An interesting story popped up on the MLB section of the ESPN website on Sunday:
According to reports, the San Francisco Giants have given a 16 year old third baseman (more accurately baseboy I guess) a $2.1 million signing-on bonus. The lucky lad is from the Dominican Republic and is called Angel Miguel Villalona. Apparently the Giants beat a host of clubs, including the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and Mariners, to his signature.
The general idea of giving draft signings a load of cash has always seemed a bit strange to me anyway. Footballers might pocket a fair few quid for signing with a new club but only when they are actually established professional players. Handing out seven figure sums to players who might not play in the Majors for two or three years (if they make it at all) seems amazingly risky. The law of the market takes over though: if you don’t pay it, someone else will.
This move is far from without precedent of course. Adrian Beltre was a very similar case: a third baseman signed from the Dominican Republic as a 16 year old. Beltre’s deal proved to be controversial. As explained by Dayn Perry in the excellent â€œBaseball Between the Numbersâ€ book (from the Baseball Prospectus team), top agent Scott Boras argued that Beltre’s contract was invalid. Perry states that according to MLB rules, Beltre was too young to sign a contract at the time. As he appears to have been the same age as Villalona is now, maybe the rules have changed? Anyway, the Dodgers agreed a new (more lucrative) contract with Beltre to bring an end to the dispute in which Boras wanted his client to be made a free agent. Beltre had several disappointing seasons before his monster year in 2004 that prompted the unsuspecting Mariners to give him a $65 million contract. To say he is â€œearningâ€ $12.9 million this season is only accurate in a strict sense.
The tale of Brien Taylor is also worth considering when looking at Villalona’s deal. Like Beltre he was represented by Boras, and Dayn Perry also makes reference to him in the above mentioned book. In his essay â€œWhat happened to Todd Van Poppel?â€, Perry recounts how the Yankees signed the 18 year old straight out of high school as the number one pick in the Amateur draft in 1991. Largely due to the now infamous negotiating skills of Boras, the Yankees moved from their signing-on offer of $850k (itself a large figure for the time) to eventually agree a fee of $1.55 million. This was by far the biggest signing-on fee received by an amateur at the time. If you are relatively new to MLB and wonder whether you’ve just missed this guy (now 33 years old) then don’t worry. Taylor didn’t pitch a single Major League inning. His struggles were primarily a consequence of injuries sustained in a bar room fight in 1993. Such an incident can certainly be put down as bad luck for both the player and the Yankees, but at the same time it shows how easily things can go wrong (particularly for youngsters with a considerable amount of money in their pockets and a considerable amount of adulation going to their head).
Villalona sounds like a tremendous talent and any baseball fan would want him to stay on the right path, to work hard and fulfil his potential in years to come. Staking $2.1 million on it is either very brave or very foolish. Time and fate will be the judge.
At least it makes a change from the Giants spending millions on geriatrics.