D'Backs, Angels, get their men without panicking
by Jim Callis
Even while coming within minutes of the May 30 midnight Eastern signing deadline, Arizona and Los Angeles held firm to offers that had been on the table for months. In the end, Drew and Weaver decided to turn pro rather than take their chances in the 2005 draft.
They could have concluded their negotiations much earlier and gotten their careers underway. It's possible that they've delayed their major league free agency and cost themselves big league salary down the road.
But they didn't exactly lose out.
Weaver, BA's top-rated draft prospect a year ago, got the highest up-front bonus in the 2004 draft and the seventh-largest in draft history at $4 million. Drew, BA's top-ranked position player in the 2004 draft, signed a major league contract that guarantees him $5.5 million--the biggest deal in that draft and the eighth-largest in draft history. With easily attainable incentives, his pact could reach $7.5 million.
Though Boras didn't get his stated goals of Mark Prior money ($10.5 million) for Weaver or Mark Teixeira cash ($9.5 million) for Drew, he didn't get smoked either.
It may seem like he does, but Boras doesn't always get his way. In 1993, for instance, he sought $2.5 million for No. 1 overall pick Alex Rodriguez and filed an unsuccessful grievance when Rodriguez accepted a $1 million bonus as part of a $1.3 million big league contract. That year, Boras wanted a $2 million major league deal for No. 2 overall choice Darren Dreifort, who signed for a $1.3 million bonus.
The common thread in the Weaver, Drew, Rodriguez and Dreifort negotiations is that teams presented a unified front from the owner down to the scouting director, and they avoided bidding against themselves. When a club backs up to a deadline and panics about losing a player, it plays right into Boras' hands.
The best example of that came in 1991, when No. 1 overall pick Brien Taylor was hours away from attending classes at Louisburg (N.C.) Junior College. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner blinked and gave Taylor $1.55 million, nearly tripling the existing bonus record.
"You always have the owners or the general managers who want to sign his next major league free agent," a National League scouting director says. "They don't want to hold the line on the draft guys, and that's where it goes bad. People are afraid of antagonizing him, and Scott understands leverage better than anyone in the business."
Draft Changed In The 1990s
Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus often approach things from the opposite end of the tools-statistics spectrum.
In a recent study of the draft, BP's Rany Jazayerli discovered that despite the "Moneyball"-popularized belief that college draft picks yield more than their high school counterparts, any difference from the 1990s on has been minimal. While Jazayerli described this as "the most surprising conclusion I have ever reached in an analytical study," we weren't stunned because we came to same conclusion two years ago (BA, May 26-June 8, 2003).
College picks were spectacularly more productive than high schoolers in the 1980s. That advantage disappeared, however, as teams became more aggressive about signing prepsters and bonuses skyrocketed, making it easier to do so.
Arguably the two strongest drafts ever, in terms of talent, were 1985 and 1986. In 1985, 11 of the first 12 picks were collegians, six of whom had been taken in the first five rounds out of high school, among them B.J. Surhoff, Will Clark, Barry Larkin and Barry Bonds.
Bonds had turned down the Giants as a second-rounder in 1982, when he wanted a $66,000 bonus and San Francisco wouldn't budge past $60,000. That was emblematic of the take-it-or-leave-it approach teams often took with high school players.
That changed as clubs began realizing they were missing out on players who were blossoming into premium draft picks and then rocketing through the minors. We're at the point now where just six prepsters taken in the first 10 rounds of the 2004 draft failed to come to terms.
Signing bonuses also have become much more lucrative. From 1980-89, the average first-round bonus increased from $74,025 to $176,008. That figure rose to $918,018 by 1995, to $1,872,586 by 2000 and to $1,958,448 last year.
Other factors that have contributed to more players signing out of high school include: the increase in Major League Baseball's scholarship plan from $1,500 per semester to full tuition in 1988; NCAA cutbacks on scholarships, schedule length, coaching staffs and time allowed for participation after the 1989 season; and the improved development of young players by pro teams.
Now that players generally are signing when they're first identified as top talents, the high school crops look stronger than they did in the 1980s. If Bonds and Co. had passed up college back then, the high schools would have held their own earlier.
You can reach Alan Schwarz by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.