I attended the Under Armour All-America Baseball Game at Wrigley Field on Sunday, an enjoyable opportunity to see 36 of the nation's best high school prospects for the 2009 draft. Matt Blood, our showcase guru, thinks that Cartersville (Ga.) outfielder Donovan Tate will rank near the top of our new prep prospect list when he unveils it later this fall.
I think that means I'm getting old. When I attended the University of Georgia and covered the football team for the school newspaper, The Red and Black, one of the stars was running back Lars Tate, Donovan's father. Now he has a son who has a chance to be a first-round pick next year.
It's not just you, Dan. I spoke with an assistant scouting director at the Under Armour Game, and he told me that by his calculations, just four teams didn't sign a player for more than slot money. BA co-editor in chief Will Lingo crunched some numbers in a spreadsheet and found that in the top 172 picks this year (the first five rounds), there were 33 players who signed for bonuses that were 10 percent above slot, compared to 19 in 2007 and 17 in 2006. We don't have all the data yet, but I suspect that the over-slot deals after the fifth round significantly increased as well.
As for the second part of the question, let's break it into two groups, players selected in the first 10 rounds and those drafted later. I'll also call them "coups" rather than "bargains" because none of them came cheap:
Biggest Coups, First 10 Rounds
1. Tim Melville, rhp, Royals (fourth round, $1.25 million, No. 15 on BA Top 200)
Kansas City got arguably the best high school pitcher in the draft in the fourth round.
2. Brett Hunter, rhp, Athletics (seventh round, $1.1 million, No. 51 on BA Top 200)
Elbow problems kept him from being a possible top-10 pick, but he's a steal if healthy.
3. Ross Seaton, rhp, Astros (supp. third round, $700,000, No. 28 on BA Top 200)
Savvy deal: second-round cash for a first-round talent in the supplemental third round.
4. Robbie Grossman, of, Pirates (sixth round, $1 million, No. 49 on BA Top 200)
Athletic switch-hitter adds to Pittsburgh's burgeoning outfield talent.
5. Ryan Westmoreland, of, Red Sox (fifth round, $2 million, No. 113 on BA Top 200)
Boston was glad to pay for his athleticism and offensive potential.
Biggest Coups, Rounds 11-50
1. T.J. House, lhp, Indians (16th round, $750,000, No. 100 on BA Top 200)
Tulane commitment scared clubs away from his low-90s fastball and solid breaking stuff.
2. J.P. Ramirez, of, Nationals (15th round, $1 million, No. 155 on BA Top 200)
Best hitter in Texas this spring—college or prep—also jilted the Green Wave late.
3. Quinton Miller, rhp, Pirates (20th round, $900,000, No. 158 on BA Top 200)
He shows flashes of a low-90s fastball, plus slider and average changeup.
4. Dusty Coleman, ss, Athletics (28th round, $675,000, No. 185th on BA Top 200)
An all-star season in the Cape Cod League earned him second-round money.
5. Bryce Stowell, rhp, Indians (22nd round, $725,000, unranked on BA Top 200)
Ditto for Stowell, who made a case for being the best starter on the Cape this summer.
We're not going to see much change on this front. MLB thought adding a signing deadline would give extra leverage to teams, but that hasn't been the case. In fact, during the two years the deadline has been in place, agents have learned that the longer they wait, the more money a team is likely to pay. And with MLB not wanting to announce over-slot bonuses early in the summer in feat that they'll affect other negotiations, those deals usually come down to the wire, putting pressure on the team to sign the player. Of course, that pressure works both ways, as the player assumes a lot of risk if he decides to walk away from a seven-figure bonus.
What often happens is the agent and player set a price, and unless the club meets it, they'll wait until just before the deadline to let the team keep bidding against itself. If the team doesn't give in, the agent and player will then make a decision about whatever is on the table at that point. That's what happened with Alvarez, Hosmer and Posey, as well as with Matt Wieters in 2007—and while they may not have gotten every dollar they asked for, they did get the four largest up-front bonuses in draft history.
As for the big league deals going by the wayside, they were a casualty of waiting until the bitter end. Standard draft contracts can be voided for medical reasons for up to 90 days afterward, but major league pacts can't be voided after the fact. In most cases, a team isn't going to give a player a major league deal without a physical exam, so unless the two sides agree to make that happen while still negotiating, a last-second agreement will be for a straight bonus. Also remember, though, that much of the guaranteed salaries in a major league contract would have been earned as minimal major league salaries by the player any way, and a straight $6 million bonus is a good deal for the player no matter how you look at it.
In the end, players and their families should remember that the agents work for them and not the other way around. They can choose to ignore the agent's advice and sign, as Mike Moustakas did with the Royals in 2007. Even if they leave much of the negotiation and the decision-making to the agent, the player and family have to shoulder some of the blame if things go wrong.
A team that fails to sign a player in the first two rounds of the draft receives a compensation choice after the corresponding selection in the next year's draft. (An unsigned third-rounder yields a supplemental third-round pick). Assuming the Mariners sign No. 20 overall choice Joshua Fields, to whom the deadline didn't apply because he's a college senior with no remaining eligibility, there will be two unsigned first-rounders: Aaron Crow (Nationals, No. 9) and Cole.
The Nationals will get pick 9A, which will be No. 10 overall in the 2009 draft. The Yankees will get choice 28A, which will be No. 30 overall, following the 28 first-rounders and the Crow compensation choice.
Picks gained for failing to sign players are protected from free-agent compensation. New York wouldn't have to give up its choice for Cole, though it will relinquish its regular first-rounder for a Type A free agent. If the Yankees somehow were to finish in the bottom half of the major league standings, their first-rounder would be protected and they would surrender their second-rounder.