Appel an appealing option for the Cubs, but will the Astros take him first?

We’ve taken two polls now and the overwhelming choice for the Cubs #1 pick has been Mark Appel. So while it seems most Cubs fans want the big RHP out of Stanford, the bigger question may be whether he’ll actually be available.  The Astros pick before the Cubs and have shown interest him in the past.  They tried to negotiate a pre-draft deal with him last year before turning to SS-3B Carlos Correa.

Could they take another shot at Appel?

One line of thought has been that Appel and his hardline agent, Scott Boras, have little to no leverage because Appel is a college senior — so the Astros may be able to have their cake and eat it too.  That is, they’ll be able to draft Appel, pay him well under-slot, and then use the saved money to stock up on over-slots later in the draft.

Personally, I don’t think it’s going to be that easy.  It’s hard to imagine Boras would back himself into a negotiating corner without an ace up his sleeve.  Yes, Boras has less leverage but it’d be a mistake to assume he won’t maximize what leverage he still has. Part of that leverage is that Appel simply represents the consensus best player in the draft.  The Astros will be under some pressure to add talent to a team that seems light years away from competing right now.  Appel is also a local product who could be in the majors quickly, possibly as soon as this season.  The Astros do hold a big advantage in that they will be given an extra pick if they fail to sign him, but right now there is no player in the 2014 draft who is as sure a thing as Appel — with the exception, of course, of LHP Carlos Rodon, who will go first barring any changes.

But will that be enough? Boras has shown he is willing to go the distance — and beyond.  He has a track record of doing so and coming out ahead in the end. It cannot be assumed he is only bluffing when he says he is willing to test the absolute boundaries when it comes to negotiations. Most notably, he did his with Jason Varitek. 

Varitek, you may remember, was drafted 21st overall by the Minnesota Twins in 1993 but turned down a market value $435,00 offer and did not sign despite being a college junior.  He re-entered the draft as a college senior and went even higher, chosen 14th overall by the Seattle Mariners.  If the Mariners thought they could play the leverage card, they were mistaken.  Despite being drafted 7 slots higher, the Mariners offered Varitek less money ($350,000). Predictably, they did not sign him for that season. Varitek opted to play for an independent league instead and the Mariners eventually buckled, paying him a $650,000 bonus.

Yes, the circumstances are a little different with the new CBA.  There is a cap on the amount of money a team can spend, so if Appel doesn’t sign, there simply won’t be any money left to give him without the team getting sacked with luxury taxes and the loss of draft pick(s).  One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is Boras’ philosophy.  He believes his players have a right to negotiate a market value (or better) deal and it seems naive to think he’ll give up that right for Appel.  This means that, despite having less leverage, it’s very unlikely he signs a pre-draft deal.

If the Astros want to use the same draft strategy as last season, then that Boras negotiating philosophy poses a problem.  Last year they were able to sign Correa on draft day and knew exactly how much money they had left to sign over-slots like Lance McCullers and Rio Ruiz.  Correa is an excellent prospect, but it’s those latter two players that had some observers raving about the Astros draft last season.  Boras is almost certainly not going to afford them that same luxury of financial certainty and flexibility they enjoyed last year.

Complicating that situation even further is Boras’ good relationship with the Cubs front office and the fact that the Cubs have a “Best Player Available” philosophy in the first round. As shown with Albert Almora last year, they are willing to pay market value to get that BPA.  Boras can be reasonably certain that if the Cubs feel Appel is the BPA, they will match or even exceed the bonus given for last year’s #2 pick, Byron Buxton.  That bonus was $6M.  If he is reasonably sure the Cubs will offer that amount or more, then Boras can float out pre-draft bonus demand rumors accordingly in an effort to manipulate the draft in his favor.

Then we have to consider the Boras/Appel relationship with the Astros.  There was a rumor last year that the Astros did offer Appel that $6M amount but since then I have heard that the offer was closer to the one they gave Correa.  This could not have sat well with him and it wouldn’t surprise me if Boras will do whatever he can to avoid being put in the same scenario with less leverage.

I’m not ruling out the Astros drafting Appel by any means. If the Astros agree with the consensus and believe he’s the best player in the draft, then have the opportunity and means to select him. But it’s not a slam dunk. I think drafting him will mean swallowing their pride and altering their draft strategy to accommodate a significantly larger signing bonus than they offered last season.  The question will be whether the Astros feel Appel is so much better than the rest of the field that he’ll be worth the trouble for them.  If Houston ultimately decides to select him, then the Cubs will have plenty of options.  And we’ll cover that in a follow-up article later this week.

