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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

August 17, 2009 at 8:44 PM

Done deal: Mariners sign Ackley

Note: Just wanted to let you know that my computer inopportunely crashed at 8:50 p.m. tonight. What can you do? I was in panic mode and full rage, trust me, but I was completely out of commission while the story was breaking. My apologies. I got back up at about 9:05, and got something up as quickly as I could. But if we were behind on this, that’s why. Thanks to Jon Fisch and Bill Reader at the office for helping me update the blog while I was doing Jack Zduriencik’s conference call, and to Geoff for jumping in with some blogging of his own after arriving in Detroit.

Update, 9:20: ESPN and The Associated Press are reporting that No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg agreed to four-year, $15.67 million deal with the Washington Nationals.

Update, 9:15 p.m.: The Mariners just sent out a release confirming that they have signed Ackley to a five-year major-league contract. Financial terms were not disclosed but reports have it at $9.5 million. (It’s actually $7.5 million in guaranteed money).

“When we selected Dustin, we knew he was a special player and a special person,” Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik said in a release. “We are excited for him to join or organization and can’t wait to see him in a Mariners uniform.”

The Mariners also signed fifth-round pick Tyler Blandford. Blandford is a RHP out of Oklahoma State.

More details to come after a 9:15 news conference.

Update 9:05 p.m.: The Mariners have signed Ackley to a five-year major-league contract. More details later.

Update 8:45 p.m.: As this goes down to the last 15 minutes, with both sides no doubt playing heavy-duty high-stakes poker, I will reiterate something I said earlier: The Mariners have a huge stake in getting Ackley signed. It would be a major PR hit to lose the rights to the No. 2 overall pick — their reward to fans for all the suffering of last year’s 101-loss season. Yes, they would get the third or fourth overall pick next year as compensation (depending on whether or not the Nats whiff on Strasburg), but who wants to wait another year to get a blue-chip talent? And the M’s are absolutely convinced that Ackley is just that.

On the other side of the table: Do you really think that Ackley, with somewhere north of $6 million at his fingertips, really wants to wait another year to begin his professional career? Does he want to go back to college, after he’s mentally checked out, or have to play in an indy league for a team in Fort Worth or St. Paul or some other outpost far from the major leagues? I don’t think so.

I’m sticking with my original prediction: It’s going to get done. And if it doesn’t, I really can’t wait to hear the explanations.

Update 8:32: And down the stretch they come!!!!! No update, I just always wanted to do that. Twenty-six minutes to go…if the Mariners are holding the announcement of a done deal at the behest of MLB, they’ve successfully managed to build up the suspense. But I think it’s legitimately going down to the wire.

Update 8:21 p.m.: A tweet from Jon Heyman of SI says the Nationals are upping their $12.5 million offer to Stephen Strasburg. Boras must be doing some fancy dancing between the Mariners and Nats.

Update 8:08 p.m.: Keith Law of ESPN reports that Donavan Tate’s bonus at No. 3 is $6.25 million from the Padres. That should set the parameters for a potential Ackley deal.

Update 8:05 p.m.: No. 9 overall Jacob Turner signs with Tigers for a $4.7 million bonus. He’s another Boras guy.

Update 7:31 p.m.: The Padres have officially announced the signing of No. 3 overall pick Donavan Tate.

Update 7:23 p.m.: The Mariners have told reporters that Jack Zduriencik will be made available to talk to the media at 9:15 p.m., but still no indication if he will be discussing Ackley’s new contract, or explaining how he got away.

One thing that now seems apparent to me: This deal is not done, and it could get tense here in the final 90 minutes. As I said when I started this post, some nine hours ago, with Scott Boras involved, you never know what’s going to happen. I still expect a contract agreement for Ackley, but the longer it drags out, the more problematic it becomes.

Update 6:53 p.m.: There are a flurry of reports that Donavan Tate, the No. 3 overall pick, is done. That could free up Boras to move up his pecking order from No. 3 Tate to No. 2 Ackley.

Update 6:48 p.m.: This comes from Keith Law at ESPN, and I believe it: “I’m hearing lots of reports of deals that are done, including “unsigned” first-rounders, whose contracts are being throttled by MLB to prevent other players/agents from using them as leverage. I expect a flood of leaks and announcements between 11 pm and 12:30 am. ET.”

Update 6:41 p.m.: I’m afraid I don’t have much to report. It’s a news blackout from the Mariners’ standpoint. But just keep in mind that with Scott Boras, these things often go down to the wire, and beyond. Last year’s No. 2 overall, Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez, was announced as having reached agreement with the Pirates right at the midnight deadline. But the union later filed a grievance, saying that Alvarez actually reached his agreement after the deadline. Alvarez eventually signed a more lucrative contract before the grievance could be settled. His agent? Scott Boras.

Update 4:42 p.m.: I just had a nice phone conversation with Mike Fox, the University of North Carolina baseball coach. His assessment of Ackley is a good reminder of what’s at stake here, and why it’s incumbent upon the Mariners to get ‘er done:

“All I know is that from my experience, he’s the best player — by far — I’ve ever coached, and one of the best college players I’ve ever seen at our level. That’s day in and day out. Mark Teixeira was in this league, and some other great major-leaguers. Dusty’s right up there.”

