After Locking Up Verlander, Maybin After Long Waits, Tigers Weren't Sweating Miller Negotiations
By the end of July, the Tigers still hadn't signed their first-round pick. But that's becoming business as usual for Detroit and wasn't entirely unexpected.
Teams long considered North Carolina lefthander Andrew Miller the consensus top talent in the 2006 crop. But on the eve of the draft, word spread that Miller was seeking Mark Prior money, adjusted for inflation. The No. 2 choice in 2001, Prior received a draft-record $10.5 million major league contract from the Cubs.
While clubs didn't believe that Miller actually would hold out for an eight-figure deal, the late-breaking rumors were enough for the Royals, Rockies, Devil Rays, Pirates and Mariners to pass him up. With the sixth overall selection, the Tigers pounced. They hadn't discussed financial parameters with Miller or agent Mark Rodgers before the draft, but Miller's talent was too enticing to pass up.
"He was the best player on our board," Detroit scouting director David Chadd said. "When he fell to No. 6, we took him. We were obviously excited and ecstatic. We couldn't have been happier."
The Tigers also realized that it would take a while to sign Miller. Major League Baseball suggests specific bonuses for every choice in the first 10 rounds, and prefers that deals that exceed those recommendations get announced late in the summer so they won't affect other negotiations.
Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski and vice presidents Al Avila and John Westhoff are handling the talks with Rodgers, who got Cubs fifth-round pick (and potential NFL first-rounder) Jeff Samardzija a draft-record $7.25 million bonus in June. Industry insiders expect that Miller ultimately will wind up with a major league contract similar to the one Mike Pelfrey got from the Mets. The top pitching prospect in the 2005 draft, Pelfrey went ninth overall and signed last January for a $3.55 million bonus as part of a four-year deal worth $5.25 million.
It's also possible that Miller and Rodgers will wait and try to trump what No. 1 overall choice Luke Hochevar gets from the Royals. Likewise, Hochevar and his agent, Scott Boras, could be doing to the same in an attempt to exceed Miller's deal. All of the other top 10 picks in the draft have signed.
Chadd, who's playing a behind-the-scenes role, said the negotiations are progressing but didn't have a timetable for when an accord might be reached.
"Obviously, going into it, we knew it would probably be a lengthy negotiation," Chadd said. "You never know, but we didn't think he was going to sign the next day."
The Tigers faced similar situations with their last two first-round picks. In 2004, they spent the second choice on Justin Verlander and wound up breaking off negotiations in mid-October. Then Verlander's father Richard, a former union representative with the Communication Workers of America, stepped in and quickly got a deal done with then-Detroit scouting director Greg Smith. Verlander signed for a $3.12 million bonus and a big league contract guaranteeing him $4.5 million.
Last year, in Chadd's first draft with the Tigers, he selected Cameron Maybin at No. 10. The two sides were getting close to a $3 million deal in August, when Detroit (perhaps under pressure from MLB) withdrew its offer. A month later, Maybin signed for $2.65 million.
Though the deals exceeded slot recommendations and the players had their pro debuts delayed until the following year in both cases, the Tigers have no complaints. Verlander led the minors in ERA in 2005 and has gone 13-4, 2.69 as one of baseball's top rookies this year. Maybin, who can make a case for being the best prospect in the minor leagues, was batting .317/.404/.481 with five homers, 47 RBIs and 22 steals in 66 games at West Michigan, one of the worst hitter's parks in low Class A.
Chadd said that premium talent is worth the wait.
"We've got to take the best player," he said. "You can throw signability out the window--I want the best player. I realize you've got to sign the player, but fortunately we have a supportive owner who allows us to do that."DRAFT DOPE
• Though the Indians drafted three players ahead of him, they gave their highest bonus to Georgia Tech third baseman Wes Hodges
. The 69th pick overall, Hodges signed for $1 million, easily the largest bonus in the second round this year. Considered a virtual lock to be a first-rounder at the beginning of the spring, Hodges struggled with a calf injury, batted just .329-11-68 and regressed defensively. Cleveland also inked top choice (supplemental first round) David Huff
, meaning it had its first 12 picks under contract. The UCLA lefthander signed for $900,000.
• The Rangers signed fourth-round pick Marcus Lemon
, the son of former big leaguer Chet Lemon
, for a bonus of $1 million. Lemon was considered a third-round talent, though his makeup and feel for the game enhance his profile significantly. Lemon, who turned down a scholarship to Texas, received one of the highest fourth-round bonuses ever. The record is held by Zach Miner
, who got a $1.25 million bonus from the Braves in 2000.
• By the last week of July, 40 of the 316 players (13 percent) drafted in the initial 10 rounds remained unsigned. That group included five first-rounders (Hochevar; Miller; Missouri righthander Max Scherzer
, No. 11, Diamondbacks; Southern California righty Ian Kennedy
, No. 21, Yankees; and North Carolina righty Daniel Bard
, No. 28, Red Sox) and six Nationals picks--twice as many as any other club. Washington still has unsigned players in the second (New Jersey high school righty Sean Black
), third (Florida prep shortstop Stephen King
) and fourth (New York high school lefty Glenn Gibson
) rounds. The Nationals have locked up their two first-rounders, Florida high schoolers Chris Marrero
($1.625 million at No. 15) and Colton Willems
($1.425 million at No. 22).
• A year ago at the same time, 27 of the 320 (8 percent) draftees from the first 10 rounds had yet to come to terms. Eleven of those players eventually signed pro contracts. One reason for the increase in unsigned players this year is that several players reportedly have agreed to above-slot bonuses but their deals haven't been formally announced. BA reported last issue that Kennedy and the Yankees had settled on a $2.25 million bonus, roughly 50 percent higher than MLB's recommendation for the No. 21 slot. The deal still had yet to be officially finalized, however. Mississippi third baseman Chris Coghlan
(Marlins, supplemental first round), Canadian high school first baseman Kyle Orr
(Dodgers, fourth round) and New Jersey high school outfielder Ryan Kalish
(Red Sox, ninth round) also are believed to have reached deals that have yet to be unveiled.
|The average and highest bonus for each of the first 10 rounds, through July 25|
|Round||Signed/Total||Avg. Bonus||Highest Bonus (Player, Team, Pick)|
|1st||25/30||$1,766,000||$3,250,000 (Greg Reynolds, Rockies, No. 2)|
|Supp. 1st||12/14||$900,000||$1,000,000 (three players)|
|2nd||27/30||$620,463||$1,000,000 (Wes Hodges, Indians, No. 69)|
|Supp. 2nd||2/2||$455,000||$465,000 (Mark Hamilton, Cardinals, No. 76)|
|3rd||27/30||$399,278||$460,000 (Blake Wood, Royals, No. 77)|
|4th||27/30||$309,852||$1,000,000 (Marcus Lemon, Rangers, No. 118)|
|5th||29/30||$417,690||$7,250,000 (Jeff Samardzija, Cubs, No. 149)|
|6th||29/30||$126,603||$200,000 (Jake Brigham, Rangers, No. 178)|
|7th||26/30||$104,912||$150,000 (Jonah Nickerson, Tigers, No. 202)|
|8th||30/30||$107,250||$1,000,000 (Dellin Betances, Yankees, No. 254)|
|9th||21/30||$61,024||$155,000 (Cliff Anderson, Cubs, No. 269)|
|10th||21/30||$50,952||$150,000 (Desmond Jennings, Devil Rays, No. 289)|