Filed under: MLB Draft

Tags: Astros, Cubs, Mark Appel, MLB Draft


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  • i honestly think that the astros will draft appel. so think about this if the astros sign him they will get an ace but if they dont it is very possible that they will have the number one and two pick for a draft that is considered to be a lot stronger

  • In reply to kingpro98:

    That could easily happen and it's what I would do if I were the Astros, but it's a complex situation so I don't think it's a given.

    I haven't seen anything that suggests next year's draft is significantly stronger. And other than Rodon, there is not as good a player in that draft as Appel, so the Astros almost certainly risk a drop off.

  • I don't think it'll be that easy to lowball Appel due to the "leverage" but if the Astros pick Appel, I kind of like Jonathan Gray as the second best choice... Then there's Kris Bryant and Clint Frazier... Then Sean Manaea who may drop to a 5-10 pick or so...

    But I'm really intrigued by Gray.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Agreed. It's going to be really hard to low ball Appel -- leverage or not.

    Don't forget Austin Meadows, who is red-hot right now. I'll have a follow up article with some options later this week or early next week.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Awesome, thank you.

  • How do we get 60 votes and only 4 comments?...

    Anyways, His performance is solidifying his position as #1 player. I wasn't sold on him as such and have always been more enamored with Manaea. Now, Gray is coming on strong... But I must admit, I am warming to Appel with his performance so far this year.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Reader count much higher than amount of people who comment.

    Personally, I'd take Appel and the choice is easy for me. He is already what you hope Manaea and Gray can become. It's possible both could surpass him, of course, but you have to bank on uncertainties like development and projection.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think we're saying the same things, I'm just struggling admitting I MAY have been wrong on

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    haha...I have to admit he's been better than I thought he would be too.

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    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Sorry, I voted 50 times :)

  • In reply to Bill Newton:

    Haha ;) Can you show me how to do that?

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    I honestly think Houston has to take a strong look at Appel. He is clearly the best pitcher in the draft, he has shown he is consistent, and he is the most ML ready of them all. That said, I don't know if they will want to deal with the headache involved with that negotiation. They may explore it, but whether they act on it or take a similar route as last year is up in the air. Maybe they see they're a ways away from competing and instead of having a solid starter now when they aren't winning, they save some money by taking Meadows, Bryant, or Frazier and then having extra money for those over-slot players. I really like Appel for the reasons I mentioned above, but the Cubs are fortunate to be in a spot that if he is taken they have a good group of guys to pick from still.

  • In reply to Bill Newton:

    Agreed. This sums it up pretty well.

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    I'm having a hard time with this one. I really want Appel to slip, and so, of course, I hope that the Astros choose someone else. But, objectively, they'd be nuts to take anyone but Appel -- he's clearly established himself as head and shoulders the best player in the draft in terms of floor and ceiling.

    Of course, I was just as fervently hoping the Twins took anyone but Mark Prior.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Except for the CBA change, I think it's a lot like the Prior scenario. He was the consensus best player in the draft. Mauer wasn't even the 2nd best. Most thought that was Mark Texeira.

    Unlike the Twins, the Astros can afford Appel. The question for them is whether they want to. Appel isn't as highly regarded as Prior was and that draft proved there is no such thing as a sure thing.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I would disagree with that last assessment in principle,...

    Prior was a 'sure thing'. He was just a sure thing with a fatal flaw that many didn't see because he was just that good.

    His first year or two,... prior to the physical breakdowns,... he was awesome.

  • If I were making the choice for the Astros, I'd take Appel and not dicker with the extra million or two of negotiating with Boras. That way you rebuild a relation with Boras that may ease things in the future.
    I'd trumpet to the fans that "With Appel we are getting a core" [sorry] (even though they are years away from competing). I'd let Appel show his stuff and build a ML or high-minors resume in '13/early '14.
    THEN--I'd trade him after a year for some good players.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    I'd draft him too if I were the Astros. Not sure I'd trade him though!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    But the Astros won't compete even though Appel will be ML-ready. They can flip him and get more.
    Plus, I suspect that his career will be shortened by his heavy moun load in college.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Mound load, that is.

