15 Rounds, Hard to Make a Case That New Draft Rules Achieving
signing bonuses rising at an exponential rate, and the elite talent
often ending up with teams with the deepest pockets, baseball’s
first-year player draft was irretrievably broken in the minds of many
and in need of a significant overhaul.
supposedly occurred with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement
between Major League Baseball and the Players Association, effective
with the current draft. The new deal contained the most-radical
fundamental changes to the draft in its 47-year history, and was
aimed at cost containment, leveling the playing field by more
equitably distributing talent and drafting players in a more orderly,
may not be known until July 13—the new deadline to sign players—or
for years to come whether all the new draft rules enacted will
achieve their intended consequence, but one thing is certain already,
after just 15 rounds: players are not being drafted in an orderly,
more systematic manner.
became evident Tuesday when almost every team began to strategically
select players on the basis of manipulating the new system, rather
than just draft the most-talented players available. In fact, a clear
case can be made that players drafted in the block from Rounds 11 to
15 were much more talented than players selected in the five-round
block from Rounds 6 to 10.
the 10th round alone, 20 college seniors were drafted; in
the 11th round, none were taken. College seniors are
traditionally treated as the ugly step sisters in any draft because
they have little or no negotiating leverage, and are often drafted
earlier than where their talent warrants, as a budget saver. But
major-league teams took the drafting of college seniors to a whole
new level Tuesday with the selection of 62 such players in the first
10 rounds. In 2011, the corresponding total was 23; in 2010, it was
draft rules limit the amount major-league teams can spend on bonuses
in the first 10 rounds, without being penalized. Each draft slot from
No. 1 ($7.2 million) to No. 338 ($125,000), the last spot
in the 10th round, is assigned a draft value, and the
accumulated amount that each team can spend in that range obviously
varies according to the team’s spot in the draft rotation and the
number of picks overall that it has through 10 rounds.
Minnesota Twins, with 13 selections and picking second in each round,
have the largest draft-pool value at $12,368,200, while the Los
Angeles Angels, with only eight picks (none in the first two rounds),
have just $1,645,700 to work with. If a team exceeds its assigned
upper limit, it is subject to a punitive tax and even the loss of
future draft picks, depending on how flagrant the overage is.
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.
college seniors became pawns Tuesday as teams sought to stay within
the new bonus limitations—even if ignoring the spirit of the draft
changes. They went overboard in drafting seniors, ostensibly to sign
them for the lowest value possible, likely a token $1,000 in many
cases, in order to utilize the savings on other players with a higher
price tag than their assigned draft value.
a team has not exceeded its bonus pool value in the first 10 rounds,
the potential savings may even apply to players drafted after the
10th round. Every player drafted beyond the 10th round has a maximum bonus value of $100,000, but a team can exceed
that limit, without penalty, if it has funds available. And the best
way to assure that circumstance happening was by drafting an
abundance of low-budget college seniors.
team may have manipulated the draft this year to its advantage more
than the Houston Astros, who had an assigned bonus pool value of
$11,177,700, most of that amount coming from the $7.2 million figure
assigned to the first pick.
Astros ended up taking Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa with that
selection, but in all probability took the player among the five they
had targeted for the No. 1 selection that was most-amenable to
accepting the lowest bonus value the Astros wanted to pay, obviously
a figure much less than $7.2 million. The Astros could then take the
difference and apply it to another draft pick with a higher price tag
than his assigned draft value.
the Astros drafted Florida prep righthander Lance McCullers (easily
the highest-rated player still on the board) with its selection in
the sandwich round (41st overall) that they were awarded
as compensation in the off-season for losing shortstop Clint Barmes
as a free agent to Pittsburgh. That 41st pick has an
assigned value of $1,258,700, and if the Astros are to spend, say
$5.2 million on Correa, they would then be able to apply the $2
million saving to McCullers, and theoretically have $3,258,700 to
spend on him, which is about the amount it might have taken to sign
the highly-rated McCullers in the first place to sway him from
attending the University of Florida.
Astros could even sweeten that pot by signing the two college seniors
they took in the first 10 rounds—Florida outfielder Preston Tucker
and Bradley lefthander Joe Bircher—for amounts significantly below
their assigned draft values. Tucker, a seventh-rounder, has an
assigned draft value of $151,400, while Bircher, a 10th-rounder,
has an assigned value of $125,000.
Astros cushioned themselves, in the event that they don’t sign
McCullers, by drafting two top-rated California high-school players,
third baseman Rio Ruiz in the fourth round and lefthander Hunter
Virant in the 11th round. In the case of Virant,
especially, he would be unsignable at his assigned value of $100,000
if no additional bonus money was freed up to sign him. A UCLA
recruit, he was the highest-ranked player (No. 50) still left on
Perfect Game’s list of the draft’s Top 500 at the conclusion of
10 rounds, and it was only too predictable that he would be the first
player taken once the 11th round began.
team may have exploited the new draft rules, relating to bonus pool
value, more than the Toronto Blue Jays, who took two
high-reward/high-risk players in the early rounds in Ohio prep
lefthander Matt Smoral (a potential top 10 talent overall, before
missing most of the 2012 season with a foot injury) in the
supplemental first round, and Mississippi high-school outfielder
Anthony Alford (a top-rated quarterback with a college commitment to
their assigned draft values, the Blue Jays would have almost no
chance to sign Smoral ($1 million) or Alford ($424,400), but by
drafting six college seniors and a fourth-year junior from Rounds
4-10, they may free up enough room in their overall bonus pool of
$8,830,000 to sign at least one, if not both of those players. The
Jays also drafted lefthander Ryan Kellogg, the highest-rated
Canadian, in the 12th round, and could conceivably sign
him to a bonus well in excess of $100,000, too. Kellogg was projected
to be drafted as early as the third or fourth rounds, where the
allotted bonus money is in the $300,000-$500,000 range.
was a definite push throughout the game to rein in signing bonuses
after the 2011 draft obliterated numerous bonus records, and return
the draft to some sense of normalcy, to select players in an orderly
manner, with talent as the primary consideration.
it is already apparent—with just 15 rounds in the books—that the
new system is flawed, that almost every team has openly dismissed the
spirit of the revised draft rules to manipulate the draft for their
own self interests in their never-ending thirst to acquire talent.