For the fifth year in a row, Major League Baseball tried to clamp down on draft bonuses . . . and for the fifth year in a row, teams spent big money anyway.
Entering the final hour before the midnight ET signing deadline, 22 out of 33 first-round picks had not been signed—twice as many unsigned as last year at the same point. As expected, there was a flurry of activity right at the deadline and, in the end, teams dished out signing bonuses worth a total of $69.6 million to lock up 21 of the 22 unsigned first-round picks.
The money spent this year broke several draft-bonus records. Six draftees received bonuses of $5 million or more: first-rounders Gerrit Cole (No. 1, Pirates), Danny Hultzen (No. 2, Marlins), Bubba Starling (No. 5, Royals), Anthony Rendon (No. 6, Nationals) and Archie Bradley (No. 7, Diamondbacks), as well as second-rounder Josh Bell (Pirates). The previous high was four in 2008 and 2010.
Cole's $8 million is the largest bonus in draft history, surpassing the $7.5 million Stephen Strasburg got as part of a big league contract two years ago. Starling matched Strasburg, giving him the records for biggest bonus for a high schooler ($6.5 million by Jameson Taillon, 2010) and a position player ($6.25 million by Donavan Tate in 2009 and Bryce Harper in 2010), and for the largest guarantee for a prepster ($7 million by Josh Beckett in 1999 and Rick Porcello in 2007).
The biggest surprise of the night came when the Pirates signed Bell for $5 million. Bell had written a letter to the Major League Scouting Bureau before the draft to announce that he was dead-set on attending Texas. His bonus set a record for a player drafted outside the first round, eclipsing the previous mark by $2.25 million (Jason Young in 2000. The $13 million for Cole and Bell by themselves broke the record for bonus spending by one team in a single draft ($11,927,200 by the 2010 Nationals).
Washington also blew past its old mark by giving $11 million in bonuses to its first three picks (Rendon, Alex Meyer, Brian Goodwin) and a $4.15 million major league contract to third-rounder Matt Purke, who hadn't been expected to sign. Other huge deals outside of the first round included the Nationals inking sandwich pick Goodwin and the Padres signing second-rounder Austin Hedges for $3 million each, the Cubs giving 14th-rounder Dillon Maples $2.5 million and the Blue Jays snagging second-rounder Daniel Norris for $2 million.
The top player to not sign was Blue Jays first-rounder Tyler Beede (No. 21 overall), who opted to attend Vanderbilt. Padres supplemental first-rounder Brett Austin decided to attend North Carolina State, and Yankees second-rounder Sam Stafford decided to return to Texas.