  • i think that if appel wasnt a local kid it would be a lot easier to pass on him for houston. every franchise wants the relationship between player and city that the bulls have with derrick rose right now.

    that being said he just doesnt fit the mold that their franchise is currently in. i think at the latest he'll be up by late 2014 and (this is gonna be weird to say) but the astros dont want impact talent in the majors right now. they want a run of number 1 draft picks and number 1 draft pick slot money for the next few years so that in 2016, 2017, 2018 they can start to build a homegrown monster.

    having appel in the rotation could put them in the situation that the marlins are in right now with giancarlo stanton. they'll be terrible, but they'll have that one piece that a lot of teams would give up quality players/prospects for. the problem that the astros face with this is that appel will be the local kid and trading him could have terrible consequences in the form of backlash from houston fans.

    so in the end i think that appel will indeed drop to the cubs and at this point i think the cubs will take him.

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    Interesting angle, Josh!

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    I agree with this. may be wrong, but I think the Astros see themselves as farther away than 1 top of the rotation pitcher and if there is a CF'er worth the pick or a position player they can build around they would go that way (build on strength up the middle).
    I think they could do something similar to the Cubs last year and go pitching heavy and hope a couple pan out. I see the new front office there using same logic as the Cubs brass and saying more impact at the top of the draft comes from position players as they pan out more and if they can get a below slot discount to use later, all the better.
    Of course, I would be more than happy to see Appel drop to the Cubs...but at this point I think any one of the top 5 options will be a good addition so I am ok with taking whoever is leftover.

  • I used to think that the Astros would go for Meadows at #1. They have such a dearth of position players in the majors, it is abysmal. They may still go for Meadows, or Frazier, but they become more like 1B and 1C to Appel's 1A. If the Astros can't get a deal done with Boras before the draft, they will take someone else. Regardless of who they take, the Astros will certainly be back in 2014 to select first again. The Cubs will slide down in the draft a little but they won't be picking 2nd in 2014 but it will likely still be top ten. Or we could be having the same discussion about Rondon next year. You never know.

  • In reply to historyrat:

    I think Astros will certainly talk with Boras again and if they feel they can get him at a reasonable price, then they may well do it. I don't know of a case where Boras has signed a pre-draft deal with a player, though, so that alone would make things sticky for the Astros. It's going to be interesting.

  • I think Appel is a save choice for the Cubs or Astros. His floor is most likely a 4 starter, ceiling is #1. The thing that bothers me the most with him is the rep that Stanford has for use of their pitchers.

  • In reply to KGallo:

    Best combo of floor and ceiling. Any questions on him have to do more with tangents than talent. Whether it's enough to pass on him, I don't know. We'll find out in a few months.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree its never been a talent issue with him for me. Its more been makeup and his over usage by Stanford. The usage thing really scares me because he went for his senior year.

  • In reply to KGallo:

    This . Stanford is the Dusty Baker of College programs, I absolutely want no part of Appel, He as Gallo has stated has some makeup issues some have reported , I take Gray period . Gray is a completely different pitcher this year than last, He has physically matured , have heard He has a great make up , Has a better FB , better slider . Less mileage on arm . Slam dunk pick for me . I pray the Stros take Appel . His arm will be cooked before He is 30 .

  • In reply to Bryan Craven:

    The Makeup concern is less of an issue then the overuse. I am starting to think the makeup issue maybe more Boras then Appel. I would not be upset if the Cubs pick him up. I would be happy if they picked Appel, Bryant, Manaea, Gray, Meadows or Frazier.

  • From the Can't Live With 'Em/Can't Live Without 'Em Hotline:
    Brewers just signed Yuni Betancourt to a ML deal.

    First, sign an over-the-hill starter in Lohse and lose your first pick (!) in the process. Then, sign a known career liability to a roster spot--again.
    Some front offices never learn. I vote Brewers to be on a quick downhill slide. It will be fun to watch.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Haha...well, better them than the Cubs.

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    In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Did the Brewers hire Hendry while no one was paying attention?

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I forgot to add that as a result of the Lohse signing, the Brewers helped the Cardinals -- a division rival ! -- get an extra top pick. Thanks for nothing, Milwaukee.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    If not Hendry, maybe Dayton Moore?

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    I personally think the brewers are a force to be reckoned with. They were one of the top offensive teams in the NL last year, but what derailed them? Pitching. Loshe is a good pitcher who is really bagged on too much. Ever since the cardinals picked him up, he started to put his stuff together and really pitch well. I think he would have been one of the most attractive starting pitchers on the market during the winter if it wasn't for teams not wanting to give up their pick. The brewers losing their 1st rounder is a big loss, but for a team that may contend, it must be worth it. So I'm going to have to disagree with you on the brewers being on a downhill slide.

