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How the Sox Negotiate: A Look at the Non-Signing of Hunter Morris

08.17.09 at 11:50 am ET
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When it comes to the draft, it’€™s no secret that the Red Sox are serious spenders.

For years, the organization has capitalized on landing premium players who carry hefty price tags. Take 2005, for example. With the 26th pick, the Sox were able to select (and then pay handsomely in the form of a $4.4 million major-league contract) hard-throwing right-hander Craig Hansen out of St. John’€™s. Hansen was considered the best pitcher in the ‘€™05 draft class and a candidate to go first overall, yet it was Boston that was able to tab him thanks to their resources.

Since then, it’€™s been more of the same. Lars Anderson (18th round in ‘€˜06, $825,000), Casey Kelly (30th overall in ‘€˜08, $3 million), Ryan Westmoreland (fifth round in ‘€˜08, $2 million) are just a few of those who have been paid considerably higher than slot value thanks to the Sox’€™ willingness to go above and beyond to secure elite talents.

Though they have forked over quite a bit to build their prized farm system (ranked in the top 10 in three of the last four years by Baseball America), they have their limits. The team has walked away from enormous talents in the past, Pedro Alvarez (2005, 14th round) and Matt LaPorta (2006, 14th round), two players who dropped due to signability concerns and who ultimately, in fact, proved unsignable within the parameters that the Sox considered reasonable for an offer. But the Epstein administration has never walked away from a first or second-round pick’€” except for ‘€™07 second-rounder Hunter Morris.

After drafting left-handed pitcher Nick Hagadone (who was recently shipped to the Indians in the Victor Martinez trade) and middle infielder Ryan Dent with sandwich picks, the Sox were next on the clock with the 87th overall pick. With it they chose Morris, a left-handed-hitting first baseman out of Virgil I Grissom High School. The selection came after both Morris and his advisor had made it known that he was willing to sign for slot value, which at that point would be just under $400,000, according to major-league sources. At the time of the selection, it appeared a safe bet that Boston would be able to lure the Alabama native away from a scholarship to play college ball at Auburn.

‘€œFor me it was a win-win situation,’€ Morris said last month. Even if the two sides failed to agree, something that seemed highly unlikely when the Sox confirmed the asking price prior to his selection, Morris could still take his swings for at least three years in the SEC.

However, when Morris raised his asking price following the draft by $50,000-100,000, it was anything but a win-win situation, especially on Boston’€™s part. The heightened price tag led the Sox, who felt it was important to hold a player to his word and not let him squeeze them for more money after a deal had been agreed upon, to walk away from the draft pick. Morris, however, seems content with how his first foray at the negotiating table played out.

‘€œObviously, there’€™s a dollar sign you can put on forgoing college, but I didn’€™t feel like it reached that,’€ Morris said. ‘€œIt definitely just worked out that, at the time, it was a better fit for me to go to college. I wasn’€™t ready to play professional baseball.’€

The whole ordeal left the Sox burned, moving on without someone who seemed sure to be in the fold by the deadline for signing players. Though the Sox received an identical pick in ‘€™08 (RHP Stephen Fife, who has impressed at Lowell, Greenville, and Salem since his selection) for not being able to put Morris’€™ pen to paper, the negotiation process gave an indication that the Red Sox organization will not permit players and agents to take advantage of their willingness to spend aggressively to acquire talent.

What does this say about the organization? If anything, it makes the clear that, while the team does have money to spend in the draft, they peg each player at a number, regardless of the round in which they were selected. If the asking price surpasses the number, they will turn their attention and resources to other options, much like they have in recent years with the negotiations of free agents Pedro Martinez and Mark Teixeira.

In Morris’€™ case, money clearly proved to be the determining factor, yet the slugger respects what the Red Sox were willing to give.

‘€œThe number that [the Red Sox] offered was very reasonable,’€ Morris said. “It was a great offer, and it just wasn’€™t the right fit for me at the time.”

Two seasons and a stint with Team USA later, Morris has used his bat to back up — and likely increase — his asking price of ‘€™07. Morris has hit .318 at Auburn with 23 home runs and recently finished a summer playing for the Cape League’€™s Falmouth Commodores. Though he joined the team late because he needed to finish up classes, Morris still finished second in the league with eight homers.

He stood on the Fenway grass last month as he prepared to take part in the Cape League’€™s Home Run Derby. At that time, Morris reflected on the hectic process knowing full well that next June, following his junior year at Auburn, he’€™s set to be draft eligible for the first time since ‘€™07. While he said that he’€™ll be happy just to go between the first and the last pick, it was interesting to hear which team he’€™d like to play for.

‘€œI really am comfortable with the Red Sox and I got to know a lot of their guys throughout the organization and management, throughout the negotiations and whole draft process the first time, and I’€™m in no way opposed to being drafted by them again,’€ Morris said.  ‘€œI mean, they’€™re a great organization, and a great place to play. There’€™s nothing better I could ask for. Any of the teams would be great, [but] it would be awesome to play for Boston.’€

As for the Sox, team sources suggest there is no lingering animosity towards Morris, whom their scouts encounter regularly in SEC play. It is far too early project a year down the road, but should the opportunity present itself, would the Red Sox really have no reservations about revisiting negotiations that turned so badly for them in the past? It certainly remains to be seen, but whoever the pick is, the Sox will undoubtedly approach negotiations with both deep pockets and the ability to draw a line in the sand.

Alex Speier contributed to this report.

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