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Drew's Draft tactics drew ire of Phillies, fans

No. 2 overall pick in 1997 didn't sign with club after controversial negotiations
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- J.D. Drew remains one of the wildest, craziest, most controversial stories in Phillies history.

It involved Drew, the supremely talented college player, a record-shattering bonus demand from baseball's most hard-lined agent, warnings, threats of lawsuits, a private investigator, rewritten language in the collective bargaining agreement and ultimately one of the most tired takes on Philadelphia sports fans, when two years later a few people threw batteries at Drew at Veterans Stadium.

PHILADELPHIA -- J.D. Drew remains one of the wildest, craziest, most controversial stories in Phillies history.

It involved Drew, the supremely talented college player, a record-shattering bonus demand from baseball's most hard-lined agent, warnings, threats of lawsuits, a private investigator, rewritten language in the collective bargaining agreement and ultimately one of the most tired takes on Philadelphia sports fans, when two years later a few people threw batteries at Drew at Veterans Stadium.

In anticipation of the 2018 Draft, MLB.com is looking back at the most notable player each team selected but never signed, only to see him re-enter the Draft and become a star elsewhere. There is no other choice for the Phillies than Drew, whom they selected with the second overall pick in 1997. Reports at the time said Drew demanded an $11 million signing bonus, about $9 million more than Kris Benson received as the No. 1 overall pick in 1996. The Phillies offered around $3 million with a jump to at least $5 million or $6 million once he made the Majors. But Drew's agent, Scott Boras, said Thursday that the Phillies never offered more than $3 million, and he never demanded more than $7.5 million.

"I don't think he was ever going to settle for the money that was being asked," Ed Wade recalled recently. "I think it was always going to be a moving target. That's just my personal opinion."

:: 2018 Draft coverage ::

Wade was the Phillies' assistant general manager when the club selected Drew. He became the GM following the 1997 season.

"The Draft is collectively bargained. Everybody knows what the process is," Wade said. "It's not a case of the player being able to determine where he wants to go. But at the same time, the player has every right to say, 'I'm not going to play.' That's basically the position they were taking, trying to scare off clubs until they got to the one or two [clubs] they had an interest in playing for."

Drew showed his commitment to the cause, playing baseball in the summers of 1997 and '98 with the independent St. Paul Saints before re-entering the '98 Draft. The Cardinals selected him with the fifth overall pick, and he signed for a reported $7 million.

"I remember we ordered pizza the evening of the deadline at the close period, anticipating that there may be some opportunity," Wade said. "But in retrospect, I think our chances were slim to none."

"There's a bigger picture here," Boras said. "The bigger picture was that J.D. Drew stood up for the true value of drafted players. What he did was he illustrated the value of those picks was earnestly true. And he would not give into it because of the fact that the old guard of baseball said, 'We're not going to give Draft picks their value.'"

***

Everybody in the world knew that Drew was the most talented player in the '97 Draft. He put up superhuman numbers with Florida State, hitting .455 with 31 home runs, 100 RBIs and 32 stolen bases in 67 games that year. Some scouts compared him to Mickey Mantle.

Boras called former Phillies general manager Lee Thomas, who was Boras' farm director when he was a Minor Leaguer in the Cardinals' system, before the Draft and asked him if Philadelphia planned to select Drew. Thomas said yes. Boras told Thomas that if the Phillies planned to offer anything less than his seven-figure bonus not to bother. Boras said they had no intentions to lower Drew's value, because the Phillies did not want to step outside their comfort zone, especially when he said other teams were willing to do it.

"'Oh, really?'" Thomas said recently, recalling that conversation. "'OK, thank you for the call.'"

Thomas walked into former Phillies president Bill Giles' office and recounted the conversation.

"What do you think?" Thomas said. "You're the boss. You tell me."

"Is he the best player?" Giles said.

"Absolutely," Thomas said.

"Then take him," Giles said.

"He said if we don't have the money, don't do it, because we're not going to get him," Thomas said. "I just want to reaffirm that."

"If he's the best guy, then take him," Giles said.

The Phillies selected Drew, and there was trouble immediately. Boras told the Philadelphia Inquirer that night that Drew had no plans to sign for anything less than what he considered fair market value. Meanwhile, the Phillies believed they could sign Drew for around $2 million, which is what Benson received in '96.

Boras disagreed.

"J.D.'s market value is not in the realm that the top pick got last year," he said. "It's in the realm that the premier players got."

Matt White and Travis Lee used a technicality in the 1996 Draft to become free agents. White and Lee ultimately signed for $10.2 million and $10 million, respectively. Boras wanted more than that for Drew, while the league still considered $2 million the benchmark for an amateur selected in the Draft.

"If we give out money like the free agents got last year, we might as well throw in the towel," Giles told the Inquirer.

"We're assuming this will be a long, drawn-out signing," former Phillies scouting director Mike Arbuckle told the Inquirer. "Yes, we think we can sign him. Yes, we understand there's a chance we won't be able to. But drafting J.D. Drew was the best baseball decision we could make."

