The 2007 draft was the first with a firm signing deadline governed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
|The top 50 signing bonuses from the 2016 draft. (s-supplemental pick).|
Clubs could spend whatever they wanted, but Major League Baseball recommended bonus slots; it just had no enforcement mechanism for the slots. MLB would cajole and plead with owners not to sign players for "outrageous" amounts, but it couldn't stop them. It could just delay them.
And so it did. MLB asked clubs not to announce signings until close to the deadline, which that year was Aug. 15. Clubs waited, then signed players for huge bonuses and major league contracts just before the deadline.
That pattern persisted to the last year of the old CBA, in 2011, when clubs spent more than $139 million (including guarantees in major league contracts) on the final day of the signing period.
The CBA changed for the 2012 draft, with hard bonus pools and severe, enforceable penalties for teams that went over their pool allotment, and the deadline moved to mid-July.
And in 2016, five years into the current CBA and in the 10th year of having a signing deadline, MLB experienced its quietest signing deadline yet. Just three first-round picks came close to the deadline, with only one, Marlins lefthander Braxton Garrett, signing on the July 15 deadline.
Not only did every first-rounder sign, a first since 2007, but the 2016 draft set a record low for unsigned picks in the first 10 rounds. Just two players—No. 41 overall selection Nick Lodolo, picked by the Pirates, and seventh-rounder Tyler Buffet, taken by the Astros—failed to sign. Lodolo instead will attend Texas Christian, while Buffet will return to Oklahoma State.
The previous record for fewest unsigned picks in the first 10 rounds was six, set last year and in 2014. In contrast, in the last year of the old system in 2011, 28 top-10-rounds picks did not sign, including three first-rounders. The fewest unsigned top-10-round picks before the current CBA was 14 in 2004.
As one scouting director put it: "All the shenanigans and action now take place on draft day."
With bonus pools that totaled more than $234 million, teams spent at least a collective $266,092,996, according to information obtained by Baseball America via industry sources. (BA went to press just after the deadline.) That includes bonuses in the 11th round and later, where any other signing of $100,000 or less doesn't count against the bonus pools.
While major league clubs have no problem going over their international signing bonus pools—also in their fifth year—where the only punishment is tax money, no team yet has gone over its draft bonus pool by more than 5 percent, which would trigger the loss of picks in the next year's draft.
Lefties Wait It Out
The last three first-rounders to sign were all lefthanders, as is Lodolo, the highest unsigned selection. They all had different stories.
Garrett, the No. 7 overall selection, signed with Miami for $4,145,900, nearly $400,000 over the pool allotment for his pick. Signing Garrett and third-rounder Thomas Jones, a prep outfielder from South Carolina for $1 million, meant the Marlins spent their entire pool allotment, the first time they've done that.
Jason Groome, expected by many to be the most contentious draft signing, instead agreed to terms with the Red Sox the night before the deadline for $3.65 million, less than the rumored pre-draft agreement he had with the Padres but well over Boston's allotment for the No. 12 overall pick of $3,192,800. The New Jersey prep lefty ranked No. 3 on the BA 500 but fell due to concerns both about his off-field makeup and the rumors about his pre-draft deal.
The only late-signing college first-rounder, Connecticut lefty Anthony Kay, signed for a below-slot deal with the Mets for $1.1 million. The allotment with the No. 31 pick was $1,972,100, but Kay signed the below-slot deal after a medical exam showed a problem with his elbow, according to industry sources.
That left Lodolo, out of Damien High in La Verne, Calif., as the highest unsigned player in the draft. He took to Twitter on July 12 to announce, "I'm proud to officially be a Horned Frog!! Let's get back to Omaha."
It's not the first time the Horned Frogs have gotten the highest unsigned pick from the draft class. In 2009, TCU picked up lefthander Matt Purke after he and the Rangers had their deal rejected, and Purke led the Horned Frogs to their first trip to the College World Series the next year. After an injury-plagued career since then, he reached the major leagues for the first time in 2016.
The most notable late signee was the Mariners' Trey Griffey, son of Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., who signed as a 24th-round pick after playing college football at Arizona. Nick Shumpert, son of ex-big leaguer Terry Shumpert, also signed. Shumpert was a seventh-round pick out of high school but fell to the 28th round out of San Jacinto (Texas) JC this year.