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Rocky Going in Harrington Negotiations

Baseball: Pitcher from Palmdale, the only one of top 15 in baseball draft who remains unsigned, weighs college options.

August 19, 2000|MIKE BRESNAHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was only a couple months ago that Matt Harrington bubbled with excitement after being selected in the first round of the amateur baseball draft.

Taken No. 7 by the Colorado Rockies, the Palmdale High pitcher was overjoyed--a multimillion-dollar contract was surely on the way and he was eager to embark on a career he hoped would take him and his 97 mph fastball to Coors Field.

All that was missing was his signature on a contract.

"We feel the Rockies will negotiate better and maybe quicker than any of the teams picking ahead of them," Harrington said on June 5, the day of the draft. "I want to get on my way as soon as possible. I think the Rockies will pay me what I'm worth."

With summer almost over, the sweet deal with the Rockies is nowhere near completion.

Harrington is the only unsigned player among the top 15 draft choices and getting him into the fold doesn't figure to be easy for the Rockies. The parties are reportedly millions of dollars apart, with a final attempt at an agreement taking place next week.

Harrington's agent, Tommy Tanzer, will meet with General Manager Dan O'Dowd of the Rockies on Monday in Denver.

If it doesn't work out, Harrington will have a difficult decision to make.

He has a little more than a week to enroll at Arizona State, where a scholarship awaits. Or, in a less binding move, he could attend a junior college, specifically Pierce or Canyons, and be eligible for the draft next year.

"I understand what they're doing," Harrington said of the Rockies. "It's part of their business. We have our part of the business, too. With all the business going on and the games that have to be played, it takes a while. I never thought it would take this long, but I don't have any grudge against anybody for making me hold out this long. It'll all be worked out."

The Rockies, in dire need of pitching, are facing reality.

"There is a chance we don't sign Matt Harrington," scouting director Bill Schmidt told reporters in Denver. "It's a Catch-22. We want Matt Harrington. We think he's a great prospect. But what value do you put on him? He's still an 18-year-old [former] high school pitcher."

Harrington has reportedly been offered a $3.2 million signing bonus, matching the second-highest bonus ever given a drafted pitcher.

The figure is also more than any bonus given a player in this year's draft, with the exception of outfielder Joe Borchard, who signed with the Chicago White Sox for a reported record $5.3 million bonus that will be spread over four years.

Borchard had considerable leverage. The 12th pick in the draft was expected to challenge for the starting quarterback job at Stanford and had a possible future in the NFL.

In addition, Borchard, a former three-sport star at Camarillo High, strung together three solid seasons at Stanford, finishing in the top 10 career leaders with 40 home runs, 187 runs batted inand a .346 batting average.

A source close to the negotiations said Harrington's demands increased after Borchard's deal was announced three weeks ago, with his asking price swelling from a $4.9 million bonus to about $5.5 million.

Harrington, who was 11-0 with a 0.54 earned-run average for Palmdale last season, was the top prospect in the nation in a preseason analysis by Baseball Weekly. He fell to the Rockies in a dollar-driven draft, mainly because he made it known beforehand his asking price would be more than $3 million.

The Florida Marlins agreed to terms before the draft with top pick Adrian Gonzalez, a first baseman from Chula Vista Eastlake High who received $3 million.

The Minnesota Twins picked Cal State Fullerton pitcher Adam Johnson with the second pick and signed him for $2.5 million.

The Rockies would like to sign Harrington before Aug. 27, the final day to register for classes at Arizona State.

If he attends Arizona State, the Rockies lose negotiating rights on Harrington and the pitcher would not be eligible for the draft again until after his junior season.

Harrington could go to a junior college and enter the draft next year, though the Rockies would, in this case, retain negotiating rights until one week before next June's draft.

A third scenario has Harrington skipping school entirely or waiting until the second semester to enroll, allowing contract talks with the Rockies to continue with little or no distraction.

Harrington, who has been working out and throwing on a regular basis, said he looks forward to a resolution.

"I'm just going to let it go for a little while," he said. "It's going to come down to the very last minute, I guarantee it. Something will get done either way and we'll all be happy."

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