Draft Deals Come Down To The Wire
Deric Ladnier came to grips with the unique nature of the first Aug. 15 signing deadline for draft picks as the day's end approached.
"It was a long day, a long few days," said Ladnier, the Royals' scouting director, shortly after the 11:59 p.m. Eastern deadline had passed. "It has been an emotional roller coaster.
"The reality really slapped me in the face when I saw that clock ticking on Baseball America."
Wednesday's deadline, documented by an online clock ominously counting down the seconds at baseballamerica.com, was a new reality for teams, players and agents. Ladnier checked how much time he had to sign California high school third baseman Mike Moustakas (the No. 2 overall pick) as he drove to Newport Beach, Calif.--where the Scott Boras Corporation is headquartered--after attending the Aflac All-American Classic high school event in San Diego over the weekend. Andrew Friedman, executive vice president of the Devil Rays, delayed a scheduled trip to check in on the Rays' Triple-A Durham farm club as he tried to wrap up negotiations from Florida with Vanderbilt lefthander David Price, the No. 1 overall choice.
The tension may have been thickest Baltimore, where Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail was in a figurative staredown with Boras and Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters (the No. 5 selection), who was back on campus and threatening to go back into the 2008 draft.
The new deadline made for great blogging and great theater. What's debatable is whether or not it made the draft process any better.
"I think the deadline helped, but it's also natural that things would gravitate toward the deadline," said Friedman, whose Rays could hold the No. 1 overall pick again in 2008. "We knew it was going to be expensive. And we knew it was going to wind up close to the deadline."
Price agreed to terms about six hours before the cutoff, signing a six-year major league contract that included a $5.6 million bonus and $8.25 million in guaranteed money, with incentives that could drive the total value to $11.25 million. Moustakas and Wieters cut their deals far closer to the deadline.
After holding out for a reported $7 million, Moustakas agreed to a $4 million bonus with 10 minutes to go. Three minutes before the deadline, the Orioles still were uncertain whether Wieters would accept a $6 million bonus, the second-largest in draft history. He did after reportedly seeking an major league deal worth more than $10 million.
"We all knew there would be a lot of last-minute signings," Ladnier said. "I think we all knew there could be some sort of frenzy on the final day, but it's better to not have all the signings spread out through the fall and spring."
MLB designed the deadline to theoretically give some leverage to clubs by limiting extended holdouts. The commissioner's office also reduced its bonus recommendations for each slot in the first five rounds by 10 percent across the board, with the anticipated effect of reducing bonuses.
The opposite occurred, however. There were 184 picks in the first five rounds in 2007, and 171 of them signed, receiving an average bonus of $685,328. Last year, 179 of the first 184 picks agreed to terms, getting an average bonus of $662,531. So despite the 10 percent reduction in slots, the bonuses rose 3 percent.
The increase was even more pronounced in the first round. This year's top 30 picks signed for an average of $2,098,083, up 9 percent from 2006 ($1,933,333). The 2007 average is the third-highest ever, trailing 2001 ($2,154,280) and 2002 ($2,106,793).
Several of the above-slot deals were done weeks before the deadline, but teams were reluctant to make them official. MLB can't really punish any that don't toe the line, but no club wanted to be the first to draw the ire of the commissioner's office.
The deal that got the ball rolling belonged to New Jersey prep righthander Rick Porcello, who was rated the second-best pitcher in the draft behind only Price. Porcello fell to the Tigers at No. 27 because of signability concerns that proved well-founded.
On Aug. 13, word came out that Porcello would get a $7 million major league deal (including a $3.58 million bonus), matching the record for the biggest guarantee ever given a high school draftee, set by Josh Beckett in 1999. Boras had set Beckett as his target for the Porcello contract and proved that even with the deadline and MLB's focus on reducing bonuses, he could deliver.
Before Porcello's deal, the most anyone had gone above slot in the first round was $170,000 by Georgia high school outfielder Jason Heyward, whom the Braves drafted at No. 14. Heyward signed for $1.7 million, getting the 2006 value for his draft slot in what became a trend for late-signing mid-first-round picks.
"It's like with the price of gas," one agent grumbled during the process. "People see the price go up to $3 and get all whiny, and then the price comes down to $2.65 and everyone gets so excited. That's what signing for last year's slot is like."
Those deals became an afterthought in a way as four of the top five picks grappled with the repercussions of Porcello's deal with the Tigers. So did the final choice in the first round.
North Carolina State righthander Andrew Brackman entered 2007 as the second-rated college pitcher behind Price, but an elbow injury and signability concerns (he's another Boras client) caused him to drop to the Yankees at No. 30.
Nevertheless, on the afternoon of Aug. 15, Brackman signed a deal that stunned industry insiders. While his $3.35 million bonus wasn't a surprise, he got a major league contract that guarantees him $4.55 million. Most shocking of all for a former college basketball player who pitched just 149 innings for the Wolfpack and needs Tommy John surgery, his deal includes roster bonuses and club options that could drive its total value over seven years to $13 million--making it potentially the most lucrative contract in draft history.
Friedman conceded that the Porcello and Brackman contracts had an impact on Price's deal. "I'd by lying if I said it didn't have any effect on negotiations," Friedman said.
Both the Yankees and Tigers continued to splurge beyond the first round. New York followed the Brackman announcement by signing five more picks for a combined $3.5 million, including Texas third baseman Brad Suttle for $1.3 million, a record for the fourth round, and Louisiana prep shortstop Carmen Angelini for $1 million, the second-largest bonus ever in the 10th round.
Detroit set a short-lived sixth-round record with a $1.4975 bonus to Alabama shortstop Cale Iorg, and also gave Illinois prep lefty Casey Crosby $748,500 in the fifth round. Crosby's bonus is spread out over five years under MLB provisions for two-sport athletes, as he was a star high school wide receiver.
Sneaking somewhat under the radar were the Nationals, who signed Georgia high school lefty Josh Smoker for an above-slot $1 million as the first pick in the supplemental first round. Washington then stunned the industry with a last-minute deal with Massachusetts prep lefty Jack McGeary. McGeary eclipsed Iorg's sixth-round record with a $1.8 million bonus, and the Nationals will pay for him to attend Stanford as a full-time student and play baseball only in the summer until he graduates.