Fox was reluctant to discuss any aspects of the negotiations, saying it’s not his place to get involved, and besides, he said, he doesn’t really know much. But he did say this, when I asked if his sense was that Ackley was ready to sign:

“Yes. I think he’s ready. I don’t want to speculate, but I can’t imagine Dusty is not anxious to start playing.”

Fox, not surprisingly, doesn’t like the system in place that invariably has top prospects like Ackley going down to the wire. These unsigned players have now been out of action for more than two months since the June 9 draft. I asked him how he would tweak the system.

“I’ve thought about this a lot,” said Fox, who heads one of the most successful college baseball programs in the nation. “Certainly, for one, they should shorten the time between the draft and the deadline. They’ve laid off so long. I haven’t had the first day of experience in professional baseball, so I want to be careful. But the whole purpose is to get players signed and in the organization playing as soon as you can. Pitchers are one thing, because some don’t need to throw that much in the summer. But hitters — you want them to get that wood bat in their hand and hitting as soon as possible.

“I don’t see how this benefits anyone — the players, the system, the organization, the college people, the high school people. It’s too stressful down to the wire.”

MLB actually tweaked the signing rules two years ago, with the intent of achieving some of what Fox was alluding to. Previously, teams had until one week before the next year’s draft to sign their picks, unless the player enrolled in school and began taking classes. You had the annual spectacle of unsigned picks showing up on college campuses, buying books, checking into the dorm, etc., as furious last-minute negotiating took place. Fox doesn’t believe the new system is much of an improvement, because college classes actually begins this week in some schools. It’s tough on coaches who don’t know until summer is practically over what players will be available to them in the upcoming season.

“I’ll find out what my team is at 12:01 tonight,” Fox said.

Which is when the Mariners will know if they have Ackley on their team.

Update 4:10 p.m.: Just under five hours left until the deadline, and 12 first-rounders are still unsigned. Half of those are Boras clients. Here’s the list:

1, Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals

2, Dustin Ackley, 1B/OF, Mariners

3, Donavan Tate, OF, Padres

6, Zack Wheeler, RHP, Giants

9, Jacob Turner, RHP, Tigers

11, Tyler Matzek, LHP, Rockies

12, Aaron Crow, RHP, Royals

13, Grant Green, SS, A’s

14, Matt Purke, LHP, Rangers

15, Alex White, RHP, Indians

22, Kyle Gibson, RHP, Twins

30, LeVon Washington, OF, Rays

The Boras guys are the top three, Turner, Green and Washington.

Update 3:34 p.m.: Deafening silence. I’ll be on 710 ESPN with Kevin Calabro at 3:40 p.m., if anyone’s interested. At least until Rob Johnson calls in and bumps me off.

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Update 2:27 p.m.: Jon Heyman places the Nationals’ offer to Stephen Strasburg at $12.5 million. That won’t get it done, but it’s a good starting point for getting a deal. Anyone who wonders about the dangers of not signing should read about Matt Harrington.

Update 2:15 p.m.: The Cardinals have gone well over slot to sign high school pitcher Shelby Miller, the No. 19 pick in the first round. Baseball America reports that he’s getting a $2.875 million bonus, highest in the first round so far. The MLB-recommended slot for that spot was $1.386 million.

We’ll find out by 9 p.m. today, or sooner, if Dustin Ackley is going to be a Mariner. I’m saying yes. The reports that he’s been asked by the Mariners to undergo a physical are encouraging, but it’s my understanding that Ackley is not in Seattle at the moment. Obviously, the Mariners’ doctors would be the ones to examine him. (Update: I just talked to a prominent agent who has had first-round picks, and he told me that this is not necessarily true. It’s possible that the Mariners would allow a respected doctor, like Dr. Lewis Yocum from the renowned Jobe-Kerlan clinic, check out Ackley, at representative Scott Boras’s behest. That would jibe with the recent KJR report by Jason Puckett that Ackley has taken a physical in Southern California — where Boras’s offices are located. The agent said it’s also common for top draft picks to sign without undergoing physical exams, with the deal contingent upon him taking and passing a physical.)

I’ve heard people wonder how Boras, who represents No. 1 Stephen Strasburg, No. 2 Ackley, No. 3 Donavan Tate and three other unsigned No. 1 picks in the first round, can physically do all the negotiating required today. One, Boras has plenty of associates. Two, it’s not like they started negotiating today. Some of these deals are probably close to completion, if not already done, waiting to “be unleashed upon the world,” as one agent put it to me the other day. MLB has been known to ask teams to sit on completed deals until the last minute to avoid influencing negotiations still in progress. And three, Boras goes through this every year. He has it down to an art form.

(UPDATE AT 1:05 P.M.: Baseball America is reporting that the Padres are getting close on Tate.)

Here’s an interesting new development. The Rays have put out a release saying they don’t expect to sign their top two choices, including first-rounder LeVon Washington, one of those six Boras clients. This reeks of hard-ball negotiating tactics to me.

I expect Strasburg will go down to the wire. Ackley could as well, but I have a hunch we’ll know about Ackley before the deadline. . Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik is notorious within the industry for being close-lipped about negotiations, and demanding the same from his staff. But if and when Ackley reaches agreement, I think we’ll hear about it. And I think there’s enough motivation to get this done on both sides, and enough momentum, that the news will be good from a Mariners’ standpoint. We’ll see. You can never be certain when Boras is involved. However, everyone I’ve talked to in the game believes it’s going to get done. I’m doing the best I can to track down whatever info I can find.

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