Draft Of '09 Makes History
Strasburg contract not the only notable deadline deal
Following the national economy, the major league free agent market took a severe downturn during the offseason.
Despite the best efforts of MLB to fix prices, the draft market did not.
Commissioner Bud Selig slashed bonus recommendations by 10 percent across the board, and his office leaned heavily on teams to heed them. MLB delayed finalizing signings as long as possible and restricted the flow of bonus information more than usual as the Aug. 17 signing deadline approached, so agents couldn't use that data to strike better deals.
But when the clock struck midnight on the Aug. 17 signing deadline, clubs emphatically showed that they cared more about adding talent than staying in MLB's good graces.
• For the first time ever, all 30 teams signed at least one player over MLB's slot recommendations. In 2008, the only time this decade the commissioner's office gave clubs the go-ahead to value ability over signability, the Blue Jays, Cardinals, Mets and Tigers still toed the line.
• MLB recommends specific bonuses for each slot in the first five rounds. This year, teams spent $134.7 million on bonuses in that range, 24 percent above the $108.8 million total for all the slots. Last year, clubs shelled out $137.6 million in the top five rounds, 14 percent above the $120.9 million slot total.
• The Nationals spent more money on draft bonuses than any club ever had. Washington spent $9.1 million on first-round picks Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen; $1,769,500 on its picks in rounds 2-10, despite not signing fifth-rounder Miguel Pena; $225,000 on 12th-rounder Nathan Karns; and $100,000 on 27th-rounder Brandon King. Even without bonus information for the Nationals' other signees after the 10th round, that total comes to $11,194,500 and exceeds the record set last year by the Royals at $11,148,000.
• Strasburg set new standards for the biggest bonus ($7.5 million) and largest guarantee ($15.1 million) in draft history. The bonus marks for a high school draftee (Donavan Tate) and a high school pitcher (Jacob Turner) also were erased.
• The 29 first-round picks who signed averaged $2,467,034 in bonuses, just ahead of the record of $2,458,714 set a year ago.
Considering that last year MLB loosened its reins to ensure draft talent was dispersed more evenly among clubs, then clamped down tight this summer, it seems remarkable that bonuses didn't decline. Then again, maybe it shouldn't.
"When it comes right down to it, we want to sign the players," a National League scouting director said. "Our job is not to enforce the guidelines from the commissioner's office."
MLB's informal slotting has accomplished all it can, and draft spending won't change significantly unless baseball institutes a hard slotting system like the National Basketball Association has. Selig told The Washington Post's Dave Sheinin that MLB would seek mandated slotting and the inclusion of foreign players in the draft during talks for the next collective bargaining agreement. The current deal expires in December 2011.
Selig said: "There's no question in my mind, in 2011, certainly a slotting system and a worldwide draft are things we will be very aggressive in talking about."
Here are the deals from the last few days before the deadline that have the industry talking:
Biggest Deals, First Round
Stephen Strasburg, rhp, Nationals (No. 1 overall).
Strasburg and agent Scott Boras didn't have the leverage to gain the $50 million deal that was bandied about in the press, but they have nothing to be ashamed about. The best prospect in draft history blew away the records for largest bonus ($6.2 million by Buster Posey in 2008) and overall deal ($10.5 million by Mark Prior in 2001). His four-deal expires in 2012, and unless the Nationals release him, salary-cut rules guarantee him at least a $4 million salary in 2013. The net present value of his contract, discounted for the extended payout, is $14.2 million.
Dustin Ackley, of, Mariners (No. 2 overall).
The best pure college hitter in years didn't set any records, but Ackley's $6 million bonus ties for the fifth-highest ever, and his $7.5 million guarantee (with a present value of $6.8 million) over five years is the biggest for a position player since Mark Teixeira's landmark deal eight years ago. If, as expected, he spends no more than one year in the minors, Ackley will earn an additional $2.2 million before becoming arbitration-eligible in 2014.
Donavan Tate, of, Padres (No. 3 overall).
The top athlete in the draft, Tate signed for $6.25 million, the highest bonus in draft history outside of Strasburg's and the most ever for a position player (surpassing Posey) or a high schooler ($6.15 million by Tim Beckham in 2008). Both Tate's and Beckham's bonuses were spread over multiple years under MLB provisions for two-sport athletes, but Tate will be paid in full by January 2012, making the present value of his deal worth $5.9 million—$1.2 million more than Beckham's.
Jacob Turner, rhp, Tigers (No. 9 overall).
Two years after giving Rick Porcello the largest guarantee ever for a high school pitcher ($7 million, matching Josh Beckett in 1999), Detroit handed Turner the highest bonus ever for a prep arm. He got $4.7 million payable over six years (concluding with a $1.6 million payment in July 2014), beating Gavin Floyd's $4.2 million bonus in 2001. Turner became the fourth high school pitcher ever to receive a big league contract, following Todd Van Poppel, Beckett and Porcello. Turner's deal is worth a guaranteed $5.5 million and has a present value of $4.8 million.
Tyler Matzek, rhp, Rockies (No. 11 overall).
Rated by several clubs as the second- or third-best prospect in the draft, Matzek fell to No. 11 after word got out the night before the draft that he wanted "precedent-setting money." Matzek didn't set a precedent, but he signed for a straight $3.9 million bonus.
Biggest Deals, Rounds 2-10
Wil Myers, c/3b, Royals (third round).
It was an open secret that Kansas City and Myers had agreed on a $2 million bonus weeks before, but MLB didn't make the deal official until Aug. 14. The Royals contemplated drafting him 12th overall, but his price tag allowed them to wait two more rounds. The South Carolina recruit's offensive potential and athleticism stand out for a catcher and he has drawn comparisons to former National League MVP Dale Murphy, who began his pro career behind the plate.
