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July 17, 2009

Future Shock

Signing Situations

by Kevin Goldstein

The signing period for the 2009 draft is, as expected, a complete mess. As of today, teams have just one month remaining to sign their 2009 draft picks, yet 20 of 32 first-round picks remain unsigned, including 13 of the first 16 selections. Of the 12 who have signed, half agreed to terms below Major League Baseball's recommended slot, while only one, Houston shortstop Jiovanni Mier, got an above-slot deal, but that was only approximately $25,000 above MLB's recommendation.

I was planning to write an article about the state of negotiations, with rumors about where the negotiations stand with some of the top picks, but as it turns out, it is almost as if there's nothing to write. In recent days, I've contacted six teams with unsigned selections in the top half of the first round. Here's are team official's reactions to the question, "Any update on [insert selection here]?"

"No."
"Haven't even talked to them."
"Nothing to report."
"No."
"What do you think?"
"Ask me on August 16."

This is really nothing new, although the ten percent reductions in slot this year are making things move even more slowly than is normally the case. For top three picks Stephen Strasburg (Nationals), Dustin Ackley (Mariners), and Donavan Tate (Padres), nothing more than a last-minute deal was expected, but for picks that are seemingly obvious slot selections, the lack of talks is a bit frustrating. "I can understand a lot of these guys sitting around," exclaimed one team official, "but if you are a guy like Mike Minor or Mike Leake, what the hell are you waiting for?"

What they might be waiting for is simply a deal that matches last year's slot, as opposed to the ten percent reductions, which in the cases of Minor and Leake are differences approaching $250,000, not exactly a trivial sum of money. Still it's enough to create either a situation with there is a stalemate between the team and the player, or in many cases, there may already be a deal in place, but Major League Baseball will not recognize it until late in the signing period, for fear of a domino effect of over-slot bonuses, which of course will happen anyway.

Some have called this the "Jason Heyward effect," referring to the Braves' first-round pick in 2007, also a year in which the slots were reduced by ten percent. The Braves and Heyward agreed early to a deal for the previous year's slot, but could not announce the signing until the deadline approached. "It's monumentally stupid," said one front-office official. "Everybody talks to each other, everybody knows who is going to sign for what, all this does is hinder a kid's development."

The good news (for some), is that we may be seeing the end of an era. While the draft and the overall player procurement system has always been the red-headed stepchild when it comes to baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement, that might no longer be the case, and this year's free-agency season finally had the player's side of things sitting up to take notice.

Said one exec, "Look, Bobby Abreu can't find a job and then signs for $5 million. While 16-year-old are getting signed off sandlots in the Dominican for $3 and $4 million? That's the kind of thing that's going to get the union going," he added, while predicting than during the next bargaining session, once the players figure out what they want, them giving into financially harnessing the signing system for both draftees and international players will be what they use for leverage.

There are also some indications that both sides might not be willing to wait for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, as multiple sources have indicated that the reason for Bryce Harper's early entry into college in order to be eligible for the 2010 draft revolves as much around his desire to sign within a system with no limits, rather than being subject a more controlled draft that could be in place sometime down the road.

Beyond the Big Three: Five To Watch

Beyond Strasburg assuredly demolishing all previous draft records, and Ackley and Tate likely ending up around last year's records of just over six million, there's still plenty of drama to spread around the remainder of the first round. Here's eight top picks that offer the most intrigue.

Zach Wheeler, RHP, Giants (sixth overall): Wheeler was in the mix for Baltimore with the fifth pick, but he wasn't willing to take the below-slot $2.422 million bonus that Hobgood signed for. If that's the case, it's a good guess that he won't take the recommended slot money at six either, as that's nearly $100,000 less. If anything, he's the first of the Heyward effect players, and will likely sign for $2.5-2.6 million.

Jacob Turner, RHP, Tigers (ninth overall): Scott Boras' top high school pitcher this year is a sure bet to sign, as Detroit knew what they were getting into with the selection, and they've been down this road before (and relatively recently) with Rick Porcello. The term "Porcello money" was thrown around liberally by a number of prep arms leading up to the draft, and while nobody is going to get that kind of deal, Turner could get close to $5 million.

Tyler Matzek, LHP, Rockies (11th overall): Matzek remains the player most likely to remain unsigned, but that doesn't mean it's anything less than a 50/50 proposition. Both Matzek and his agency, Legacy Sports, seemed surprised by the selection, and they've given no indications that they'll budge from their pre-draft requests for a "precedent-setting deal." Sometimes things change when a $5 million check is put in front of a teenager, and sometimes they don't.

