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July 19, 2008

Future Shock

Draft Signings Unannounced

by Kevin Goldstein

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As we move into the final month of the signing window, once again we have a number of deals that seem to be done, but nevertheless seem to be getting held back by Major League Baseball. While a number of over-slot bonuses have already been doled out this summer, nearly all of those deals have invoked the multi-sport provision that allows teams to spread out the bonus over multiple years. Standard over-slot bonuses remain delayed for fear within MLB that the announced bonuses would lead to greater inflation. However, multiple sources have confirmed that several seven-figure deals for players picked after the first round are all but completed, as are several other bonuses that greatly exceed the recommended slot.

First Round Update

Only one deal seems to be done and unannounced at this time, and that's with the 20th overall pick, Josh Fields, and the Mariners. Sources indicate that Fields, a Scott Boras client, and the Mariners have agreed to an over-slot bonus of $2 million, but as with all of these signings, it remains uncertain as to when the deal will be announced in relation to the August 15th deadline.

Meanwhile, a deal that looked to be done is now completely up in the air. Another Boras client, Wake Forest first baseman Allan Dykstra had all but agreed to a $1.4 million bonus as the 23rd overall pick, but a physical revealed some hip problems that were thought to have been previously corrected. Details are sketchy, but the Padres and Boras are suddenly far from having a deal done, with many of the complications coming from the agent's side, as Boras is well known for putting his own additional medical waivers as addendums to the standard contract.

While there is both little movement and little to report concerning the seven unsigned picks among the first nine selections, two players that might take the most time are the two top college arms in the draft-fourth overall pick Brian Matusz (Baltimore) and ninth overall selection Aaron Crow (Washington). Crow and the Nationals remain well apart in their exchanged figures, with Crow wanting an above-slot major league deal. As a domino effect, Matusz will simply wait to see what Crow settles for, and then insist on not a penny less.

Red Sox and Yankees Continue High-Spending Ways

After it was announced late this week that the Red Sox would spend $3 million to buy first-round pick Casey Kelly away from a football scholarship at Tennessee, multiple sources indicate that they are close to spending over $5 million more on three later picks with first-round talent. Fourth- and fifth-round outfielders Pete Hissey and Ryan Westmoreland are both monster athletes and tough signs, but the Red Sox have seemingly come to terms with both for "greater than seven-figues," with Westmoreland reported approaching $2 million. The most shocking rumor floating around at this time is that the Red Sox are also very close to signing 20th-round pick Alex Meyer. The six-foot-seven power righty from Indiana has first-round stuff, but he was considered all but unsignable due to the Boras factor and a strong commitment to the University of Kentucky. The hottest rumor among scouting circles has $2 million looking like it will take care of both those issues. Also look for the team to sign their sixth-round pick, Yale catcher Ryan Lavarnway, for late-third round money.

Keeping up with the Joneses, the Yankees are also spending big in this year's draft. While there has been little movement in talks with first-round selection Gerrit Cole, supplemental first-round pick Jeremy Bleich is close to signing for an over-slot bonus of somewhere just over $1 million. In addition, sixth-rounder Brett Marshall, a classic power arm teenager from high school is close to agreeing to a deal for around $750,000; seventh-round selection Kyle Higashioka, one of the best high school catchers in the draft, has been bought away from a commitment to Cal for "somewhere in Marshall's neighborhood"; and 10th-round pick D.J. Mitchell, who came on strong late in the season at Clemson, is close to signing for approximately $500,000.

A Giant Mess?

San Francisco's draft received nearly universal praise in June, but their top four picks remain unsigned, and there is little positive to report on where the negotiations are concerned. Catcher Buster Posey, the fifth overall pick and recent Golden Spikes award winner, has had few discussions with the Giants, and there's no reason to believe that he's backed off from pre-draft talk that had him looking for a big-league deal worth over $10 million. The problems don't end there. Supplemental first-round pick Conor Gillaspie slipped a bit in the draft when he told teams how much money he'd need, which one team categorized as "delusional." In addition, third-round pick Roger Kieschnick and fourth-rounder Brandon Crawford remain well apart from the team in negotiations. Both saw themselves as potential first-rounders at various points in the season, and still want to get paid as if they had been.

More of the Usual Suspects Get Ready to Spend Big

Already packed with one of the best systems in baseball, the Rangers rarely shy away from writing big checks at the signing deadline, and this year looks to be no different. While figuring out the value of first-round pick Justin Smoak might still take some time, the Rangers look like they've already come to terms with second-round pick Robbie Ross for a seven-figure bonus. A three-pitch left-hander with above-average stuff, Ross will simply add to what's becoming an organizational embarrassment of riches when it comes to young arms. They're also close to spending big money on seventh-round selection Matt Thompson, a Dallas-area right-hander who will get well over a half-million to go pro. Another player the Rangers will go over slot on is fifth-round pick Clark Murphy; the California high school first baseman has monstrous raw power and will sign for third-round money in the $350,000 range.

Fresh off of one of the quicker No. 1 overall pick signings in recent memory, the Rays will continue to build their farm system as well with some big bonuses. Sources indicate that second-round pick Kyle Lobstein will sign with Tampa for $1 million, and that fourth-round selection Ty Morrision, a toolsy outfielder with plus speed and power projection, will also sign for a 'slightly' over-slot bonus.

While the Indians have rarely made a huge splash with bonuses, they have consistently added a bit here and there to get deals done, and this year looks no different. Look for second-round pick Curtis Haley, a long, projectable right-hander, to sign for right around $1 million, while right-handed pitcher and fifth-round pick Zach Putnam and small but athletic seventh-round outfielder Tim Fedroff are both expected to sign for bonuses above the slot recommendation as well.

Other Signings Of Note

Sources indicate that Missouri high school right-hander Tim Melville, who fell to the fourth round when he indicated before the draft that he wanted mid-first-round money to sign, will get just that and sign with the Royals for more than $1 million.

Houston supplemental third-round pick Ross Seaton, one of the better high school arms in the country but considered a tough sign, is expected to eschew Tulane for $800,000.

University of Texas outfielder Jordan Danks, a seventh-round pick with the confusing combination of great tools and uninspiring numbers, will join his brother as a member of the White Sox family for around half a million.

Other Non-Signings Of Note

Pepperdine's Brett Hunter was considered one of the top arms in the draft, but arm injuries dropped him to the seventh round, where Oakland took a gamble on him. As it turns out, he's healthy, and Oakland is continuing their evaluation of him as he pitches for the Team USA National Collegiate team, where he's allowed six hits in 13 1/3 innings while striking out 17, but with 10 walks. He reportedly has a price tag of $2 million.

The Royals have been very aggressive in trying to sign seventh-round pick Jason Esposito, but arguably the best high school hitter in the Northeast is almost assuredly going to Vanderbilt after turning down a rumored offer of over $1 million.

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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