Baseball begins the day of the signing deadline with 23 of the 33 first-round picks still negotiating rather than playing. Eleven of 27 supplemental first-rounders also haven't come to terms, and 98 of the 331 selections in the first 10 rounds have yet to turn pro.
Much of that is by design. As it has since 2000, MLB has recommended specific bonuses for each pick in the first five rounds and a maximum for all subsequent choices (those guidelines are available for BA subscribers here). This year, the commissioner's office has asked clubs to refrain from offering more than those recommendations to players—especially first-rounders and college juniors—for as long as possible. Advisers have confirmed that some first-rounders had yet to be offered more than slot money before deadine day.
Additionally, MLB is trying to clamp down on the amount of bonus information unveiled before tonight's midnight ET deadline. The idea is to prevent players from using other above-slot bonuses as leverage. Two advisers told Baseball America on Sunday that teams threatened to scrap as-yet-announced deals if terms leaked out before the deadline.
Nevertheless, compared to the international amateur and major league free-agent markets, the draft remains the biggest bargain in talent acquistion. The bottom line is that teams want to sign their draftees and will pay for talent.
And they will pay dearly today. Six of the top seven choices remain unsigned—Gerrit Cole (No. 1, Pirates), Danny Hultzen (No. 2, Mariners), Dylan Bundy (No. 4, Orioles), Bubba Starling (No. 5, Royals), Anthony Rendon (No. 6, Nationals), Archie Bradley (No. 7, Diamondbacks)—and could command big league contracts and two-sport deals totaling $45 million or more. It may require at least $2.5 million each to sign four high schoolers taken near the end of the first round: Tyler Beede (No. 21, Blue Jays), Joe Ross (No. 25, Padres), Blake Swihart (No. 26, Red Sox) and Robert Stephenson (No. 27, Reds).
It's possible that all 33 first-rounders will have signed by the end of the day for something in the neighborhood of $95 million in bonuses and guaranteed salaries included in major league contracts.
Last year, teams combined to spend $91.1 million on bonuses on the final day of the signing period, and a total of $195.8 million on bonuses overall. Both of those figures are records that figure to be obliterated in 2011.
Also in jeopardy is the single-team bonus mark of $11,927,200 set by the 2010 Nationals. The Blue Jays already have spent more than $5 million and have yet to sign Beede and six other picks in the first 10 rounds.
The most prominent prospects not expected to turn pro are Pirates second-rounder Josh Bell and Nationals third-rounder Matt Purke. An outfielder from Dallas Jesuit HS, Bell was the best all-around prep hitter in the draft, but his mother is a college professor and wants him to attend the University of Texas. Industry insiders question whether he'd sign for even an eight-figure bonus.
The Rangers drafted Purke 14th overall out of high school in 2009 and agreed to a $6 million bonus, but MLB controlled the team's finances and killed the deal. Purke instead attended Texas Christian, and he entered 2011 as Baseball America's third-rated draft prospect behind Rendon and Cole. After going 16-0 as a freshman, he had shoulder, back and blister problems as a draft-eligible sophomore this spring. Rather than settle for less than Texas offered him, he's more likely to take his chances on going at or near the top of the 2012 draft.
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