Image credit: Matthew Allan (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
The Mets did not pick at the top of the draft this year, and they didn’t have any extra picks. But thanks to an audacious move, the club decided to turn Day 2 of the draft into one massive effort to sign righthander Matthew Allan.
Allan was Baseball America’s top-ranked prep pitcher, coming in at No. 16 on BA’s Top 500 Draft Prospects list. He did not hear his named called on the first day of the draft because he did not find a team that was willing to meet his asking price, which has long been rumored to be around $4 million.
At the time, that looked to be the end of Allan’s flirtation with the 2019 draft. He was expected to enroll at Florida and had a chance to go completely undrafted, or as a late Day 3 selection, similar to Vanderbilt righthander Kumar Rocker a year ago.
The Orioles’ first pick of the third round carried a $780,400 slot value, meaning that any team trying to get anywhere close to $4 million would have to find more than $3.2 million in additional savings on their slot allotment to end up in the range of Allan’s asking price. With slots values only going down from the Orioles’ pick, it appeared difficult for any team to figure out a way to sign Allan on Day 2.
Eleven teams passed on Allan as expected, but with their first pick of the second day of the draft, the Mets selected him. By doing so, it set in motion a strategy that required turning the remainder of their Day 2 into a quest for low-cost seniors to make the money work.
The slot allotment for the Mets’ pick was $667,900. So consider that the down payment on an offer to Allan. Actually, teams are allowed to spend up to five percent over their allotment by paying a financial penalty.
Anything beyond five percent brings with it draft pick penalties, which is a line no team has ever been willing to broach. So the Mets could spend $701,295 on Allan’s slot without incurring any draft pick penalties.
It can be expected that the club will likely save some money on its first-round pick Brett Baty, who went 12th overall. He had a chance to slide further down in the first round, so New York may receive some savings to shift to Allan with that pick. And we will not know for a while how much second-rounder Josh Wolf, a high school righthander from Texas, will earn if he agrees to sign with the Mets. The slot allotment for that pick was $1.374 million.
Even assuming some savings on both of those picks, New York would need to do an all-in strategy to figure out enough money to sign Allan. And that’s exactly what the Mets did.
From the fourth through 10th rounds, New York picked seven college seniors. Because they have no ability to return to school, most college seniors have very little negotiating leverage. Assuming all seven sign for roughly $10,000 apiece (and assuming the Mets spend the five percent overage), the Mets could save $1.75 million on those seven picks to shift to signing Allan.
That $1.75 million plus $701,295 for Allan’s slot allotment gets the Mets to just over $2.45 million. That doesn’t come close to the number Allan was reported to be seeking, but with potential savings on both Baty and Wolf’s deals, it does start to bring the number within the range of what the Mets could pay, especially if Allan accepts a little less than what he was asking for.
Even though the pick is protected (meaning the Mets would receive a similar pick in next year’s draft if they fail to sign Allan), teams rarely pick a player in the third round who they don’t believe they have a very good ability to sign. The fact that the Mets then turned over the next seven rounds to senior signs offers yet another strong indicator that New York feels confident that it can make a deal with the talented prep arm.
This is a high-risk strategy. Just one misstep, or one balked deal (if even one of those seniors reneges on an agreement and says he won’t sign for well below slot) could thwart the Mets’ plans.
Even if the money works out, the Mets have turned this into largely a three-player draft. It appears that New York figured out a way to land two middle-of-the-first-round talents in a draft where they only had one of the top 50 picks.
UPDATE: While the Mets have adopted a three-player draft strategy, the format of the draft rules now do give them a fallback option. In case the Mets cannot sign Allan, they would lose the slot allotment for Allan’s pick in what they can spend this year ($701,295 if you factor in the five percent overage). But they would still have saved roughly $1.75 million or so because of their senior sign strategy, plus whatever they have saved on Baty and Wolf.
So the Mets will likely be aggressive on Day 3 of the draft in drafting high school players (or draft-eligible college sophomores) who have gone undrafted so far because of their asking prices. If the Mets sign Allan, those players will never even get a serious offer (the Mets would then likely be limited to offering them $125,000). But if the club fails to sign Allan, it will likely have more than $2 million (and maybe close to $3 million) to spend on other players. Failing to sign a player after the 10th round does not diminish a team’s bonus pool, so there’s little risk in being aggressive in drafting some of the top remaining high school players on the board.
Entering the third day of the draft, there are five high school players in the top 50 of Baseball America’s rankings who are still undrafted.
Bonus pool allotments don’t carry over from year to year, so the Mets have plenty of reasons to find backup plans in the unlikely case that Allan doesn’t sign. But having gone all-in on a senior sign strategy on Day 2 of the draft, the Mets can build a solid backup plan on Day 3.