May 23, 2012
The 2012 Draft's New Rules
The general consensus is that this year is a weak draft class, especially when compared to last year's monster collection of talent. For many, the most interesting aspect to this year's draft might not be the usual who is selected by whom, but rather what happens in terms of negotiations between the picks and the teams relative to the new July 13 signing deadline. That deadline isn't the only new rule, as with assigned bonus pools, strict penalties for exceeding them, and the removal of major-league contract offerings, we're entering uncharted waters.
Enter Scott Boras, the man for whom most of the changes to the draft over the last 20-plus years have revolved around. He's found plenty of tactics and loopholes to get the best deals for his clients, and nobody in the industry thinks that will stop just because of more stringent guidelines. “People have to remember that Boras tends to find things to his client's advantage,” said one American League scouting official. “And when baseball tries to fight him on them, they tend to lose.” An American League assistant GM agreed. “Boras did not recruit Lance McCullers and Albert Almora by telling them they're just going to get slot money.”
But what are Boras' options with teams unable to offer the huge packages and major-league deals from previous drafts? Under the new rules, it could take multiple years for teams to figure out the best practices in terms of selecting and paying for players, but the same applies to the advisers in terms of figuring out how to get the best deals for the players they represent. A poll of the industry believes that Boras' first tactic will simply be to attempt to convince teams that his players are worth the penalty.
“I'm sure he'll try to convince somebody that [Stanford right-hander Mark] Appel is worth whatever the penalty is,” said an American League general manager. “I'm sure he'll try to show that the player is worth it, but what is the leverage now? To bring him back next year under the same rules?” An American League assistant GM agreed that while some teams might pay the taxes for going a bit over the assigned spending pools, nobody in this year's class is worth the stricter penalties. “I would be absolutely shocked if somebody gives up a pick,” he said, while adding that the quality of talent plays a role in that decision. “I can count on one hand the number of players in the last ten years that a team even might be willing to give up a pick to sign,” he explained. “And none of them are in this year's draft.” The general manager agreed, mostly because no team will want to be the first to make such a bold move. “Anytime you have a new system and new rule, you don't have precedents,” he explained. “You can't go backwards. Once a team punts a pick, every agent is going to say their player is worth the same.”
A National League scouting director agreed, stating that assessing a player's demands prior to selection will play a more critical role than ever. “In the draft room, we're going to be doing a lot of work on signability,” he explained. “If we want a guy, and we don't think he's going to sign for the money we can reasonably spend, we just might go to the next player who is. Calling a guy's bluff when it comes to what kind of money he's asking for is going to be much harder than before.”
And then there are the thoughts of working around the standard player contract. “I don't think we're looking at an international incident-level of chicanery, but I could see teams providing side letters,” said an American League official. “Things you can't put into a contract like promises of money down the road or getting added to the 40-man roster by a certain point. Hell, that stuff probably went on before this.” Meanwhile, a National League official thought things could get even shadier. “I wouldn't underestimate the possibility of side deals,” he explained. “Look at all of the shady stuff that goes on in Latin America. It would be harder to do here because of the paper trail, but teams want to win and if you funnel some extra cash to someone and nobody knows about it, is it a crime?”