Image credit: Dylan Crews (Photo by Diamond Images/Getty Images)
With the 2023 signing bonus deadline behind us, it’s time to get into the numbers and see how teams financially navigated the 2023 draft.
Baseball’s draft is unique compared to other sports because of the bonus pool system (which you can read more about here, if you are not familiar with it) which creates more options to creatively assemble talent and navigate a draft board. As we talked about when looking at the top 100 bonuses in the draft, going first doesn’t always mean a player is perceived as “better.”
Following the money is always the smart move.
First, let’s look at which teams maximized their spending and which left money on the table. Below is a chart that shows actual signing bonus money compared to available bonus pool money available, as well as what percentage of that pool (overage) was used.
Note that the “total signing bonus” figure is simply the amount spent that counts toward the pool, not a total of the actual signing bonuses agreed upon with players. For example, the Blue Jays spent $6,856,185 against their pool, which doesn’t include bonuses after the 10th round up to $150,000. If you totaled the actual signing bonuses for the Blue Jays among the top 20 rounds (not counting any NDFA deals) you would get a figure of $7,856,185.
This table is specifically looking at money spent toward the pool, to see which teams were the most efficient in maximizing the money they had available to spend.
|Team||Total Signing Bonus||Total Bonus Pool $||Overage %|
|Chicago White Sox||$9,517,800||$9,072,800||1.049|
|Los Angeles Angels||$8,730,225||$8,328,900||1.048|
|New York Mets||$8,844,850||$8,440,400||1.048|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||$7,533,000||$7,274,600||1.036|
|New York Yankees||$5,470,900||$5,299,400||1.032|
In the bonus pool era, no team has ever gone above the 5% overage threshold that triggers pick loss penalties. Under the current system, teams that spend between 0-5% over their bonus pool pay a 75% tax on the overage. Once you go beyond the 5% mark, you lose draft picks. If you exceed the bonus pool from 5-10% you lose a first-round pick and pay a 75% tax on the overage; if you exceed the bonus pool from 10-15% you lose a first-rounder, a second-rounder and pay a 100% tax on the overage; if you exceed the bonus pool beyond 15% you lose two first-rounders and pay a 100% tax on the overage.
No clubs have ever exceeded the 5% overage mark in the bonus pool era, which goes back to the 2012 draft. The industry has collectively decided that pick loss penalties are too costly.
Simultaneously, most of the industry has also decided that a 0-5% overage is a smart way to navigate the draft. Twenty two teams spent more than 100% of their bonus pool in the 2023 draft and seven went up to the full 5% overage mark: the Blue Jays, the Brewers, the Cubs, the Padres, the Reds, the Guardians and the Rangers.
Three teams spent exactly their bonus pool: the Twins, the Rays and the Orioles.
Five teams didn’t spend their full bonus pool: the Rockies, the Marlins, the D-backs, the Pirates and the Mariners.
Four teams have spent more than their total bonus pool in each year of the bonus pool era: the Cardinals, the Cubs, the Dodgers and the Giants. Two teams have never spent more than their available bonus pool: the Twins and the Rockies.
It’s notable to see both the Pirates and the Mariners at the bottom of the overage% table, as both teams had extra picks and large bonus pools to work with. With the highest total bonus pool to start with, the Pirates also had the most ability to stretch their available money by going to the full 5% overage mark, which would have effectively taken their bonus pool from $16,185,700 to $16,994,985. Instead, the Pirates spent just $15,873,300 against the pool, which is $1,121,685 less than what they could have spent without going over the 5% threshold and $312,400 less than they could have spent if they simply spent to their bonus pool.
While the Pirates left the most money on the table in terms of spending power, the Mariners—who had three picks among the first 30 selections—used the lowest percentage of their total bonus pool, spending just $12,865,500 of a $13,170,900 pool, a 97.7% mark. If the Mariners instead went to the full 5% overage, they could have spent $13,829,445, or $963,945 more than they did.