Aaron Crow, RHP, Royals (12th overall): This one is still a bit of a mystery, although many insiders believe that the Royals and Crow agreed to the structure of a deal before he was selected. Still, the slot for this pick is less than half of the $3.5 million Crow turned down from the Nationals last year. He'll almost certainly get less than that this time around.

Grant Green, SS, Athletics (13th overall): The intrigue here is that he's a Boras client, but not all teams see him as an elite-level talent who fell, as many had him right around here on their boards. It will certainly require a figure significantly over the recommended slot to get him to sign, but just how much remains a bit of a mystery.

Matt Purke, LHP, Rangers (14th overall): Another of the pricey prep arms looking for Verlander money, he'll likely get what all of them get offered, which is somewhere between $4-5 million.

Shelby Miller, RHP, Cardinals (19th overall): See Purke, Matt. The real question among the foursome of Matzek, Miller, Purke, and Turner is which one will be the first to sign, thus setting the market rate. Miller might be the best bet.

Kyle Gibson, RHP, Twins (22nd overall): Gibson's injury makes this negotiation impossible to figure out. The slot for this selection is just under $1.3 million, but prior to the forearm issue's arising, he was in line for a slot nearly double that. The best guess is that he gets something in the middle, but the word "guess" is the key to the first part of that phrase.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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26 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Evan
(47)

Last I checked, the Mariners drafted second and took Ackley - not the Braves.

Jul 17, 2009 09:36 AM
rating: -3
 
R.A.Wagman

Kevin - why do you think the Jays have not yet signed Jenkins? Or any other of their first day picks for that matter...My gut feeling is that the announcements are being delayed as the players want last yuear's slot instead of this year's diminished slot

Jul 17, 2009 09:42 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

That's my assumption as well.

Jul 17, 2009 10:19 AM
 
oira61

Kevin: Legally, can the union restrict salaries for people who are not members of the union, and may never be? Can't Scott Boras sue to get such an agreement overturned?

Jul 17, 2009 09:48 AM
rating: 4
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

Legally is always a fuzzy term, but the draft IS covered by the CBA, which is negotiated by the union. For Boras to sue, he'd basically be taking on the Players Association, which is the last thing he wants to do.

Jul 17, 2009 10:19 AM
 
Calkid
(502)

Kevin: Has anyone made the case that it is in the players' long-term financial interests to sign sooner rather than later? Yes, an agent might be able to extract some extra money for you on the front end but at the same time, a player is losing salary that they could otherwise be earning now. Also, it seems like you could get to the majors (and free agency) more quickly by signing early and avoiding a "wasted" first season in the minors.

Jul 17, 2009 10:02 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

You can make that assumption, but it's hardly universal. Think of last year's holdouts -- you already have plenty of guys in Double-, even Triple-A.

Jul 17, 2009 10:20 AM
 
arcee555

the salary "lost" by a player waiting to sign is paltry. all 1st year draftees sign for the same "salary" around $900 a month. When your talking $100,000-$250,000 additional bonus money, it pays for the player to wait it out.

Jul 17, 2009 10:24 AM
rating: 0
 
nmhesketh

For college pitchers especially, could there be a positive effect to wait until the deadline to announce any deal, giving a player who has been pitching at full tilt since early February some rest? Given the rigorousness nature of playing college ball at a premier program, limiting their professional experience until the AFL would seem like a decent idea. Is this something that would even be considered, or is the fear of a player taking a long layoff too much of a risk?

Jul 17, 2009 10:31 AM
rating: 1
 
fireorlime

The drafting organizations are pretty knowledgeable about an appropriate amount of innings to allow dudes to pitch, taking into account how much they've already pitched this year. Given the fragility of pitchers and the massive investment in 1st round picks, I think all sides are pretty conscientious in making these decisions.

All a player has to say is my arm is feeling very tired and they would likely shut them down for the season.

I don't think it's a concern for players because Dusty Baker isn't the head of player development for any major league teams. Everyone is on the same page here.

Jul 17, 2009 11:20 AM
rating: 0
 
cbirkemeier

I think you'd be hard pressed to find many athletes willing to admit that their arm is feeling tired. Players still have a macho attitude that makes them want to play through fatigue and/or injuries.

Jul 18, 2009 08:25 AM
rating: 0
 
Brian Van Dorn

I think you mean "Porcello money" in the Matt Purke comment, not "Verlander money".

Jul 17, 2009 10:42 AM
rating: -1
 
Charles Kurz

KG, when I first heard that Harper was moving skipping his senior year of high school to be eligible for the 2010 draft, the first thing that came to my mind is that he wanted to avoid 2011 because of a possible "hard slot" or more conventional drafting system that might be put into place by then. I looked up details on the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement, but I found that it went through the 2011 season and that it wouldn't expire before the June 2011 draft.

