L.A. denies taking unsignable player
LOS ANGELES -- One day after selecting Texas high-school right-hander Zach Lee with the Los Angeles Dodgers' first pick in baseball's annual amateur draft -- and on the same day Louisiana State University football coach Les Miles said in a statement issued by the school's athletic department that Lee wants to come to his school and play football and baseball there -- Dodgers assistant general manager for scouting Logan White directly addressed a burgeoning conspiracy theory concerning his choice to take Lee on Monday.
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The theory, as almost everything having anything to do with the Dodgers does these days, centers on the perceived lack of available funds stemming from the ongoing divorce of owner Frank McCourt and his estranged wife, former Dodgers president Jamie McCourt.
Lee attended his first summer class on Wednesday morning, according to Bill Martin of Louisiana State media relations.
Lee is taking classes part time, rather than being enrolled as a full-time student, an important distinction. As long as Lee is a part-time student, he can continue to negotiate with the Dodgers up until the Aug. 16 deadline.
Lee probably would have been taken much earlier in the draft than the Dodgers' 28th overall pick if he hadn't already signed a letter of intent to play quarterback at LSU. Having that as a fallback, and possibly as his first choice, gave Lee considerable negotiating leverage with any club that drafted him. Thus, there have been various speculative reports that the Dodgers might have drafted a player they knew they couldn't sign, saving themselves the $1 million to $2 million they normally would spend on a low first-round pick. That also would give the Dodgers a compensatory first-round sandwich pick in next year's draft, which is expected to be much deeper in overall talent than this year's.
Lee, by the way, is believed to be asking for a lot more than low first-round money, ESPN.com reporting that he is seeking a signing bonus of about $5 million.
"That theory can float around all it wants to,'' White said. "People who have known me for a long time know that when I come out and tell you that we want to sign this player and that we're going to make every effort to sign this player, they have to believe that I am a person of my word and a person of integrity. Absolutely, I want to sign this player. As anybody in baseball knows, he might not sign with any team. But certainly, with his talent level, it sure would have been tough for us to pass on at least taking a chance that we could sign this player.''
Lee arrived at LSU on Tuesday, enrolled in summer school and prepared to take part in the football team's summer conditioning program, and Miles said he fully expects that Lee will honor his commitment to the school.
"Zach wants to come to LSU, get a degree and play football and baseball for the Tigers,'' Miles said in the statement. "I met with Zach and his parents [on Tuesday], and I think they are looking at LSU as a great opportunity both academically and athletically. Zach is an outstanding student, and he is excited about the college experience.''
White, who is harboring no illusions that signing Lee will be a slam dunk, said he didn't blame Miles for saying what he said.
"He might go to school,'' White said. "That is always a possibility. We certainly knew that was a possibility when we drafted him.''
Even so, White adamantly denied that the Dodgers would ever draft a player knowing they couldn't sign him.
"I can understand why people might think that,'' he said. "But that is one of those things where people create what they want to create, and it is just so far from the truth. I certainly want to sign Zach Lee, as much as any player I have ever drafted.''
White also dismissed a suggestion that he was under orders from McCourt to tank this year's first-round pick.
"Frank was totally supportive on this, and if we had chosen not to go after Zach Lee, he would have been totally understanding of that, too,'' White said. "I think to suggest otherwise is very unfair to him.''
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney was used in this report.
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