The money left on the table between the Pirates and the Mariners (roughly $950,000-$1.1 million) is in the range of the Nos. 80-86 overall bonuses in the 2023 class received:
- RHP Cade Kuehler, Braves second-round comp pick ($1,045,000)
- RHP Juaron Watts-Brown, Blue Jays third-round pick ($1,002,785)
- RHP Cole Miller, A’s fourth-round pick ($1,000,000)
- OF George Wolkow, White Sox seventh-round pick ($1,000,000)
- SS Alex Mooney, Guardians seventh-round pick ($1,000,000)
- RHP Barrett Kent, Angels eighth-round pick ($997,500)
- RHP Andrew Walters, Guardians second supplemental-round pick ($955,275)
The First Round
In 2023 there were 28 traditional first-round picks. Both the Mets and the Dodgers had their first-round picks dropped 10 spots after exceeding luxury tax thresholds, so for this next section, we will only be looking at the first 28 picks to see how teams operated at the top of the draft.
|Pick||Team||Player||Level||Slot Value||Signing Bonus||Over/Under|
Teams spent a total of $132,546,300 on the first 28 picks, which accounts for 37.86% of the total signing bonuses among all drafted players—$350,089,060, which is a new record for total draft spending
Despite that sum, a majority of players selected in the first round did so and signed for under-slot deals. Seventeen players signed to under-slot deals, five players signed for exactly slot value and six players signed for over-slot deals.
Four of the six players who signed for over-slot deals came from the high school ranks, presumably given the increased leverage these players and their agents have at their disposal compared to their college peers (we’ll get into more of this later).
Unsurprisingly, the largest deal cuts came from players selected inside the top 10 picks, where there were more savings to be had thanks to larger slot valuations for the top picks in the draft. The A’s and the Royals both saved more than a million dollars in pool money by taking Jacob Wilson and Blake Mitchell at picks No. 6 and 8, respectively—the biggest under-slot deals in the first round. Still, a few teams picking in the 20s landed significant savings, most notably the Guardians saving $880,900 with Ralphy Velazquez at No. 23 and the Blue Jays saving $746,000 with Arjun Nimmala at pick No. 20.
Overall, MLB teams picking among the first 28 picks locked in $9.7 million in savings toward the bonus pool with their first overall selections.
Below we’ll look into a few different common financial strategies that teams typically employ, and see which organizations fell into which camps this year.
Save Early, Spend Later
D-backs, Reds, White Sox, Dodgers, Angels, A’s, Pirates, Padres, Rays
This is one of the most common draft strategies in the league and was the most prominent in terms of the number of teams who used it.
The D-backs saved $643,800 with first-rounder Tommy Troy and largely put all of that money toward lefthander Grayson Hitt, who they signed to a $602,500 deal in the fourth round.
The Reds secured under-slot deals with their first three college players, with a combined savings of $1,110,400 on Rhett Lowder, Ty Floyd and Hunter Hollan, with those savings primarily going toward over-slot deals to Samuel Stafura ($499,300 over slot) and Cole Schoenwetter ($1,257,200 over slot).
The White Sox saved big on first-rounder Jacob Gonzalez ($588,600), gave Grant Taylor the slot amount in the second round and then saved a bit on third-rounder Seth Keener ($33,900). Chicago waited until the seventh round to put most of those savings to use, with a $751,700 over-slot deal to outfielder George Wolkow.
The Dodgers saved $515,200 with Kendall George with the No. 36 pick and then spread that money around to players throughout day two, to three players in particular: fourth-rounder Wyatt Crowell ($130,700 over slot), sixth-rounder Bryan Gonzalez Garcia ($107,400 over slot) and eighth-rounder Jaron Elkins ($218,200 over slot).
The Angels gave first-rounder Nolan Schanuel full slot with the 11th overall pick, but they saved $296,375 with their next five players to give eighth-rounder Barrett Kent a $791,000 over-slot deal. The team also saved $340,800 on a pair of senior signs in rounds nine and 10 to make the match work: Ninth-rounder Chase Gockel and 10th-rounder Chris Barraza signed for just $8,500 combined.
