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Draft : : Signing Bonuses
Bonus Progression Record
Allan Simpson        
Published: Monday, May 09, 2011

A.  The Pre-Draft Era (1941-64)
 
Reliable information on signing bonuses in baseball’s pre-draft era is sketchy, with bonuses often intertwined with a player’s salary, distorted to circumvent rules of that era or, in the case of under-the-table payments, going unreported altogether.
 
There was no systematic method of paying out bonuses to players in those days, unlike in the draft era when half the signing bonus is generally paid upon approval of the contract and the other half early in the next calendar year. In many cases, some of the top bonuses of the pre-draft period were paid out over several years—such as 10, in the case of Paul Pettit, baseball’s first $100,000 bonus baby.
 
Based on information compiled by Perfect Game draft historian Allan Simpson, here is the progression of signing bonus records in the pre-draft era, beginning with Dick Wakefield’s $52,000 bonus in 1941, which marked the unofficial start of baseball’s bonus era:
 

 
B.  The Draft Era (1965-2010) / Cash Bonuses Only
 
Bonus records in the draft era began with the very first pick in 1965, when the Kansas City A’s gave a $100,000 bonus to Arizona State sophomore outfielder Rick Monday.
 
That mark held up for a decade, but has been broken time and again since—most notably in 2009, when the Washington Nationals signed San Diego State righthander Stephen Strasburg to a $7.5 million deal that was part of a $15.1 million major-league contract.
 
The figures represent straight cash bonuses in real dollars, with no regard to benefits from college scholarship plans or incentive bonus plans—or guaranteed money in the few cases where a player signed a major league contract (such players are denoted with an asterisk).
 
The list considers only players who signed with the clubs that drafted them and does not include the four loophole free agents from 1996—notably Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Travis Lee, who set a bonus record by signing for $10 million, or Tampa Bay Devil Rays righthander Matt White, who established the present-day standard when he signed for $10.2 million).
 
In 1979, the San Francisco Giants signed lefthander Bill Bordley for $200,000, a record amount at the time for an amateur player. Bordley, a former Southern California star, was drafted in January of that year by the Cincinnati Reds, but was ruled a free agent when it was determined by the commissioner’s office that tampering was involved by another major-league club prior to his selection.

 
Year Player, Pos., Club Bonus
1941 Dick Wakefield, of, Tigers $52,000
1946 Bobby Brown, 3b, Yankees 56,000
Tookie Gilbert, 1b, Giants 60,000
1947 Curt Simmons, lhp, Phillies 65,000
1948 Johnny Antonelli, lhp, Braves 75,000
Frank House, c, Tigers 75,000
1950 Paul Pettit, lhp, Pirates 100,000
1951 Ted Kazanski, ss, Tigers 100,000
Billy Joe Davidson, rhp, Indians 100,000
1952 Marty Keough, of, Red Sox 100,000
1957 John DeMerit, of, Braves 100,000
Bob “Hawk” Taylor, c, Braves 112,000
1958 Dave Nicholson, of, Orioles 120,000
Denis Menke, ss, Braves 125,000
1960 Danny Murphy, rhp, Cubs 130,000
Randy Hundley, c, Giants 132,000
1961 Bob Bailey, ss, Pirates 175,000
1964 Rick Reichardt, of, Angels 205,000


B. The Draft Era (1965-2010) / Major-League Contracts
 
On rare occasions in the draft era, a player has been signed to a major-league contract vs. the traditional minor-league contract. A major-league deal most often includes a signing bonus, but also provides for a guaranteed major-league salary that can be spread over several years.
 
Beginning with the Kansas City Royals 1986 selection of Bo Jackson, who shattered the existing record for a major-league deal when he signed a package deal that guaranteed him $1.066 million over a three-year period, here’s the progression of record major league contracts signed by drafted players, with the guaranteed amount of the contract and bonus payment noted.
 
Year Player, Pos., Club (Round) Contract Bonus
1986 Bo Jackson, of, Royals (4) $1,066,000 $100,000
1990 Todd Van Poppel, rhp, Athletics (1) 1,200,000 500,000
1998 J.D. Drew, of, Cardinals (1) 7,000,000 3,000,000
Pat Burrell, 3b, Phillies (1) 8,000,000 3,150,000
2001 Mark Teixeira, 3b, Rangers (1) 9,500,000 4,500,000
Mark Prior, rhp, Cubs (1) 10,500,000 4,000,000
2009 Stephen Strasburg, rhp, Nationals (1) 15,107,104 7,500,000


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