Now that the signing deadline has passed, we can start picking winners and losers, even though we know judging a draft isn’t a black and white issue.
We know the process has just begun for many players, and that late bloomers and other players will be better (or worse) after getting into pro ball. And we know that mere signing bonuses don’t determine a player’s real value.
But we also know that some teams and players are happier than others today. That’s what we’re trying to assess here after a frenetic draft signing deadline.
Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates were having an awful August at the big league level, falling out of contention for the National League playoffs. But they revived the hopes of their reinvigorated fans by signing No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole for a straight $8 million bonus and getting second-rounder Josh Bell done for $5 million.
Cole’s contract was a surprise only in that he didn’t receive a major league contract, which has become the norm for college pitchers at the top of the first round. Instead, he received the largest bonus in draft history for a player who signed with the team that drafted him, breaking the $7.5 million bonus record set in 2009 as part of Stephen Strasburg’s $15 million major league deal.
Bell’s bonus is the largest in draft history for a player picked after the first round, shattering the old mark of $2.75 million set in 2000 by Rockies second-rounder Jason Young. More on Bell later.
Kansas City Royals: The Royals used to be known as an organization that would spend for a first-rounder but often skimped in the rest of the draft. Those days are long, long gone, as Kansas City signed seven players to bonuses of at least $600,000.
Chief among them obviously was first-rounder Bubba Starling, the hometown product who signed for $7.5 million. Because of his football prowess, it’s a two-sport deal. Instead of being spread over five years, though, the contract is payable over three years, and it keeps Starling from going to Nebraska to play football.
But the Royals’ draft is about more than just Starling. Third-rounder Bryan Brickhouse, a Texas prep righty, got the next-largest bonus, signing for $1.5 million. This draft class could produce another wave of prospects like the one crashing in Kansas City right now, led by Eric Hosmer.
Washington Nationals: The Nats went all in when they drafted Anthony Rendon, Alex Meyer, Brian Goodwin and Matt Purke with their four picks in the first three rounds. And their gamble paid off when they surpassed the Pirates, spending $13.75 million in signing bonuses to get the quartet under contract.
Rendon, Meyer and Goodwin weren’t surprises, though Goodwin’s $3 million deal came as something of a shock. Purke’s signing was much more surprising because he was an eligible sophomore and potential top five overall selection entering the season. BA’s 2010 Freshman of the Year at Texas Christian, Purke lost velocity during the spring and didn’t pitch this summer. Nevertheless, the Nationals gave him a major league deal worth about $4 million over four years, and general manager Mike Rizzo was pleased with the effort.
“This just solidifies us, to me, as one of the great scouting and player development organizations in baseball,” Rizzo told the Washington Post. “We are the talk of the industry.”
Players Who Waited: The maxim in the draft has become, the longer a player waits to sign, the larger his signing bonus will be. Goodwin and fellow Florida junior college product Cory Spangenberg are excellent examples of this.
Goodwin had the longer resume, having been drafted out of high school, ranking as the No. 6 prospect in the Cape Cod League last summer and building a track record of performance for a 20-year-old. Spangenberg, though, had the better spring and was the top prospect in the Florida juco ranks when the draft arrived in June.
Spangenberg, a second baseman who may wind up in center field, was the 10th overall pick, to the Padres. He became the initial first-rounder to sign in June, getting a $1.863 million bonus, and has already jumped from the short-season Northwest League to the low Class A Midwest League. Goodwin, who could be a center fielder but may wind up on a corner, was the 34th overall pick to the Nationals. While he waited until the last minute and won’t get on a professional field this summer, he got $3 million, the ninth-largest bonus in the 2011 draft class.
JUST MADE IT
Toronto Blue Jays: The industry expected the Jays to be the team that would make the biggest splash at the deadline, and Toronto did spend close to $10 million. They bevy of high school picks started to materialize on Monday afternoon when outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. signed.
But the key to the class was the prep pitching, and while the Jays signed righthander Kevin Comer ($1.65 million) and lefthander Daniel Norris ($2 million), they couldn’t sign their top pick, righthander Tyler Beede. The Massachusetts prep, unlike Comer, followed through on his Vanderbilt commitment, turning down more than $2 million. Not getting their top selection put a bit of a damper on the Jays’ draft.
Major League Baseball: The slotting system and Aug. 15 deadline date have not curtailed bonuses, which is mainly what the draft is set up to do. It’s time to try something else. The suggestions here would be simple: trust the teams to evaluate the talent and pay what they are willing to pay—i.e., no more slotting—and have an earlier deadline of July 15, if not earlier. The teams are better evaluators of talent than the commissioner’s office, and less negotiating time should help get players out playing pro ball quicker.
More rules just bring more unintended consequences. The teams want talent. The players want to play. It shouldn’t be this difficult.
College Position Players: An elite few—Rendon, Goodwin, George Springer (Astros)—got jaw-dropping contracts. For the rest of the class of college bats, the bonuses were generally in line with recent drafts.
The other college hitters who waited—such as late first-rounders Levi Michael ($1.175 million, Twins) and Mikie Mahtook ($1.15 million, Rays), or third-rounders Jason Esposito ($600,000, Orioles) and James McCann ($577,900, Tigers)—waited most or all summer just to get a bit above slot.
The only real exceptions were supplemental first-rounder Jackie Bradley, who got about $270,000 over slot from the Red Sox, and Giants third-rounder Ricky Oropesa, whose $550,000 bonus more than doubled his slot recommendation.
Teams That Passed On Josh Bell: There have to be 28 teams (the Tigers didn’t draft early enough to have a shot at him) that were stunned to see Bell sign for $5 million. The Texas prep outfielder’s family sent a letter to all 30 clubs indicating his unwillingness to sign—a letter that most scouting departments viewed as heartfelt and sincere—and it was rumored in early August that it could take an eight-figure bonus to land Bell.
The Pirates took the plunge in June, spending a second-round pick on Bell, and wound up being rewarded. Plenty of teams are happy with what they got, but many of them are wondering how different they’d feel if they had added Bell for $5 million.