The A’s got massive savings by signing No. 6 overall pick Jacob Wilson to $1,134,000 below slot to start off their draft, then they added $394,900 more with an under-slot deal to second-rounder Ryan Lasko. The bulk of the team’s savings went to third-rounder Steven Echavarria, who signed for a $1,994,300 over slot deal.
While the Pirates did sign first overall pick Paul Skenes to a record-setting $9.2 million deal, they still saved $521,000 with his pick, then added $398,400 more on an under-slot deal with second-rounder Mitch Jebb. Pittsburgh’s big over-slot signing was supplemental second-rounder Zander Mueth, who inked a $669,300 over-slot deal.
The Padres signed fourth-rounder Homer Bush to a slot deal, but otherwise the team’s top five picks were all money-saving deals. The team saved a combined $602,600 with under-slot deals for Dillon Head, JanDaniel Gonzalez, Jay Beshears and Tucker Musgrove and put most of that money to eighth-rounder Kannon Kemp, who signed to a $436,200 over-slot deal.
The Rays saved big on supplemental first-rounder Adrian Santana ($667,650) but combined to save $903,450 with their first five picks. The big over-slot deal for the Rays this year was fifth-rounder Trevor Harrison, who signed to a $458,600 over-slot deal, though Tampa Bay also signed 12th-rounder Garrett Edwards to a big day three contract, of which $349,850 counted against the pool.
Spend Early, Save Later
Mariners, Giants, Rangers, Nationals
It’s more rare to see teams going for big over-slot deals early and saving money later to pay for them, but these four teams employed that strategy in 2023.
The Mariners aggressively targeted high school players who came with big price tags early in the draft and their first two picks—Colt Emerson and Jonny Farmelo—both signed over-slot deals and combined to go $702,700 over slot. Seattle also signed fourth-rounder Aidan Smith to a $668,700 over-slot deal in the fourth round, which meant every other pick Seattle made signed to an under-slot deal—and the team didn’t surpass the $150,000 mark for a single player on day three. Their biggest savings came from second-rounder Ben Williamson, who inked an $836,500 under-slot deal.
The Giants did sign first-rounder Bryce Eldridge to an under-slot deal ($329,100), but they had to spend big to sign shortstop Walker Martin in the second round—$1,376,700 over slot, which was the fourth-largest over-slot deal in the draft. Every four-year player the Giants selected after Martin then signed to an under-slot deal, and San Francisco added big savings with a pair of senior signings in rounds nine and 10: $249,700 between Charlie Szykowny and Ryan Vanderhei.
It could have made a lot of sense for the Rangers to cut a deal with the fourth pick and spread a relatively small bonus pool around to try and make up for having no second- and third-round picks. Instead the Rangers just took the best player on the board and signed him to a $302,000 over-slot deal to get it done. The team didn’t have too many big savings pieces to make it happen, instead going to the full 5% overage of their bonus pool. Texas had just three under-slot deals: fourth-rounder Skylar Hales, seventh-rounder Izack Tiger and 10th-rounder Case Matter—all of whom totaled just $157,300 in savings.
The Nationals were the epitome of the spend early, save later strategy in 2023. They went slightly over slot for Dylan Crews ($1,500) with the second overall pick to get him to a clean $9 million bonus and then went crazy on second-rounder Yohandy Morales ($455,300 over slot) and third-rounder Travis Sykora ($1,578,700 over slot). Six of the next seven picks Washington had among the top 10 rounds were spent on senior signs, and even junior Marcus Brown signed for an under-slot deal. The team combined for $1,387,900 in savings between their fourth- and 10th-round picks.
Relatively Straight Up
Orioles, Cubs, Rockies, Mets, Yankees, Cardinals, Phillies
These teams didn’t have any significant financial creativity that stood out in their draft classes, for the most part.
The Orioles gave first-rounder Enrique Bradfield the full slot value at pick No. 17, then took a slight discount with Mac Horvath in the second ($182,900 under slot) and handed out their biggest over-slot deal with Jackson Baumeister ($361,800) in the supplemental second round. The Orioles had just one senior sign late who saved them more than $100,000 with Zachary Fruit in the ninth round—otherwise the team made up its needed savings to not exceed its bonus pool by taking slight under-slot deals throughout rounds 3-8, with a combined $341,800 on those seven picks.
