-life Jerry Maguire-esque drama turns out, one thing is certain - we’ll never see a situation quite like this again.

The one thing that puzzles me about this one - and they may in fact have it - is this: In this day and age, when technological footprints are like DNA, shouldn’t the Pirates have phone, fax or e-mail records that prove exactly when Alvarez accepted their offer? They don’t send a contract over to sign until immediately after they receive confirmation of an agreement. So if Alvarez committed to the offer at 11:59, wouldn’t Pittsburgh have faxed or e-mailed documentation to Boras immediately? Word is that they did. If that’s the case, then all the organization needs to do is produce the sent e-mail or fax transmission. If not - sorry, there’s no proof. I feel like those firemen in the commercial with the Nextel phones. Eye test? Pass. Written test? Pass. Driving test? Fail. Just like that, case closed.

In any event, the case will be heard on September 10, so until then, the former Commodore will be a man without a team.

 

Scheppers spurns school … and Pirates, too

In a fairly shocking move, former Fresno State right-hander Tanner Scheppers will forego his senior season and pitch in independent league ball. The Bulldogs relied heavily on the junior early in the year before a shoulder injury forced him to miss their improbable run to the national championship last season. Scheppers missed two months and still led the team in nearly every statistical category. He went 8-2 with a 2.93 ERA and struck out a jaw-dropping 109 batters in just 70 2/3 innings.

Ironically, Scheppers was the second-round pick of the Pirates, so Pittsburgh is in danger of losing both of its first two picks in this year’s draft. Scheppers was reportedly looking for a bonus of more than $1 million, while the Pirates offered $800,000. Talk about a disaster of a draft day! If I were Neal Huntington, I think I’d be polishing up the resume. His tenure in the small-market team’s GM chair could come to an abrupt end if his draft woes continue. Last year he passed on Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters to take Clemson lefty Daniel Moskos, only to watch Wieters - selected by the Baltimore Orioles with the very next pick - flourish into arguably the best prospect in baseball while Moskos struggled mightily in advanced Class A.

If I had to guess about Scheppers’ decision, I’d say he figures he’d done all he could do in college. It’s clear that he wants to sign with an independent organization and pitch to prepare himself for next year’s draft against a professional lineup. He may also think he has something to prove. I’m not so sure I would have done this. Scheppers is giving up his final year of collegiate eligibility to pitch against marginally better competition. His team just won the national championship and he’s practically a celebrity if he comes back and dominates on the hill. Why not spend another year in Fresno, for crying out loud, when you could end up in St. Paul? (no offense Minnesotans)

Maybe Scheppers is the kind of athlete that professional teams want - one that will challenge himself and put his career in front of everything else in order to be the best he can be. He’s certainly made an interesting choice, no matter the side of the fence on which you sit. His performance, more than anything else, will determine whether this decision looks wise or regrettable down the road, and for his sake, I hope he pitches well. Personally, I could have dealt with the sun and fun of California for one more year before I started working. But then again, I don’t play baseball for a living … but I’d sure like to!

Tom Stad’s Amateur Hour runs every Friday here on National Pastime.

Be sure to check out our previous Amateur Hour columns: To sign or not to sign?, Summer on Cape Cod, USA Baseball, etc., Team USA; Cape stars, Stars shine on Cape, Olympics preview, Will top picks sign?, NY’s loss UCLA’s gain, Olympics wrap-up.