With four weeks remaining before the Aug. 15 signing deadline for draft picks, just seven of the 33 first-round choices had agreed to terms. Of the 181 players selected in the top five rounds, only 77 had turned pro.
Does this signal belt-tightening by the 30 clubs in the wake of total draft bonus spending rising to a record $195.8 million in 2010? Has the commissioner's office cajoled teams into heeding its bonus guidelines?
In a word, no. It's just business as usual in the fifth and final year of a collective bargaining agreement that expires in December.
MLB continues to recommend specific bonuses for every pick in the first five rounds, as well as a $150,000 maximum for all subsequent choices. Teams still have to go through the process of justifying above-slot bonuses to the commissioner's office, and if they want to exceed the slot numbers, they're urged to wait until the deadline. MLB doesn't want above-slot bonuses to affect other negotiations, though those deals are often well known within the industry before they become public.
The slots also are artificially low, further contributing to the delay in signings. Last year, MLB calculated the top 50 slots as worth a combined $70 million, but the 50 highest bonuses ultimately totaled $96 million—a difference of 37 percent.
The earliest pick who turned pro so far is Indian River (Fla.) JC second baseman Cory Spangenberg, whose willingness to sign quickly was well known before the Padres selected him 10th overall. He agreed to a $1.863 million bonus, matching MLB's guideline for the No. 10 choice, four days after he was drafted.
Only two first-rounders have received deals exceeding the commissioner's office recommendations, and neither raised the bar by much. Hawaii second baseman Kolten Wong (No. 22, Cardinals) received $1.3 million compared to MLB's slot value of $1.287 million. Las Vegas high school shortstop Jake Hager (No. 32, Rays) got $963,000 versus a slot value of $954,000.
Twenty players landed seven-figure bonuses outside for the first round a year ago, but no such deal has been officially announced in 2011. The largest non-first-round bonus so far belongs to Texas high school shortstop Trevor Story, whom the Rockies drafted 45th overall and gave $915,000.
While the pace of signings has slowed from 2010, when 12 of 32 first-rounders and 97 of 175 top-five-rounders had agreed to terms at the same point, teams and agents alike expect the usual feeding frenzy at the deadline. Every first-round pick is expected to turn pro, and rumors already are circulating of seven-figure bonuses for later-round selections.
"I think a lot of us are hearing the same thing from teams: 'We understand what you want, and we'll get back to you before the deadline,' " said one agent whose clients include a pair of non-first-rounders who likely will get close to first-round money.
Last year, 14 first-rounders signed on deadline day, for a combined $42.9 million in bonuses and another $5.1 million in guarantees included in big league contracts. An additional 65 players outside of the first round signed for deals totaling $48.2 million in bonuses.
When the signing deadline was added to the last CBA, MLB believed that it would give teams extra leverage. But clubs are willing to spent for talent, and agents and players have learned that the longer they wait, the more they'll get paid.
While there's increasing skepticism that the owners and union will work out a mandated slotting system in the new CBA, it appears certain that an earlier signing deadline will come out of the negotiations. Moving the deadline to July 15 or earlier wouldn't give an upper hand to either side, and would allow all players to sign in time to get six to eight weeks of minor league experience.
"The same silliness abounds this year," another agent said. "I think that this is the last year of this stuff, because no matter what happens in the CBA negotiations, I think it will definitively determine what happens in the amateur draft from this point forward. I still don’t think they get hard slotting, but I think we will get a system that allows kids to get out earlier."
Baseball America updates draft signings in our Draft Database. Bonus data for the top 10 rounds (and known six-figure bonuses in later rounds) as well as scouting reports are available in our Advanced Draft Database .
Comments will be monitored prior to being added to the site. Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be rejected. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed.
We have chosen to open up commenting to everyone, so comment away! We want to hear from each and every one of you! Leave a comment.
About This Blog
Syndicate This Blog
Search This Blog