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June 24, 2009
Signing Season Preview
While the draft is over, that doesn't mean that anyone can stop talking about it. In fact, if you like your baseball peppered with a bit of espionage and intrigue, things are really only starting to heat up, as it's signing season. Here's a look at the status of each first-round pick, as we check for any bumps in the road on the way to adding these players to the professional ranks before the August 17th deadline.
1. Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg, RHP, San Diego State
This is obviously the big story of this year's group. Everyone knows that he's going to shatter the record for draft bonuses; the only question is by how much. Nobody has a very good feel for it, and in a quick survey of the industry, the numbers guessed at ranged from $16 to $35 million. My guess remains an $8-12 million bonus as part of a total package in the $25 million range, but again, experienced industry insiders are all over the board on this one.
For a second opinion, I got in touch with preeminent draft historian Allan Simpson, founder of Baseball America and national director of Perfect Game Crosschecker, to get his thoughts. Simpson agreed that it's a crap shoot, and that impressions on what should happen often run up against the reality of the situation. "In some ways, I'm surprised that the Nationals haven't prepared all year for this, and knowing he's going to have to get paid, just sign him and get some impact and some life into that franchise," said Simpson. "Still, Scott Boras is the master of the deadline deal, and he just doesn't work that way. I don't know if this is going to be a shocker like Brien Taylor was back in 1991, and at times I can't see them breaking the bank and going three or four times over what anyone has gotten, but at the same time, how many times have we said that about a Boras client and been wrong?"
This is looking more and more like a deadline deal, so Strasburg saving the team, at least on a public relations level, seems to be a remote possibility at this point.
2. Seattle Mariners: Dustin Ackley, OF, North Carolina
There were some pre-draft rumors of an eight-figure bonus demand from Ackley, but it was never confirmed; it was either some kind of trial balloon to drop him, or most likely it was total BS. He's not as good of a prospect as guys like Buster Posey and Pedro Alvarez were last year, and they both ended up with deals a little north of $6 million. The ten percent reduction in slots mean little this high in the draft, so expect Ackley to receive a similar deal.
3. San Diego Padres: Donavan Tate, OF, Cartersville HS (GA)
Tate's price tag was reportedly around $6 million dollars entering the draft, and expect him to sign for something around there or just under, as that was Eric Hosmer's bonus last year as the top high school position player on the board.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates: Tony Sanchez, C, Boston College
This deal was probably agreed to before the selection even took place. The question is of course, why? He wasn't going to go anywhere near this high if the Pirates didn't take him, so couldn't he have been had for a million dollars less, giving the club money to spend elsewhere? It's not as if anyone else was going to pay him this much, so why did Pittsburgh? It's almost like they spent an extra million dollars just to prove that they really liked the guy.
5. Baltimore Orioles: Matt Hobgood, RHP, Norco HS (CA)
One of the reasons that Baltimore selected Hobgood over some of the other high school arms who were seen as superior but ridiculously more expensive, was the big right-hander's signability, and he's expected to be inked later this week, probably for something in the Sanchez range.
6. San Francisco Giants: Zack Wheeler, RHP, East Paulding HS (GA)
Wheeler may end up costing more than Hobgood, but it shouldn't be anything stratospheric. He'll wait to see what Hobgood signs for to establish a floor for his negotiations.
7. Atlanta Braves: Mike Minor, LHP, Vanderbilt
There's some surprise that Minor hasn't signed yet, but he could be waiting for the market to establish itself a little more. Hobgood really could be the first domino to fall in a number of signings to come.
8. Cincinnati Reds: Mike Leake, RHP, Arizona State
While his season ended on a sour note with a poor showing in the College World Series, Leake will still likely require a healthy, but not unreasonable bonus.
9. Detroit Tigers: Jacob Turner, RHP, Westminster Christian Academy (MO)
Turner is one of the most expensive non-Strasburg pitchers in the draft, but the Tigers have a long history of taking those guys, including Boras clients, and eventually getting a deal done. This will surely take until the deadline, but it'll get done.
10. Washington Nationals: Drew Storen, RHP, Stanford
The first of the first-round picks to sign, Storen was a signability selection all the way, as Strasburg is going to cost a ton, and the Nats receive no compensation for this pick if things go south. Storen's already pitching for Single-A Hagerstown, Phillies catching prospect Travis D'Arnaud took him deep in his pro debut, and he allowed three hits and a pair of runs in his second outing, though he did strike out the side. Still, he's not exactly looking like a guy who will get to the big leagues this year, which some have rumored is the plan.
11. Colorado Rockies: Tyler Matzek, LHP, Capistrano Valley HS (CA)
This one could be the biggest signing adventure of the summer. Prior to the draft, Matzek's representatives upped the ante on their client, not asking for "Porcello money" (this year's draft buzz term), but rather for, "A precedent-setting deal." The Rockies surprised many by taking him anyway, and it may be a bluff call, except nobody else is sure that he's bluffing.
Another fascinating selection, rumors had Crow's representatives not returning calls from other teams in the hours leading up to the draft, leaving many to believe that a deal, or at least the structure of one, had already been worked out with the Royals. He ended up walking away from approximately $3.5 million last year, and it's hard to see him matching that this year, but then again...
13. Oakland Athletics: Grant Green, SS, Southern California
While it's unique to see Oakland go for not only an over-slot guy, but for a Scott Boras client here, it's not really as out of character as it may seen. First of all, as the best middle infielder on the board Green was a great find at 13th overall, and secondly, general manager Billy Beane has a good relationship with Boras. Even so, this isn't going to happen quickly, and it could be the largest draft bonus in Oakland history, eclipsing the $3.2 million paid out to Mark Mulder in 1998.