Then things got weird.

***

Drew sought to become a free agent that summer, claiming the Phillies had not properly tendered him a contract because they failed to send the paperwork to his "permanent" address. Baseball's executive council denied Drew's request, saying Philadelphia properly tendered a deal.

Boras told the Inquirer he planned to file a lawsuit to challenge the decision because it was "fellow owners ruling on another owner's interests." He said he wanted an independent arbitrator to make the ruling instead.

"Major League players are not subject to this kind of abuse," Boras said.

The Phillies sent Drew's contract to his parents' home in Georgia, but Boras said it violated a rule because it needed to be sent to Drew's last known address, which was in Tallahassee, Fla. Philadelphia tried that address, but the Phils found the apartment empty. Boras also said the Phillies never asked Drew to furnish the address following a move to a new residence in Tallahassee.

The Phillies sent a contract to that address, too. The Inquirer reported that Florida State assistant coach Jack Niles refused to accept the delivery. He told Federal Express to forward the contract to Drew's parents. Drew's mother signed for two deliveries of the contract and later tried to return one. Boras said the Phillies had seven opportunities between May and June to ask for Drew's permanent address but never did. The Inquirer reported that the council felt "the Phillies shouldn't have to play mind reader."

"I remember we had a private investigator take a photo of the contract in the mailbox," Wade said.

Boras then challenged the fact that Drew no longer should be considered an amateur because he signed a professional contract with the Saints. Baseball earlier had modified language in the CBA, changing the Draft from the Amateur Draft to the First-Year Player Draft, meaning if a player had not signed a Major League or Minor League contract with an affiliated team he remained Draft eligible. An arbitrator ruled against Drew.

Does all that sound crazy? Yes, but it happened.

***

Wade said nothing happened with the Drew negotiations that fall or winter.

"It was pretty apparent that they had a deal cut somewhere else, at least we felt that way," Wade said. "The numbers never changed. We didn't expect it to go any way other than the way it did, where he ended up going back into the Draft."

But the Phillies kept trying. They asked Drew to meet Scott Rolen in Miami at one point, hoping the third baseman could talk him into signing.

"I don't think it ever got any traction or played out the way we had anticipated or hoped it would," Wade said. "Everybody had the sense and feel that no matter how hard we pushed all the way up to the close period that we were probably out flanked at that point and there probably was another club that had already had a conversation that had assured the player that it was a better environment for him to play in and the numbers that he and Boras thought were appropriate."

Could the Phillies have done anything differently? Thomas and Wade offered opinions.

"I could have said to Bill, 'Well, let's take somebody else,'" Thomas said. "But if you do that, you're going to let other people run your Draft for you. You don't want to do that. Sometimes I think about it. But I look at it this way: We did a whole ton of work on this guy. We knew this was the guy we wanted. I just said to myself, 'Bill said take him so maybe we can get him.' We didn't. You say, what would we have done if we had passed on him? I say, what would have happened if we had got him? Because he was a hell of a player. We needed a hell of a player."

Said Wade: "One could make an argument that we could have paid him what he was asking for, but it was not only beyond the norm of what amateur players were getting at that point in time, but it didn't fit the economic circumstances that we were operating in."

Boras said he always believed Thomas, Wade and the Phillies' talent evaluators believed Drew was worth the money. But they could not convince the holders of the purse strings to give Drew what he wanted.

"Philadelphia and us really were not at odds," Boras said. "It's just that Bill came in and said, 'We're not giving you any more money.' Ed was on board. Ed was forward thinking. Lee was forward thinking. Bill was not. Ed and Lee were not the issue. Their scouting department was right. They said to Ed and Lee that this guy was an instant Major Leaguer. Everybody in Philadelphia worked correctly. They did it a year later with [Pat] Burrell, and they should have done it a year earlier."

It is human nature to wonder, what if? Wade is no different than anybody else. He wonders how Phillies history might have changed if Drew signed with Philadelphia. But he also understands why they did what they did. The Phillies were trying to get younger. They were trying to get better. They were preparing for the long haul.

Drew checked all those boxes, so they took a chance. It did not work.

"It didn't deter us from trying to more forward with people like [Pat] Burrell and a whole lot of other guys," Wade said.

"The other negative aspect of this thing was the way he was treated once he came into Philadelphia playing for the Cardinals. I understand, and unfortunately, our fans got labeled certain ways. We've seen since then with the 2008 World Series and with what the Eagles and [76ers] have done that the fan base is supportive and positive and passionate. It's unfortunate that a lot of people characterize Phillies fans based on the way J.D. was treated when he came into the Vet. It was unfair for him to be treated that way, and it's unfair for the fan base to be characterized the way it was because of a few fans doing things that were completely outrageous."

Drew played 14 years in the Majors, making one All-Star team and finishing sixth in NL MVP voting in 2008. He won a World Series with the 2007 Red Sox.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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