  • I'm hoping Appel thinks the Cubs are a lot closer to competing and also have the deeper pockets and more of a tendency to buy out arb years (meaning more big money sooner) than the Astros. And thru Boras lets them know he doesn't want to sign with them (so don't draft me). Ok, there's my fantasy scenario. Now after all that, watch the Cubs not draft him anyway. Lol.

  • In reply to Bill:

    Ha! Now that would be something if both teams pass him up.

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    I guess what we can hope is that Gray continues to pitch as he has his last 3 starts, at which point he and Appel are 1a) and 1b)

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    That would be an ideal situation. I think if Austin Meadows continues to be on a tear, he could enter the equation at #1 too.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I don't disagree with you. For obvious reasons, I'm hoping BPA is a college pitcher near the majors, but I sure don't want to pass up Chipper Jones in order to draft Alex Fernandez.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Totally rooting for BPA to be a college pitcher but I'm going to have to trust the FO if they don't think it is. I like Manaea and Gray, but I think I need to see them continue to pitch well and show consistency with stuff/command. Gray doing it so far and it looks like Manaea starting to hit his stride as well.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    That's the thing John, it's still possible one or both of them catch him. One could still argue that Appel's floor is higher due to his consistency and track record - but others will argue that based on the Stanford rep it's not. I'm still secretly pulling for Manaea. Part because he's a local kid, but also true Ace LHP's are a rare commodity and he would make a heck of a combo with Shark for a run at a ring.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I'm rooting for about 5-6 players to have great years and catch Appel. That would be a great development for the Cubs.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Do you have my Meadows report?

  • In reply to KGallo:

    No, I don't actually. Just checked my files.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I will send it to you tonight.

  • In reply to KGallo:


  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Law just did a chat and stated Gray has passed Maenea and Stanek and is pushing Appel hard for #1 overall .

  • In reply to Bryan Craven:

    If Gray pushes Appel for #1, then things really get interesting at the top.

  • In reply to Bryan Craven:

    I am not ready to say that but asking me again on April 20th.

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    In reply to Bryan Craven:

    Thanks for passing that on.

    In other news, have I mentioned recently how much I love the Cubs Den community? John, Tom, and felzzy are the best at what they do, but the community of fans here rocks. That is all.

  • In reply to Bryan Craven:

    Bryan, in which chat did Law say that? The closest I've seen is a tweet "If he's this all spring he'd be a lock to go top 4."

    I saw Chris Crawford, the other ESPN draft writer, bumped Gray up #2 this week.

  • Appel's projected near-readiness for the bigs does not coincide with the Astros' rebuilding timeline. Given that, and their history with Appel, I'm feeling like they might just go another direction. I voted no.

  • In reply to Denizen Kane:

    That's another important factor in the decision. I don't know the Astros time line, but if they think they're ready to contend in 4-5 years, maybe they do it. Appel will be in his prime by then.

  • Who is this Carlos Rondon you mentioned?

  • In reply to fsufrenzy911:

    NC State LHP . Young CC Sabathia Clone . Awesome arm .

  • I have heard the leverage thing will not work with Appel because his family is extraordinarily wealthy. Have you heard this John? I like Appel best but the overuse Stanford puts on his arm does scare me a bit. I do not think the Astros will take him if he will not sign for under-slot. I would be pretty happy with any of Appel, Gray, Meadows or Bryant though so it should be a nice pick however the chips may fall. I wanted to say this is the first time I have commented but I have been reading your site for a couple of seasons and I think you do an excellent job.

  • In reply to Tide23:

    Thanks Tide!

    Yes, I have heard that about Appel. He comes from a very comfortable background and I think he's willing to wait it out if necessary. That makes him tough to sign quickly. It's more of a matter of principle than money with him, in my opinion.

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    The time line is the thing. As the trade markets for garza, baker, soriano and marmot evaporate, the rebuild horizon is receding. So on the ind hand, Appel is clearly the quickest anc most certain difference maker in the draft - more certain then manaea

  • Hopefully they pass on him, because it seems like Appel is starting to distance himself from the pack. Would love for the Astros, to continue disbursing payment and overslotting in later selections like last year, but can't be certain they'll do it again. Appel/Rodon in back to back years would be a pretty filthy 1-2 combo for them.

  • I'm surprised no one has compared the Astros' desire to save more money for later over-slot picks with the Cubs' desire to do the same thing. I'd assume in a perfect world that we'd still want to get a lot of impact talent into the system just like the Astros would.

    Is it simply because the Cubs are a little bit closer and are willing to pay overslot for the #2 pick? Don't get me wrong, I hope they are able to take Appel, even if it costs a little bit of extra money. I just still have to figure money does matter to the Cubs too, at least a little bit.