The Cubs signed first-rounder Matt Shaw for slot at pick No. 13 and handed out two deals that dug into the bonus pool for an extra $150,000 or more (comp second-rounder Jaxon Wiggins and 11th-rounder Zyhir Hope) but otherwise played things relatively straight up. Third-rounder Josh Rivera was technically a senior, but he was a priority senior who many teams liked and thus signed for just $147,400 under slot at pick No. 81.
The Rockies had a fairly balanced draft financially. First-rounder Chase Dollander signed for exactly slot value at pick No. 9, as did fifth-rounder Kyle Karros at No. 145. Second-rounder Sean Sullivan being signed for $168,400 under slot essentially paid for sixth-rounder Cade Denton’s $163,300 deal and the Rockies made up money for slight overages to supplemental second-rounder Cole Carrigg ($115,900 over slot) and 12th-rounder Bryson Hammer ($50,000 towards the pool) by saving marginally in the third, fourth, seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th rounds.
The Mets went slightly over slot ($142,500) to sign Colin Houck with the 32nd overall pick, then went straight up with each of their next three college signees. After that, the Mets had reasonable over-slot deals with fourth-round comp pick AJ Ewing ($192,000) and eighth-rounder Boston Baro ($507,100) and primarily made up that cost with $369,100 in savings between college players Austin Troesser, Nick Lorusso and Christian Pregent—as well as being fine going 4.8% over their bonus pool.
The Yankees gave slight over-slot deals to first-rounder George Lombard Jr. ($235,000) and fourth-rounder Roc Riggio ($186,200) but didn’t have the sort of bonus pool to get too creative in the draft, leaving them with a straightforward, straight up strategy. Most of the savings the team got were thanks to senior signs in the ninth and 10th rounds with Jared Wegner ($100,600 under slot) and Brian Hendry ($116,900).
Perhaps no team in 2023 played things as straight up as the Cardinals did. They signed four of their first 10 picks to slot deals (Chase Davis, Zach Levenson, Jason Savacool, Charles Harrison) and the furthest away from slot they got on any deal was going under by $59,600 with third-rounder Travis Honeyman and over by $58,300 on fourth-rounder Quinn Mathews. It’s worth noting the Cardinals did use $100,000 of their pool on 14th-rounder Jacob Odle, who signed a $250,000 day three deal.
The Phillies feel like a “best player available” team and their 2023 draft board backs that up. They signed Aidan Miller at pick No. 27 and were one of just six clubs to hand out an over-slot deal in the first round, going $131,200 over slot value for Miller. Beyond that, there weren’t any significant over- or under-slot deals to speak of, until you get to the 11th round when the Phillies decided to use $247,500 of their pool to ink Kehden Hettiger to the fifth-largest day three deal of the draft.
Balance Up Top
Guardians, Tigers, Marlins, Blue Jays
Each of these teams could easily fall into the “save early, spend later” bucket, but the primary difference to me seems to be that their first pick essentially paid for their next one.
The Guardians consistently seem to spread their pool money around, and they did so in 2023 by saving $880,900 on Ralphy Velazquez in the first round, with those savings essentially going directly to second-rounder Alex Clemmey, who signed for an $897,400 deal right behind him. Cleveland then saved a combined $469,925 on its next three picks—two college juniors and a college senior—which made up the bulk of the savings to sign draft-eligible sophomore Alex Mooney ($768,700 over slot) in the seventh round.
The Tigers secured the largest under-slot deal among the top five picks when they signed Max Clark to a deal that was $644,200 under slot. Those savings went to securing supplemental first-rounder Kevin McGonigle to a $538,000 over-slot deal one pick later, then Detroit basically doubled down with the strategy from there. The team signed second-rounder Max Anderson to a $476,550 under-slot deal and then signed third-rounder Paul Wilson to a $752,400 over-slot deal right after.
