Unsigned First-Rounders Forced To Play Waiting Game

No. 1 overall pick Price, Boras clients headline unsigned first-rounders




2007 MLB Draft Three weeks before the new Aug. 15 signing deadline for draft picks, the Devil Rays weren't on the verge of announcing a deal with No. 1 overall choice David Price. But rather than being any cause for concern, the situation is mostly the result of Major League Baseball's clampdown on bonuses.

When MLB started recommending specific bonuses for each pick in the first five rounds in 2000, it also asked clubs that surpass those guidelines to announce it as late as possible. The thinking is that then fewer unsigned draftees can use over-slot bonuses as a point of comparison while negotiating their own bonus.

The only two No. 1 overall picks who have signed quickly since then were Adrian Gonzalez (Marlins, 2000) and Matt Bush (Padres, 2004), both of whom agreed to predraft deals. Of the rest, Joe Mauer (Twins, 2001) signed the earliest—on July 17 that year—and Luke Hochevar (Royals, 2006) was the only other one to come to terms before Aug. 15.

Price, a Vanderbilt lefthander who was Baseball America's College Player of the Year, likely will exceed the $3.5 million bonus and $5.25 million guaranteed major league contract Hochevar received. But it probably won't be official until a few days before the deadline.

"In a perfect world, everybody would sign right away and both sides would be tickled," Devil Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "It's not a perfect world. When we took David with the top pick in the draft, we didn't think it would be a quick deal. There's been nothing unanticipated."

Harrison said Tampa Bay general manager Andrew Friedman was handling the discussions with Price and his adviser, Bo McKinnis.

"The negotiations are ongoing," Harrison said. "I think both sides are confident that whenever the time's right, a deal will get a done. It's not a simple thing, but it will get done. It's just going to take time."

Twelve other first-rounders also had yet to sign, though most of them appeared to be situations where the player and his adviser are resisting MLB's reduction of bonus slots by 10 percent. Most of those talks figure to be resolved with the draftee receiving a bonus between the 2006 and 2007 guidelines for his choice.

The unsigned group included four players advised by Scott Boras, who rarely acquiesces to MLB's slot recommendations. Boras' stable includes California high school third baseman Mike Moustakas (No. 2, Royals), Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters (No. 5, Orioles), New Jersey prep righthander Rick Porcello (No. 27, Tigers) and North Carolina State righty Andrew Brackman (No. 30, Yankees). Wieters was the top college position prospect, while Moustakas was BA's High School Player of the Year and Porcello and Brackman rated as the best righties in the draft.

Boras rarely deals in specifics when talking money with teams before the draft, but sources from several clubs said he drew parallels between Wieters and Mark Teixeira ($9.5 million big league contract in 2001) and Porcello and Josh Beckett ($7 million major league deal in 1999). Those sources say he also described Moustakas as the best high school hitter since Alex Rodriguez (the No. 1 overall pick in 1993) and planned on leveraging Brackman's two-sport status (he originally went to N.C. State on a basketball contract). Brackman's stock took a hit when he injured his elbow in May, and speculation persists that he'll need Tommy John surgery.

Wieters and Porcello will shatter MLB's recommendations if they sign, yet Orioles scouting director Joe Jordan and Tigers counterpart David Chadd remained confident they could get deals completed. Neither team had gotten very far in negotiations, which is typical when dealing with high-priced Boras clients.

"There haven't been any surprises," said Jordan, who drafted another Boras-advised player, Texas Christian righthander Jake Arrieta, in the fifth round. "It's not more we're waiting on them or they're waiting on us. Once Aug. 1 comes, I think we'll try to get something done."

Chadd is accustomed to waiting for his top picks. His two previous first-rounders with Detroit, Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, both signed well into the summer.

"We knew this would probably take until the final hour," Chadd said. "Both sides probably want to get it done quicker, but we're not in a position to do so. My conversations with Rick have all been positive."

Neither McKinnis nor Boras could be reached for comment.

DRAFT DOPE

• The Yankees had more unsigned players (six) than any other club in the first 10 rounds. Besides Brackman, Suttle and Angelini, New York also was working on three high schoolers: California catcher Austin Romine (second), Columbus (Ga.) High catcher Chase Weems (sixth) and Texas prep outfielder Taylor Grote (eighth). As with Suttle and Angelini, there are rumors that the Yankees have finalized deals with Weems and Grote, though they remained unannounced.

• Right behind the Yankees were the Rangers and Red Sox, with five unsigned picks in the first 10 rounds. Texas had yet to sign one of its two first-rounders, Texas prep righthander Blake Beavan, or two of its three supplemental first-rounders, Tennessee outfielder Julio Borbon and Virginia high school righty Neil Ramirez. The Rangers also were in negotiations with Utah prep shortstop Garrett Nash (fourth round) and Florida high school lefty John Gast (fifth). Gast likely would have been a supplemental first-rounder had he not blown out his elbow in April and required Tommy John surgery. Beavan, who had committed to Oklahoma, committed to Navarro (Texas) Junior College recently, a move that would allow him to re-enter the draft in 2008 if he failed to sign with the Rangers by the deadline.

• All five of Boston's early unsigned draftees were high schoolers: California shortstop Ryan Dent (supplemental first round), Alabama first baseman Hunter Morris (second), Texas third baseman Will Middlebrooks (fifth), Florida first baseman Anthony Rizzo (sixth) and North Carolina first baseman David Mailman (seventh). Middlebrooks would have been a supplemental first-rounder if not for his $1 million price tag. Rumors are that the Red Sox are close to finalizing or already have completed deals with Dent, Middlebrooks, Rizzo and Mailman.

• Porcello wasn't the only high-ceiling draftee the Tigers still were pursuing. Shortstop Cale Iorg (sixth round) was considered a potential 2007 first-rounder before he went on a two-year Mormon mission to Portugal following his freshman season at Alabama. The son of a former big leaguer (Garth Iorg) and nephew of another (Dane Iorg), Cale has decided to transfer to Arizona State should he return to college ball in 2008. Texas high school righthander Barret Loux dropped to the 24th round after he missed two months in the spring with a shoulder strain. Pitching for the Houston Heat travel team, Loux worked at 92-95 mph for five innings in mid-July.

• Meanwhile, the Rockies had topped all teams by signing all of their picks through the first 13 rounds. The Brewers and Pirates had locked up all of their draftees through the first 10 rounds.