Article published Apr 13, 2006
Holding out for big bonus is a minor leaguer's best defense
The next time an amateur draft selection holds out for sizable signing bonuses, donít get upset by the money he receives.
Bonanza signing bonuses arenít solely about greed, even though it is troublesome for fans when 18-year-old Justin Upton, the overall top pick last June, elected a lengthy holdout before signing for a record $6.1 million spread over five years. Another first-round selection last season, Cameron Maybin, didnít reached an agreement until Sept. 22 for $2.65 million.
Large signing bonuses are about ensuring rapid advancement through the minor leagues. Clubs want a return on their investment and are less likely to part soon with players theyíve given large sums of money.
Low bonus signees, such as former UNC-Wilmington standout Brian Whitaker, a 25th round pick in 2002, donít get as fair a shake.
San Diego waived him last Monday, despite a career 3.25 ERA over five seasons.
Darryl Lawhorn, an ex-New Hanover High School and East Carolina star, is in a similar, yet nowhere near as drastic situation.
Cincinnati signed him as a free agent in the winter, but left him behind in extended spring training.
Had he been an early selection, he undoubtedly would be on a club, not working out at numerous positions in Sarasota, Fla., with other minor-league holdovers.
He says heís more at ease at third, which the Reds have told him is an area of need. Although last among farm systems in Baseball America rankings, Cincinnati signed Lawhorn as a middle infielder Ė the most bountiful position in the Reds system.
They have tried Lawhorn at corner infield spots, second base and right field. If he had his way, the hot corner is where heíd play.
ďI have less time to think about stuff, you just kind of react to it,íí he said.
In case anybody wondered, his twice surgically repaired foot is fine and heís swung the bat well thus far.
While Lawhorn is in limbo, Josh Bonifay, a six-year minor league free agent, opted for a change of scenery.
After averaging 20 home runs and 78 runs batted in the last four seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he decided he needed a fresh start. So the former UNCW standout left the organization, where his father, Cam, once was general manager.
Although he played five spring training games with the parent Pirates, going 2 for 5, the organization didnít seem to value his versatility and numbers.
Teams view 24th round picks like Bonifay as fillers, meaning a marginal prospect to round out a roster with future big leaguers. So in the off-season, his agent spoke with the Rangers, Cardinals, Cubs and Astros.
Bonifay knew Astrosí minor league field coordinator Tom Wiedenbauer through ex-teammate and close friend, J.R. House, now a catcher with Corpus Christi, the Double A team Bonifay was assigned.
On top of that, Corpus Christi field manager Dave Clark played in the Piratesí system under Camís watch.
ďI felt really comfortable with the Astros and thought it was a good opportunity with first baseman Jeff Bagwell down with an injury and it looks like heís going to retire,íí Bonifay said.
Lance Berkman is the Astrosí first baseman and Bonifay hopes he can work his way into Houstonís plans in case they need a big league backup.
ďThe Astros gave me the best opportunity, plus they were fair with me,íí Bonifay said. ďI like their front office people. Ricky Bennett, the farm director and assistant GM, was nice to talk to. He didnít make any promises. They like people who do their jobs the right way, work hard and donít cause problems.íí
He signed as a utility player. He expects to play first base, outfield and DH.
ďIíve battled my whole life with the Pirates, not being able to get a chance after putting up numbers I thought were good enough to get promoted to Triple A,íí he said.
ďIím not worried about the front office anymore or moves. Iím focused on taking care of myself, doing the right things and making sure Iím having fun playing baseball.íí
Staff writer Chuck Carree can be reached at 343-2262 or chuck.carree@starnews