CBA Puts Unintended
on College Seniors
response to an alarming rise in signing bonuses to untested amateur
players and reckless spending on the part of some of its clubs, Major
League Baseball enacted the most sweeping changes to its first-year
player draft in 2012 of any draft in its 47-year history.
strict new measures appeared to have their desired effect as there
was a seven percent dip in bonus payments overall from 2011, when a
record $228 million in bonuses was shelled out.
in a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, authored prior to the 2012
draft, established parameters on the amounts clubs could spend on all
their draft picks, with teams threatened with fines or the loss of
premium draft picks if they didn’t toe the line. Every club was in
new slotting system assigned a specific bonus value to every draft
pick in the top 10 rounds, which provided clubs a fixed upper limit
they could spend on all their selections in that range—with the
actual bonus-pool amount dependent on where they selected and the
number of players they had to draft. The aggregate value of all picks
in the first 10 rounds this year has been at $202 million—an
increase of 8.2 percent from 2012, despite 22 fewer draft picks in
Houston Astros will pick first overall for the second year in a row,
and have been allotted roughly $7.8 million to spend on the No. 1
selection—up from $7.2 million in 2012. Additionally, the Astros
will have $11,698,800 to spend on all their picks in the first 10
rounds, most of any club.
contrast, the Washington Nationals, who will pick 30th and
last in each round and also forfeited their first-round selection as
a result of signing righthander Rafael Soriano as a free agent prior
to the 2013 season, have only $2,737,200 in their allotted bonus
terms of the CBA, teams have the latitude to spread their draft pool
value among picks in the first 10 rounds in any way they choose, so
long as they remain under their total allotment. At the same time, a
team forfeits its assigned value for any draft pick in the first 10
rounds if it fails to sign one those selections.
a team exceed its assigned upper limit by up to five percent, it is
subject to a punitive tax of 75 percent of the overage. The penalty
becomes more excessive, and even includes the loss of future draft
picks, depending on how flagrant the overage is.
an actual assigned value of $7,790,400 for the first selection and
$6,708,400 for the second pick this year, the designated amount for
each draft pick drops off to $1,812,400 for the 27th and
last pick in the first round, and all the way to $135,300 for the
last 17 picks in the 10th round.
year ago, in the first draft under the restrictive format, teams
frequently overspent their allotted amount on select individual draft
picks but managed to stay within their overall allotment by drafting
college seniors in record number in the first 10 rounds.
little or no leverage because their future college options have been
exhausted, college seniors can typically be signed for nominal
bonuses, often significantly below market below, which freed up
clubs, under the new draft system, to apply the savings to other,
more-expensive picks in the top 10 rounds.
record 62 college seniors were drafted in the first 10 rounds a year
ago—compared to just 23 in 2011, and 19 in 2010. In the 10th round alone, 20 college seniors were taken (by contrast, there were
none chosen in the 11th round), with every player
receiving a bonus ranging from a token $1,000 to
$40,000—significantly below the assigned bonus slots of at least
team may have exploited the new draft rules, relating to bonus pool
value, more than the Toronto Blue Jays, who had an abundance of
early-round picks last year and spent at least $750,000 on each of
their first seven selections. That included a $2 million bonus to
Ohio prep lefthander Matt Smoral, a potential top 10 talent overall
before he missed most of the 2012 season with a knee injury. Smoral
was taken with the 50th overall pick, which had an
assigned value of $1 million.
normal circumstances, the Blue Jays would have had almost no chance
to sign Smoral and two other premium picks for bonuses well above
their slot amounts, and stay within their allotment of $8,830,000.
But by drafting six college seniors and a fourth-year junior from
Rounds 4-10, and subsequently signing each to bonuses ranging from as
little as $1,000 to $5,000, they managed to skirt the rule and not be
subject to a penalty.
similar strategy is expected to be followed by a handful of clubs
again this year, particularly those with multiple early-round picks.
A devalued bonus, however, is not expected to apply to the marquee
college senior in this year’s draft class, Stanford righthander
Mark Appel, who may have been a victim of the new draft rules that
went into effect in 2012.
was a leading candidate to go first overall to the Astros a year ago,
but was passed over in favor of Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa,
who was signed for $4.8 million—a full $2.4 million below the slot
amount for the first pick. Appel ended up sliding all the way to
eighth, where he was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The allotted
bonus for that spot ($2.909 million) was less than half what it was
for the first pick, and though the Pirates made a sincere effort to
sign Appel for a bonus in excess of that figure, they refused to go
above $3.8 million because it would have put them in a penalty
simply elected to pass on all offers from the Pirates, returned to
Stanford for his senior year and may get the last laugh if he is
drafted by Houston this year. He is again on the Astros short list of
candidates to go No. 1, and realistically is the only college senior
with a shot to go in the first round—and possibly even the first
Tech outfielder Brandon Thomas (Pirates, 4th round) and
Connecticut second baseman L.J. Mazzilli (Twins, 9th round) were the only other college players drafted in the top 10
rounds a year ago who went unsigned, and they should be among the
premium college seniors in this year’s draft.