It took almost every minute and every remaining second leading up to the 9:01 p.m. deadline set by major league baseball, but the Seattle Mariners and first-round draft pick Dustin Ackley finally came to an agreement on his first professional deal Monday evening – a five-year major league contract, meaning Ackley was immediately placed on Mariners 40-man roster.
The Mariners would not disclose the financial terms of the contract, but Baseball America reported that Ackley received a $6 million signing bonus, and $7.5 million in guaranteed money.
It is well above the salary slot of $3.25 million for the pick that is recommended by Major League Baseball.
“When we selected Dustin, we knew he was a special player and a special person,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “We are excited for him to join our organization and can’t wait to see him in a Mariners uniform.”
The negotiations between the Mariners and Ackley’s agent, Scott Boras, were expected to be tense and difficult, but even Zduriencik seemed mildly surprised it came down to the waning moments.
“It went down to the last few minutes,” Zduriencik said. “We had many calls with Scott throughout the week and certainly throughout the day.”
As the negotiations were drug out to the final moments, Zduriencik said he was confident that a deal would get done, but never thought it was a guarantee.
“There are always possibilities that the deal doesn’t come together,” Zduriencik said “Throughout this process we tried to stay professional and stay matter of fact. But you never have a deal done until is agreed upon.”
The parameters of the contract were agreed on around 8:45 p.m., according to Zduriencik, but to get it all finished according to MLB rules and regulations took them right up to the deadline.
“There’s a lot of stuff that has to go on,” Zduriencik said. “You have to go through the process of dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s.”
‘DESIRE TO PLAY’
One of the key pieces of the negotiations was the idea of signing Ackley to a major league contract.
“When you are talking the magnitude of a major league contract and the magnitude of putting a player on the 40-man roster, those are things that have tendency drag on a little bit,” Zduriencik said. “It was something we came to an agreement. At the end of the deal, we thought enough of this player that it would take a major league contract.”
But in the end Zduriencik felt that it went beyond contracts and dollars.
“I think it was Dustin’s desire to play that was the key,” Zduriencik said. “When it was all said and done, we made a very nice package that we felt was fair to the family, the agent and to us.”
As a member for the 40-man roster, Ackley will be invited to major league spring training next year.
In the immediate future, Ackley will report to the Mariners complex in Peoria, Ariz., as soon as possible to begin baseball activities.
Normally, the team’s top pick would come to Safeco Field and meet with the media, and Zduriencik said that most likely will happen sometime in the future.
“Our first concern is to make sure we have everything taken care of baseball wise,” Zduriencik said.
Ackley’s first official games will most likely come in the Arizona Fall League. With minor league seasons wrapping up at the end of the month, Ackley could maybe play a few games, but the Mariners might allow him to take his time to get back into baseball shape.
Zduriencik didn’t feel Ackley had lost any progress in making the big leagues by not playing this summer.
“I don’t really think it will,” Zduriencik said. “If you really think about it, he played till the end of June with his team making the College World Series.”
Ackley also is still recovering from Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm from last offseason and Zduriencik thought the time off might be beneficial for him.
“With him coming off the Tommy John surgery, it probably wasn’t a bad thing for him to take the summer to himself,” Zduriencik said.
One of the main upsides of drafting Ackley is the idea that it won’t take him long to be ready to play in the big leagues. Zduriencik wouldn’t put a time frame on when that might be.
“I don’t like to put time frames on any player,” Zduriencik said. “I think you throw expectations out there and sometimes you are high or low. We do think that this particular player will be on a faster track than most. For me to say he’s going be at a certain place at a certain point in time isn’t fair to him.”
Ackley was the first three-time All-American for the Tar Heels. This past season, Ackley earned first-team honors from Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, American Baseball Coaches Association and Rivals.com.
He was one of five finalists for the 2009 Golden Spikes Award, presented annually to the College Baseball Player of the Year, and was selected as the Rivals.com National Player of the Year.
This past season, Ackley hit .417 (111-for-266) with 18 doubles, 4 triples, 22 home runs and 73 RBIs in 66 games for UNC, earning ACC player of the year honors.
BLANDFORD ALSO SIGNS
Besides Ackley, the Mariners also signed right-handed pitcher Tyler Blandford, the fifth-round pick, out of Oklahoma State in the waning moments.
Seattle took Blandford with the 143rd pick.
With his signing, it meant that Seattle had signed its top 15 picks of the 2009 draft.
Blandford, a native of Owensbort, Ken., was 7-4 with a 5.31 ERA for the Cowboys this past season.
He ranked 12th in the NCAA and second in the Big 12 averaging 11.17 strikeouts per nine innings.
Of the Mariners’ 52 draft selections, they signed 35 players.
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