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What Do We Know About the Impending Viciedo Signing?

Dayan Viciedo was supposed to be introduced as the newest member of the White Sox in a press conference on Friday, but apparently visa issues--there's always visa issues--may have derailed the event, though not the signing itself. The terms of the contract are as of yet unknown, but Phil Rogers put us in the $11M ballpark and you guys keep talking about 4-5 years (though I'm unsure where that info originated).

Until Viciedo is officially signed and plays a few spring training games all we'll be able to do is speculate on his ability. Personally, I think the notion that he'll compete for a job as the starting 3B this year is laughable, but I also thought that Alexei Ramirez should have gone to the minors out of camp last spring and thought he would probably end up in AA when the Sox signed him just before Christmas. So what do I know?

What does Viciedo's contract tell us?

There aren't many comparables for Vicideo's contract or the situation which allowed him to become a 19-year old free agent. In the '96 draft, Scott Boras got a number of the draftees (including Sox first-rounder Bobby Seay) declared free agents after they were not tendered a contract offer within two weeks of the draft, which resulted in a number of ridiculous contracts, most notably Matt White's $10+M deal. More recently Boras tried to get Landon Powell declared a free agent when he completed his GED before he started his senior season of HS. But the best comparison has to be Kendry Morales, who like Viciedo defected Cuba and incited a bidding war as a free agent, ultimately settling for the following contract.

Kendry Morales

  • 6 years/$4.5M (2005-10)
    • signed by Angels as a free agent from Cuba (via the Dominican Republic) 12/04
    • $3M signing bonus
    • 05:$0.316M, 06:$0.35M, 07:$0.4M, 08:$0.5M, 09:$0.6M, 10:$0.7M
    • minor-league salaries: o5:$0.1M, 06:$0.15M, 07:$0.2M, 08:$0.3M, 09:$0.35M, 10:$0.4M
    • with 3 years of Major League service, may void remaining years of deal and go to arbitration
    • total value may reach $10M with bonuses
  • signed as a free agent from Cuba (via the Dominican Republic) 12/04
  • agents: David Valdes, John Mano

I recalled the deal being reported as a $10M deal back then, but I now see that it's a well constructed split contract which is fair to both sides. (I hope the Sox are able to set up a similar mutually beneficial contract.) Morales is without question the best comp we have for Viciedo right now. Since being considered on the top prospects in all of baseball, his stock has fallen to that of a AAAA player; a guy who has crushed minor league pitching in favorable hitter's leagues who doesn't seem to possess either the plate discipline or power to merit an everyday spot in a major league lineup.

I'm interested to see the terms of the contract before I make any judgments, but I would think (without actually doing the proper research) that the reported $11M would be the most expensive major or minor league contract handed out to a player of Viciedo's age. It's a huge deal, but as was seen in '96, being a free agent inflates the value of the contracts offered. For some more timely perspective, it was speculated that Pedro Alvarez might receive a deal from $15M to upwards of $20M at free agency during the few days when it was speculated that might be declared a free agent.

When I say it's a huge deal, it's because $11M doesn't really represent any real cost savings over a first-rounder. Take the recently exported Nick Swisher, for example. He was drafted by Oakland in '02 at age 21 and signed for a $1.78M bonus. He spent all of '03 and most of '04 in the minors, drawing a small salary, before making the minor league minimum plus a small raise each of his first three seasons. He signed his current contract during the middle of his third pre-arbitration year, raising his salary to a pro-rated portion of $700K for the remainder of that season. Add in his $3.5M he made in the first full year of the contract, and Swisher has made something in the area of $6.7M in his 6+ years as a professional.

To use the most dynamic young third baseman in the league as an example, Evan Longoria got a $3M signing bonus out of college, spent a full season in the minors and played only 6 games in the majors before signing his current deal. That deal combined with his signing bonus has him making a conveniently comparable $11M in his first 5 years in the majors.

If the $11M figure is to be believed, along with it being a guaranteed major-league deal, the Sox won't really experience any savings from the deal unless Viciedo quickly makes the majors and quickly proves to be worth a huge deal like Longoria.

What does a major league deal mean?

More than anything, Viciedo signing a major league deal will effect his option status. Players on a major league contract are required to be on the 40-man roster, and as such have to optioned to the minor leagues once a year if they don't make the big league club. Thankfully, Viciedo should get the benefit of receiving a 4th option year, so it shouldn't affect the Sox too greatly. With all the hype some have heaped on Viciedo already, if he isn't contributing by the 4th year of his contract (when he'll be just 23 years old, mind you), he'll already have been labeled a Borchard-like bust.

So, is this a good signing?

The truth is, I don't know. The Sox didn't sign Viciedo looking to lock up some talent for a below market value. They signed him (or rather will sign him) to add more talent to their system. Period. The major league contract and the limitations that such a contract brings would seem to indicate their faith in Viciedo's talent, but the contract's overall value means Viciedo has to produce and produce relatively quickly to justify such a price. It's a substantially riskier signing than your average top prospect.

Note to Rogers, Merkin, Gonzo, and Cowley: If the deal is for the rumored less than 6 years, or even if it is, please ask if there is a free-agency-inducing clause at the end of the contract like Contreras and Iguchi had. For those that don't understand why such a question is important: If there's no such out clause, the Sox can take Viciedo to arbitration, if, after his contract has expired, he has not reached 6 years of major league serive.