SEATTLE -- The deadline for signing drafted players is hours away and the Mariners are in the final stages of contract negotiations with highly-regarded -- and highly-drafted -- outfielder Dustin Ackley. The left-handed hitter from the University of North Carolina has until 9 p.m. PT on Monday to reach agreement with the Mariners or he can either return to the Tar Heels for his senior season and become Draft-eligible again next year, sit out a year and become Draft-eligible again next year, or possibly play for an Independent League team. As of Sunday afternoon, the status of the top-secret negotiations between the Mariners and agent Scott Boras, who represents Ackley, remains unknown.
"I am not going to comment on anything specific, but what I will say is that we have a nice story to tell," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "It's a great organization headed in the right direction." The Mariners have signed 33 of their 52 Draft selections, including another first-round choice -- shortstop Nick Franklin on Saturday for $1.28 million, which is probably a fraction of what Ackley is seeking. "I think what you are going to see here, as we move forward, are the people that will be here are people with character, people with a desire to win and people who want to be part of something special, people that pull together as a team and respect each other," Zduriencik said. "I think this [season] is just the first steps in that direction. "One of the things I said in the winter was that [this] is a land of opportunity. You talk to the players in there and ask them about the opportunity they've been given. They capitalized on it and I tip my hat to a lot of these guys. We gave some of these guys the opportunity and they've made the most of it." Good players can advance quickly through the Minor League system and once they get to Seattle, Zduriencik said, there are not many places that have as much to offer as Seattle. "If you think about it, you have a great fan base here," he said. "I was told that when we got here that we would fall in love with the city and we have. And I'm speaking as someone not from here. I am experiencing this for the first time in my life. "When you are a Major League player, you can play anywhere actually, but there are some places that have a chance to be pretty unique. I think this is the type of place that can be unique. There is a history here. You talk about the quality of life, the type of people, quality of living in this area of beautiful surroundings. You have everything here. So, it's a nice place to be and I hope players recognize that." Without being specific, the GM surely could have been referring to someone like Ackley, one of the two players Seattle selected in the first 13 rounds who have not yet signed. Ackley is the big fish that still hasn't been hooked. The No. 2 overall selection in last June's First-Year Player Draft was regarded as the best offensive player available, and that was before he set the all-time record for most career hits in the College World Series. He has not played a game since the Tar Heels were eliminated from the event. Dealing with Boras, who represents five other unsigned first-round Draft choice this year, always is a challenge. He historically goes down to the 11th hour before "advising" his clients whether or not to sign. The Mariners are familiar with the tactic. Boras last year advised right-handed reliever Josh Fields to reject Seattle's $1.5 million offer and the former University of Georgia closer did not pitch competitively for more than seven months before coming to terms in February for $1.75 million. Regarded as someone capable of becoming Major League-ready quickly, possibly by September when Major League rosters can be expanded, Fields has had a mediocre, and injury-plagued, first season in the Minor Leagues pitching for Double-A West Tennessee, posting a 2-2 record, 6.28 ERA with one save in 31 appearances. Fields' leverage was limited because he had no college eligibility remaining. That is not the case with Ackley, but the three-time all-American does have the option of returning to school. Or, he could begin what could be a fast-track journey to the big leagues.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.