Max Stassi, c, Athletics (fourth round).
Stassi was in the first-round plans of several clubs before his shoulder tendinitis and $1.5 million price tag scared them off. Oakland met his asking price, giving him the highest fourth-round bonus ever to divert him from UCLA. He had as much offensive potential as any catcher in the draft and should be a solid defender.
Chris Dwyer, lhp, Royals (fourth round).
As with Myers, Kansas City reached a deal with Dwyer long before MLB signed off on his $1.495 million bonus on Aug. 13. He held the fourth-round record for four days until Stassi beat him by $50,000. The best freshman-eligible prospect in draft history, Dwyer showed a 90-94 mph fastball and hammer curveball in his lone season at Clemson.
Andrew Oliver, lhp, Tigers (second round).
Oliver's junior season at Oklahoma State didn't go as well as expected, dropping him to the second round. He's still a southpaw with a 92-94 mph fastball, which earned him $1.495 million—mid-first-round money by MLB's slotting standards.
Daniel Fields, ss, Tigers (sixth round).
Usually one of the most aggressive teams in the draft, Detroit heeded the slots in 2008 after taking abuse from MLB for Porcello's deal the year before. The Tigers jumped right back in this year, spending $8.6 million on Turner, Oliver and Fields. The son of former big leaguer Bruce Fields, Daniel is an athletic 6-foot-3, 200-pounder who hit a batting-practice homer with a wood bat at Comerica Park—as a 12-year-old. He gave up a Michigan scholarship for a $1.625 million bonus, a two-sport deal with a present value of $1.47 million.
Biggest Deals, Late Rounds
Michael Ohlman, c, Orioles (11th round).
Ohlman played on a travel team last summer with Myers. Gifted with power, arm strength and athleticism, Ohlman decided to forego his Miami commitment after Baltimore came up with a $995,000 bonus.
Cameron Coffey, lhp, Orioles (22nd round).
In the most stunning deadline deal, Coffey signed for $990,000 five months after Tommy John surgery. That broke the late Nick Adenhart's $710,000 record for a player coming off elbow reconstruction shortly before the draft (Rays fourth-rounder Luke Bailey also topped it at $750,000). A Duke recruit, Coffey pitched in the mid-80s last summer and jumped to 91-94 mph this spring before blowing out his elbow.
Five Who Got Away
Matt Purke, rhp, Rangers (No. 14 overall).
Texas generated a lot of positive press by taking the home-state high school fireballer, and a lot of negative press by not signing him. Purke dropped in the first round because he wanted Porcello money, and the Rangers weren't prepared to pay it. After advancing financially embattled owner Tom Hicks money during the season, the commissioner's office didn't want Texas to spend heavily on Purke. Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that MLB refused to approve more than a $2.3 million bonus, though the Rangers offered $4 million and were turned down by Purke. He'll be draft-eligible again as a Texas Christian sophomore in 2011.
LeVon Washington, 2b/of, Rays (No. 30 overall).
Labrum surgery left Washington unable to throw effectively as a high school senior, but Tampa Bay still loved his hitting ability, blazing speed and athleticism enough to make him a first-round pick. But the Rays did not offer him more than slot money ($1.08 million), and when Washington wouldn't budge from $1.5 million, the club issued a press release early on deadline day to announce it didn't expect to sign him. He's not academically eligible to follow through on a Florida scholarship, but he should emerge as one of the top position prospects in a 2010 draft after a year of junior college.
James Paxton, lhp, Blue Jays (supplemental first round).
Toronto signed first-rounder Chad Jenkins but failed to land its next three picks: Paxton, Jake Eliopoulos (second round) and Jake Barrett (third). Paxton, a Canadian who had as much pure stuff as any college lefty in the draft, came off his $1.5 million asking price and was willing to sign for $1.35 million, just under Jenkins' $1.359 million bonus. The Blue Jays wouldn't come up from $1 million.
Kenny Diekroeger, ss, Rays (second round).
Diekroeger wowed with his athleticism at the 2008 Area Code Games, but he missed time this spring due to basketball and a knee injury. Most teams considered him unsignable due to a commitment to Stanford, but Tampa Bay gambled otherwise. The Rays did spend a combined $2.985 million to sign Todd Glaesmann (third round), Bailey (fourth), Jeff Malm (fifth) and Kevin James (ninth), but not signing their top two picks left a hole in their draft.
Bryan Morgado, lhp, White Sox (third round).
Chicago rarely strays from MLB's guidelines, and was even less inclined to do so after taking on $117 million in contracts after adding Jake Peavy and Alexis Rios for the stretch drive. That cost the White Sox the chance to sign sophomore-eligible Morgado, who's erratic but showed an electric arm in the Cape Cod League. He'll return to Tennessee but might have signed for an additional $200,000 on top of MLB's $319,500 value at slot No. 102.
Aaron Crow, rhp, Royals (No. 12 overall).
Crow and the Nationals couldn't find a compromise between $3.5 million and $4 million in 2008 after Washington selected him ninth overall. He still hasn't signed, in part because MLB and the union agreed that the deadline wouldn't apply to players drafted out of independent leagues in what otherwise could have been their college senior season. The goal now is to get him signed in time for him to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, and he could come away with a deal worth more than he turned down last year.
Tanner Scheppers, rhp, Rangers (supplemental first round).
In addition to missing out on Purke, Texas still hasn't signed its next choice. It's unclear when that might happen, because major concerns about Scheppers' health have persisted since a May 2008 shoulder injury knocked him out of the top half of 2008's first round. The Rangers may not want to exceed MLB's $776,700 guideline for the No. 44 slot, and the commissioner's office won't be happy if they do.