After Tweeting yesterday that I could envision just one more first-round pick signing before the day of the Aug. 15 deadline, I ate those words today.
The Athletics signed Vanderbilt righthander Sonny Gray, the 18th overall pick, for a slightly above-slot $1.54 million bonus. Shortly afterward, the Diamondbacks landed UCLA righthander Trevor Bauer, the No. 3 overall choice. Bauer received a four-year big league contract potentially worth slightly more than $7 million, though the specifics of the deal are unknown at this time.
Despite today's activity, I still expect slow going until Aug. 15. Teams are going to obliterate the draft bonus spending record of $195.8 million set last year, and MLB will want to keep those deals quiet as long as possible.
Though Lincecum dominated college hitters for three seasons at Washington—he went 30-13, 2.82 and set a Pacific-10 Conference record with 491 strikeouts—scouts were somewhat leery of his size and unusual mechanics. He was eligible for the 2005 draft as a 21-year-old sophomore, but no one thought he was worth his $1 million asking price and he fell to the 42nd round. The Indians offered him $700,000 that summer after he led the Cape Cod League with a 0.69 ERA, but he turned them down.
Lincecum was better than ever in 2006, leading NCAA Division I with 199 strikeouts in 125 innings. He pitched at 94-96 mph and repeatedly hit 98 with his fastball all spring, and one veteran scout said he'd never seen any college pitcher get as many called third strikes with his curve. Yet teams still weren't fully sold on him, and he lasted until the Giants stole him with the 10th overall pick. If the 2006 draft were redone today, Evan Longoria would be the only player who could even challenge Lincecum as the No. 1 choice.
Bauer had a similarly dominant college career, finishing second to Lincecum on the all-time Pac-10 strikeout list (460 in 373 innings) while going 34-8, 2.36. Some scouts expressed concerns about his workload, delivery, long-toss regimen and some of his ideas about pitching, but he still didn't get past the Diamondbacks and the No. 3 pick in an exceptionally deep first round. If Arizona hadn't taken him, the Orioles or Royals would have pounced with one of the next two choices.
I definitely think Lincecum made it easier for a club to select Bauer earlier in the draft. After eight teams rued passing on Lincecum because he didn't fit a typical scouting blueprint, clubs weren't going to make the same mistake with Bauer.
That I can do (see below). The median, which represents the midpoint in a given range, better illustrates the most common bonus in a round than the average does.
|Signing Bonuses, 2010 Draft|
When the draft was created in 1965, rules mandated that teams had to make an offer (verbal or written, informal or formal) within 15 days of selecting a player. In 1990, the rule was changed to require teams to tender a uniform major or minor league contract within 15 days. However, some clubs were unaware of the change and others didn't think it would be enforced, and only the Dodgers adhered to the letter of the law.
Fast forward to the 1995-96 offseason, when the Angels inadvertently offered Brian Anderson a contract that cut his salary more than was permitted under MLB rules. That could have made Anderson a free agent, though he allowed the Angels to trade him to the Indians, his hometown team.
In the aftermath of the Anderson snafu, negotiators for the owners and players discussed a rule that would alleviate invalid contract offers in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. That led to talk of other tender rules, such as the draft's. Union lawyers brought that rule to the attention of several agents who specialized in the draft.
The first player to file a grievance over the rule was Bobby Seay, the 12th overall pick in the 1996 draft. Seay, who sought a $2 million bonus, contended that the White Sox didn't offer him a written contract in the proper time period and asked MLB to investigate. Before the matter was decided, Chicago voluntarily relinquished its rights to Seay and MLB declared him a free agent.
Eventually, six other players filed similar complaints: Lee (No. 2 overall, Twins), Braden Looper (No. 3, Cardinals), John Patterson (No. 5, Expos), White (No. 7, Giants), Eric Milton (No. 20, Yankees) and A.J. Hinch (third round, Athletics). Looper, Milton and Hinch signed in advance of a ruling by MLB's Executive Council, which declared Lee, Patterson and White free agents.
Kris Benson was the consensus top prospect in the 1996 draft, and the Pirates gave him a draft-record $2 million bonus after selecting him No. 1 overall. That bonus was dwarfed by those of White ($10.2 million, Devil Rays), Lee ($10 million, Diamondbacks), Patterson ($6.075 million, Diamondbacks) and Seay ($3 million, Devil Rays). While Arizona and Tampa Bay were expansion teams looking to make a splash, the disparity in bonuses also shows the difference between the draft and the free-agent market.