If that were the case, wouldn't it not be possible for the MLB to implement a more conventional draft system for 2011 or am I missing something?

Jul 17, 2009 10:57 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

Absolutely not. They can change the CBA anytime without a full re-negotiation by hammering out a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding).

Jul 17, 2009 13:45 PM
 
Charles Kurz

Thanks, KG. After re-reading it, my bad for phrasing the last part of the question so weirdly.

Jul 17, 2009 16:05 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Isn't Gibson expected to be throwing reasonably soon? If so, smart to wait on both sides, right?

Jul 17, 2009 10:57 AM
 
Dan

Kevin, does Max Stassi signing depend on Grant Green not signing? Can the A's "afford" to sign both?

Thanks.

Jul 17, 2009 11:06 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

No, I would not call the two connected. I would think Stassi might be more connected to a guy like Sam Dyson, where they might only sign one of'em.

Jul 17, 2009 13:46 PM
 
ClubberLang

Is there a list out there of who has signed already and for what? Would be worth a link and a bookmark if it's regularly updated.

Jul 17, 2009 12:56 PM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

Kevin, I'm a bit confused by this comment:

"Said one exec, "Look, Bobby Abreu can't find a job and then signs for $5 million. While 16-year-old are getting signed off sandlots in the Dominican for $3 and $4 million? That's the kind of thing that's going to get the union going," he added, while predicting than during the next bargaining session, once the players figure out what they want, them giving into financially harnessing the signing system for both draftees and international players will be what they use for leverage."

Isn't that $5mil for one year of Abreu, whereas any Dominican signing is going to be valid for all of the team-controlled years of the subsequent contract? I don't understand how these two are being unfavorably compared... I'm sure I'm missing something obvious. Can somebody expand on that for me?

Thanks,
BR

Jul 17, 2009 13:41 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

It's more of a who's looking out for No. 1 thing, where guys like Hudson, Abreu can't get the contracts anything close to what they've gotten in the past, but Latin America and the draft continues to explode. Union would like to see that money spent on union guys.

Jul 17, 2009 13:47 PM
 
Jeff Reese

That's ridiculous. If the aging veterans are not worth $5M, why would restricting draft bonuses (or IFA bonuses) suddenly raise the demand for them? It sounds more like a "well if I can't get paid nobody can" situation.

I would like to see the deadline and slotting system abandoned, but it looks like it is going in the opposite direction.

Jul 17, 2009 15:20 PM
rating: 0
 
DavidK44

A lot of players (and for that matter, a lot of fans and media writers) operate under the assumption that Team X is willing to spend $100 million on players, be they major league veterans or Dominican kids. Therefore, the $3 million that goes to the next 16 year old from Santo Dominigo is no different than the $3 million that goes to a player in that it's 3% of the "pie" that Team X is willing to spend.

When everyone's getting big contracts (1998), no one cares that there's also money going to amateurs. When there are numerous players who had to settle for one year contracts at salaries less than what many thought the players would be getting, and then those players are going to see tons of money going to amateurs, they're going to think of the "pie".

I am in no way saying that such an outlook is right or wrong, nor am I saying that is or is not how teams operate. I'm saying there are plenty of players (in every sport) who see it that way, regardless of whether it's right or wrong.

Jul 17, 2009 16:05 PM
rating: 0
 
Jeff Reese

It just seems like a really odd line of reasoning. What would be more plausible (to me) would be if they got rid of the Type A & B compensation in exchange for hard slots. Without the loss of a first round pick, these mediocre veterans may actually get their $5M asking price.

I do see a problem with that though. Why would the owners really want hard slots? That would mean that there would be no more buying guys out of college. If a high schooler, who is not quite a first round talent, was asking 7 figures, no team could meet that asking price. On the bright side, college baseball teams would see a drastic influx of talent.

Jul 17, 2009 17:37 PM
rating: 2
 
Brian Cartwright

Unless injured, Bobby Abreu will play for the Angels, and will probably produce at least $5m in value for his major league team. That pay is for only one year, and he can likely repeat that amount next year.

The 16 year old Dominican who may get a $5m bonus won't play in MLB for five or six years, if at all. That money is a once in a lifetime unless he establish himself as a productive major league regulat. Then, he can get that $5m every year, like Abreu.

Jul 17, 2009 18:59 PM
rating: 0
 
SirVLCIV

Oh lookie, the union and MLB conspiring against amateurs. Color me shocked.

Let teams pay players what they want to pay players. Don't restrict them out of some misguided belief that 'that other guy' getting paid more makes you get paid less.

Jul 18, 2009 10:12 AM
rating: 0
 
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