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    (sorry, hit done by mistake) more certain than manaea, sooner to the majors than any position player. Appel is the guy - but on thd other hand, they CAN NOT let boras make this a wasted draft year. They either have an agreement with boras pre-draft, or they walk away.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    It has more to do with the Cubs first round philosophy, which is to take the BPA regardless of need or any other outside factors.

    I think it depends. If you think Appel has the best chance to make a big impact, you give him market value because in the MLB, if you can get one impact guy, it's already a pretty decent draft.

    Giving him something close to slot doesn't preclude the Cubs not getting talent later. The Cubs signed Almora close to slot and were able to sign Johnson and Blackburn at close to slot as well. Only Underwood was significantly over. Appel might make it a bit more difficult, but in my opinion, you don't pass up Appels so you can sign Underwoods.

  • side note the Rangers are trying to trade Borbon and there is reported interest from several clubs, wonder if the Cubs/ Rangers are dance partners again

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    In reply to Bryan Craven:

    He's out of options. The Rangers are going to have to do something.

  • Given the Astros situation, I think the potential fan perception of a "whiff" in failing to sign a #1 pick is a risk they will choose to avoid, unless they can reach an "understanding" w/ Appel up front. W/out it, I suspect they won't "chance" it and will draft around him. As pointed out earlier in the thread, the Astro's were perceived to have made out nicely by pursuing a similar strategy last year so I don't believe they view a repeat of the strategy as a sub-optimal one.

  • I know the Cubs are probably going to go with a college pitcher with the second pick which is a smart move with the lack of pitching depth in our system but I really hope we go with Clint Frazier. He can hit like crazy and seems to have a great mental make up. Best of all, it seems like the brighter the lights the better he plays. Imagine a lineup of Castro, Rizzo, Baez, Almora, Soler, and Frazier, we would be unstoppable, but Appel and Gray are probably the best fit for where our organization is at right now. I just wish we could have them all

  • In reply to Matt:

    Would be nice to have them all! Frazier is an exciting ballplayer with insane bat speed and 30 HR potential. I wouldn't be surprised if the Cubs take a position player if Appel is gone and Frazier would be in that mix.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I looked at each game pitched by Gray and Appel. I can't say which is a better bet long term, but I look long term now, and no reason not too! Appel has had 3 bad or mediocre starts this year. Gray has had all good starts recently, with less H/IP, WHIP, and ERA. So this is going to get interesting. I can see why with the greater velocity and recent stats why Gray would get bumped up.

  • In reply to Matt:

    All I have to go on is what I've read here and elsewhere. My gut tells me to take Frazier. I'm just not sold on Appel but if the Cubs take him I'll hope I'm wrong. 2nd choice would be Grey but I did read what John said in article a couple days ago which makes me want to know more.

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    I agree with people saying Appel does not fit the Astros game plan. Between positional players having a higher rate of being successful from the first few rounds, plus Boars being Appel's agent, I just don't see the Astros signing him. I think Meadows goes first and the Cubs take Appel. Appel - Samardjiza as a one two could be pretty good. You could even throw in the potential of having Garza and Baker next season on "are you healthy?" deals. In this scenario, wishful thinking, Edwin Jackson is your fifth starter....

  • Here is the thing. The Cubs are won't be a serious WS contender until 2017 is my guess. That gives Sole and Baez enough time in the minors and them yo build up there pitching staff. Any of the College arm in this draft should be ready by 2016.

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    a lot of people have suggested getting the best hitter available and, if need be, trading him for a pitcher in a few years. The problem with that strategy is, the modern price of decent pitching. It's not going to be a 1:1 deal; if you pass on a guy like Appel this year and get, say, Meadows, in a couple of years if Appel is approaching his ceiling you'll need a Meadows AND a Frazier AND a couple of throw ins to get him. If you need pitching, you can't draft an outfielder and assume you'll trade him in for pitching sometime later.

  • One of the reasons that I voted the Astros will select Appel is the criticism and skepticism lately directed at the Astros' $25MM payroll and their 'plan for losing and accumulating high draft picks.'

    Sorry I don't have the link, but today's Olney article articulated that concern. Avoiding a potential 'Black Sox-esque' scandal or the appearance thereof, Houston may feel the necessity to prove to the baseball world that it is serious about turning the franchise around and winning as soon as possible.

  • In reply to kansasblackhawk:

    I actually just wrote an article about this today Kansas ;) It has the link to that article.

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