14. Texas Rangers: Matt Purke, LHP, Klein HS (TX)
So much for the Rangers reportedly being affected by owner Tom Hicks' cash-flow issues. Purke is one of those players looking for "Porcello money," which means somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million. He's not going to get that, but is he really going to walk away from half that amount? Why teams let these guys drop is beyond me, but props to the Rangers for stepping up to the plate, assuming he signs.
15. Cleveland Indians: Alex White, RHP, North Carolina
The Indians couldn't begin negotiations until the Tar Heels were eliminated in Omaha, and the only thing that could be a holding this up is that he went lower than he expected. He also could end up being one of many who simply refuse to accept the 10 percent decrease in slot, and simply ask for what last year's selection received. (This is known in the industry as the "Jason Heyward situation" from back in 2007, when Atlanta's top pick had asked for the previous year's bonus without a discount.)
16. Arizona Diamondbacks: Bobby Borchering, 3B, Bishop Verot HS (FL)
Borchering was reportedly looking for a slightly over-slot deal, but it shouldn't be groundbreaking or a difficult negotiation in any way. It just might take a while, as MLB doesn't allow over-slot deals, even the smallest ones, to be announced pre-deadline in fear that it could affect the market, which it always does anyway.
17. Arizona Diamondbacks: A.J. Pollock, OF, Notre Dame
With seven picks in the first 64 selections, Arizona had to be cost-conscious here and there, and Pollock is the first example. While this deal will be announced later this week, the slot for this was somewhere in the $1.475 million range. It's an interesting way for Arizona to approach the situation; to look at saving a little where they can, as opposed to spending all of their coin in one place.
18. Florida Marlins: Chad James, LHP, Yukon HS (OK)
James shouldn't be much of a problem, but like many picks this year, he could simply be looking for what last year's 18th overall selection got ($1.575 million), as opposed to the ten percent reduction. That difference (again, the "Jason Heyward situation") is going to come up often this year, and could delay many announced signings.
19. St. Louis Cardinals: Shelby Miller, RHP, Brownwood HS (TX)
It was slightly surprising to see Miller go this low; of the top four high school arms with big price tags, Miller was the most affordable, with a rumored asking price of $4 million dollars. It's doubtful that it will take that much, but he'll likely eclipse the $3 million mark.
20. Toronto Blue Jays: Chad Jenkins, RHP, Kennesaw State
There's no reason to think this will be a difficult sign, and he's expected to be one of the earlier first-rounders to get done.
21. Houston Astros: Jiovanni Mier, SS, Bonita HS (CA)
The slot for this selection is approximately $1.32 million, which should be enough to make this deal happen quickly.
22. Minnesota Twins: Kyle Gibson, RHP, Missouri
There's a lot to work out here. On the one hand, Gibson was looking like a sure-fire top six pick in the weeks leading up to the draft. On the other hand, he's coming in as damaged goods with a stress fracture in his forearm. Logic says that this could end up somewhere between the slot for this pick ($1.3 million) and the $2.5 to $3 million he would have expected pre-injury, but logic often plays little role in draft negotiations.
23. Chicago White Sox: Jared Mitchell, OF, Louisiana State
The White Sox can't begin negotiations until Mitchell's college season is over, but there are no bumps anticipated for the negotiations to come.
24. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Randal Grichuk, OF, Lamar Consolidated HS (TX)
This is a quick sign and a slot bonus. For a late-riser like Grichuk, it's the kind of figure that will probably eclipse his wildest dreams from six weeks ago.
25. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Mike Trout, OF, Millville HS (NJ)
Trout shouldn't be a difficult sign, but he could be another affected by Heyward-itis.
26. Milwaukee Brewers: Eric Arnett, RHP, Indians
Arnett signed quickly at slot, which was a little surprising, as many expected him to go higher. It's a clear indication that Arnett simply wanted to get going, which shouldn't be seen as a bad thing in any way.
27. Seattle Mariners: Nick Franklin, SS, Lake Brantley HS (FL)
After taking Ackley at #2 overall, Seattle may look to save a little cash here, as most saw Franklin as more of a sandwich pick. The slot price here is $1.16 million; he'll probably sign for less.
28. Boston Red Sox: Reymond Fuentes, OF, Fernando Callejo HS (PR)
This year's workout king is expected to sign quickly.
29. New York Yankees: Slade Heathcott, OF, Texas HS (TX)
Unlike last year's first-round pick, Gerrit Cole, Heathcott is expected to forgo college for the pro experience, but expect him to receive a bonus over the recommended slot of $1.1 million.
As a Boras Corp. client, Washington will probably wait to see how the market for the last third of the first-rounders goes before he figures out what to ask for. It could be a bit over the recommendation, but it won't be a true slot-buster.
31. Chicago Cubs: Brett Jackson, OF, California
Jackson came to terms late Tuesday afternoon, and since the pick has been announced, a slot bonus of around $975,000 is assumed.
32. Colorado Rockies: Tim Wheeler, OF, Sacramento State
Wheeler was expected to go higher, so it was surprising not only to see him sign, but to do so for slightly below what the estimated slot for this selection ($950,000) is believed to be. It gives Colorado another $50,000 to throw at Matzek. Now they just have to find the additional millions more to get that done.