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August 13, 2010

Future Shock

Draft Deadline Preview

by Kevin Goldstein

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The signing deadline is normally August 15, but with that falling on a Sunday this year, it's been moved back 24 hours, leaving teams and agents the entire day Monday to work out their deals before the clock strikes midnight. While less than half of this year's first-round picks have officially come to terms... let's address that for one moment. There are plenty of deals that have already been done, and have been done for days if not weeks, yet MLB's myopic desire to control bonuses means that kids can't go out and play ball yet. Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of those that are unsigned will be signed before the deadline, but that doesn't mean we won't have plenty of drama over the next 72 hours. Here are three first-round stories I'll be paying the most attention to this weekend, in order of their draft selection.

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper, OF, College of Southern Nevada
Harper's college coach, who in many ways has doubled as the first overall pick's PR agent at times, has entered the fray of late to let everyone know that Haprer wants to play. However, it's not about his coach or anything Harper posted on Facebook over the past few weeks, it's all about the green. Everyone thinks he will sign, it's just a question of how much money he'll get at this point. A quick poll of industry sources found wildly varying predictions ranging from $8 million to $16 million, with the only universal belief being that he will definitely come to terms. Personally, and I know this puts me in the minority, I'm betting the over. I've written this before, but even Strasburg's record shattering total package of $15.1 million is an industry-relative bargain, and after covering Scott Boras signings for nearly a decade, I've never seen him exhibit a reverse gear. Boras has made no secret of his feelings surrounding Aroldis Chapman's $30.25 million contract and what it means for players subject to the draft.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Barrett Loux, RHP, Texas A&M
The sixth overall pick has become the draft's most interesting story, but also potentially the saddest. First-round picks often get their team physicals well before agreeing to terms, as all contracts are subject to such an examination, and there is no time to conduct it when negotiations go to the wire. When the Diamondbacks' doctors checked out Loux, they found elbow and shoulder issues, including some fraying in his rotator cuff, and have all but cut off negotiations. Loux's camp insists he's healthy, and proved so by having him pitch some games in the Cape Cod League, but the physical doesn't say he's unable to perform now, as much as it says he won't be able to in the future. Arizona is not necessarily the bad guy here. The Diamondbacks have no rule-based or legal obligation to make Loux an offer other than the standard contract within seven days of his selection. The problem now is that Arizona doesn't want Loux, and if he doesn't sign, he has to sit out a year until the next draft. That's just not fair to the player here. This is not an Aaron Crow situation, where the pick isn't getting the well-over-slot money he desires and taking his chances; Loux wants to play, and likely won't even get an opportunity from Arizona. This has the potential for a legal battle, with Loux and his representatives going to court in order to make their client a free agent under the theory that Loux has been subjected to the draft, yet not given the opportunity to sign, so he should not be penalized. Again, no bad guys here, just a victim, and baseball should hopefully do the right thing, although when it comes to the draft, it rarely does. A similar occurrence almost took place in the summer of 2008, when Padres doctors found hip issues in first-round pick Allan Dykstra. Acting as Dykstra's advisor, Boras brought up the possibility of legal action before San Diego finally gave in and signed him for $1.15 million, the second-lowest bonus of that year's first round. Those events left us with history, but no precedent.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Zach Lee, RHP, McKinny HS (TX)
When the Dodgers selected Lee with the 28th overall pick, the assumptions were immediate. With the Dodgers' current financial situation and the McCourt divorce leaving them cash-strapped, this was a punted pick that they would gladly give up for the opportunity to select 29th overall in 2011, when the current imbroglio will hopefully be in the rear-view mirror. That remains the assumption to this day, as Lee told anyone who'd listen this spring that he had every intention of playing both football (he was one of the top high school quarterbacks in the county) and baseball at LSU this fall... unless somebody would offer him something in the $3-plus million range. The Dodgers haven't done that. In fact, according to Lee, they've had no discussions at all, but that's not the rarest thing with days to go before a deadline. The Dodgers said all the right things at the time of the selection, but have made few comments since. Most people see a deal as having a zero percent chance of happening, and it's a no-brainer to bet against it, but the chances are more than zero here, maybe more like 10-to-1.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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