Getting Noble Meyer signed to a $975,300 under-slot deal at pick No. 10 seems like one of the best values in the class based on the BA draft board, but it also helped the Marlins push the top-ranked lefthander, Thomas White, down to their next pick at No. 35 and sign him to a deal that was $1,679,100 over slot. The Marlins chose not to go into the 5% overage, which meant the team still needed to secure a combined $766,000 with its next seven picks to make the money work.
The Blue Jays secured one of the larger under-slot deals in the first round when they signed Arjun Nimmala ($746,000 under slot) at pick No. 20. The team split those savings into their next two players with third-rounder Juaron Watts-Brown ($231,285 over slot) and fourth-rounder Landen Maroudis ($952,900 over slot), though going fully up to the 5% overage was necessary as well.
Aggressive Savings With Seniors
Braves, Red Sox, Astros, Angels, Brewers, Nationals
Every year all teams exploit the lack of leverage that college seniors have in order to make their finances work for higher-priority players elsewhere. Keep in mind, however, that each of these players understands what they are signing for before the pick is made. For the seniors, it’s a shot at pro ball they might not get if they pass on it, and for teams it’s an extremely useful financial tool. Here are the teams most aggressive in targeting senior signs in 2023.
There were only two bonuses of $1,000 handed out to drafted players this year and the Braves were responsible for one of them. The team collectively saved $432,900 with three seniors in rounds 8-10 with both Cory Wall and Riley Gowens signing for $47,500 apiece and Pier-Olivier Boucher signing for $1,000.
Like the Braves, the Red Sox also saved more than $100,000 on three different seniors and signed sixth-rounder CJ Weins, eighth-rounder Trennor O’Donnell and 10th-rounder Ryan Ammons to $50,000 deals each. Combined, the team saved $539,100 in pool money between the three players.
The Astros’ aggression into senior signs was a bit different than most teams on this list, as they seemed to target priority seniors who had more market value and came with significantly fewer cost savings. Fourth-rounder Cameron Fisher, for example, is a senior and added savings with an under-slot deal, but the $100 the Astros saved by signing him for $497,500 is almost not worth mentioning. Additionally, the Astros selected Ryan Johnson and Jeron Williams in the eighth and ninth rounds, but the two players signed for $97,500 and $147,500, respectively, bringing a combined $114,000 in pool savings. Tenth-rounder Austin Deming ($156,900) was a legitimate cost-saving senior sign, and taking senior Jake Bloss in the third round meant the team handed him a sizable $497,500 bonus, but was still able to secure $181,000 in savings toward the pool.
The Angels are a borderline case here, as they signed just two seniors among the top 10 rounds, but handing out one of two $1,000 deals for drafted players gets them into this bucket. The team signed ninth-rounder Chase Gockel for $1,000 and saved $179,300 toward the pool and then signed 10th-rounder Chris Barraza for $7,500 to save $161,500 toward the pool.
The Brewers were one of the most aggressive teams in targeting seniors in the second half of day two. Perhaps only the Nationals could claim a more aggressive strategy here. The team selected seniors with each of their picks in rounds 7-10 and secured around $150,000 or more on each player, for cumulative savings of $655,100 toward the pool. Seventh-rounder Tate Kuehner signed for $72,500 ($169,900 under slot), eighth-rounder Craig Yoho signed for $10,000 ($186,700 under slot), ninth-rounder Mark Manfredi signed for $27,500 ($149,200 under slot) and 10th-rounder Austin Morris signed for $17,500 ($149,300 under slot).
As mentioned previously, the Nationals were one of the most top-heavy teams in the 2023 draft and to make their early over-slot deals work, they drafted six seniors among their final seven selections of day two. Fourth-rounder Andrew Pinckney was a priority senior sign who inked a $500,000 bonus, though that still created $160,000 in savings toward the pool. After that, the Nationals signed their 6-10 round players (Gavin Dugas, Ryan Snell, Jared Simpson, Thomas Schultz and Phillip Glasser) each to $20,000 deals, which gave the Nationals a total of $1,113,500 in savings toward the pool.
Day Three Bandits
Brewers, Padres, Royals, Tigers
From rounds 11-20, signing bonuses of up to $150,000 don’t count against teams’ bonus pools. You can hand out larger deals, but anything beyond $150,000 will come out of the bonus pool. For that reason, many teams will try to get higher priority players to slide to day three, so they can “save” $150,000 on their deal. There’s also no risk of not signing players on day three, because you don’t lose any associated pool money if you don’t sign them. Additionally, college players in this range who sign are typically viewed as better talents than senior signs who sign for far less than $150,000 at the end of the second day of the draft.
The Brewers were aggressive with college seniors and presumably took that strategy so they could be equally aggressive on day three. No team spent more toward its bonus pool on the third day of the draft than Milwaukee, who in total needed to tap its pool for $1,300,600 for day three bonuses. The team signed 11th-rounder Bishop Letson for $482,600, 12th-rounder Bjorn Johnson for $420,500 and handed out the second-largest day three bonus when it signed 20th-rounder Justin Chambers to a $547,500 deal. Additionally, the team signed 14th-rounder Hayden Robinson to a $347,500 deal and 15th-rounder Josh Adamczewski to a $252,500 deal.
After the Brewers, the Padres were the most notorious day three bandits in 2023. The team spent $625,000 from its pool on day three bonuses and largely did its work early on day three: 11th-rounder Carson Montgomery signed for $200,000, 12th-rounder Blake Dickerson signed for $500,000 and 13th-rounder Dane Lais signed for $350,000. The only other bonus greater than $150,000 on the third day for the Padres went to 19th-rounder Adler Cecil, who signed for $175,000.
The Royals were one of just three teams to spend $500,000 or more from the pool on the third day of the draft, and in total used $570,000 worth of overages. While our first two teams in this category spread money around to a small group of players, the Royals spent it on just two: 11th-rounder Jared Dickey was one of the best players available entering the third day and he commanded the largest day three bonus of the 2023 draft when he signed for $572,500. After that, 12th-rounder Logan Martin signed for $297,500 and the remaining day three signings for the Royals were $150,000 deals or less.
The Tigers were the fourth and final team to spend at least $500,000 from their pool on the third day, and in total used $537,500 in overages. Like the Brewers and Padres, the Tigers elected to spread that money around and signed 11th-rounder Jim Jarvis ($175,000), 12th-rounder Andrew Dunford ($367,500), 13th-rounder Brett Callahan ($197,500) and 15th-rounder Brady Cerkownyk ($397,500) to big deals on the third day.
Facts & Figures
Just one player selected among the top 10 rounds did not sign this year: Cardinals 10th-rounder Caden Kendle. That means 99.68% of the players selected among the top 10 rounds (313 of 314) signed. It’s hugely important for teams to have their signability nailed inside this range, as teams lose the pool money associated with a pick if they don’t sign the player. From 2012-2023, there have been 3,648 players selected inside the top 10 rounds and just 46 have not signed in that range—a 98.7% overall signing rate.
Of the 614 drafted players, 567 signed (92.3%). Of players who signed, here is the breakdown based on school source:
- Four-Year Colleges: 76.72% (435)
- High Schools: 16.75% (95)
- Junior Colleges: 6.53% (37)
Below are the total signing bonus dollars broken down by source:
- 4YR: $211,140,210
- HS: $131,004,350
- JC: $7,944,500
Below are the average signing bonus dollars broken down by source:
- 4YR: $485,380
- HS: $1,378,993
- JC: $214,716
Below are the median signing bonus dollars broken down by source:
- 4YR: $150,000
- HS: $700,000
- JC: $150,000
Below are the average signing bonus dollars broken down into sub-categories of source:
- HS: $1,378,993
- SO: $791,873
- JR: $651,683
- J1: $329,938
- J3: $189,643
- J2: $180,795
- SR: $170,452
- GR: $86,857
- 5S: $64,896
Below are the median signing bonus dollars broken down into sub-categories of source:
- HS: $700,000
- SO: $492,700
- J1: $273,750
- JR: $200,000
- SR: $150,000
- J3: $150,000
- J2: $150,000
- GR: $48,750
- 5S: $47,500