But there was some interesting gamesmanship going on Tuesday — and, as an unintended consequence of the new draft rules the commissioner's office insisted on in the new labor agreement, the drafting of many players in Rounds 6-10 who will be released in spring training 2012.
Here's the deal:
- Every pick in the first 10 rounds was assigned a dollar value.
- Each team was then assigned a "bonus pool" — the sum of the values of those picks.
- Teams can go under their budget without consequence, but the penalties for exceeding the total pool are heavy, and they get heavier quickly the more the team goes over its allotted sum.
- The value of an unsigned pick is deducted from the team's pool, so it can't just give its first round pick the money allotted to the 10th round and tell that choice tough luck.
- After the 10th round, all picks are budgeted for a maximum of $100,000, and there are no penalties for not signing a pick. Any bonus in Rounds 11-40 in excess of $100,000 counts against the bonus pool.
What happened Tuesday, particularly in Round 6 through 10, was intentional overdrafting of players. Baseball America tweeted that they were receiving text messages from scouts after picks saying: I didn't even turn in a report on this guy. Players who in the past would have been selected 20 rounds later -- and perhaps not even signed -- were being picked to build a cushion for the harder signs.
The idea: A team would contact a player, often a college senior, who figured to go late in the draft if at all. Say the slot was valued at $700,000; the team tells the player: We'll take you IF you'll sign for $150,000. The player, realizing that that's more than he'd get if drafted where he ought to be taken, grabs the opportunity — and the team has an extra $550,000 in its bonus pool, which it can spend on a tougher sign either earlier in the draft or later.
Some high school players who were seen as tough signs went undrafted until after the 10th round penalties. Others were taken in slots whose values were not sufficient to buy them out of their college options. Saving money on the other picks becomes essential to sign the prime talent without exceeding the budget.
But the result is that Rounds 6-10 mean less than they did last year. A lot of non-prospects got taken in those rounds, and more realistic prospects deferred to later rounds.
The best prospects — with a few exceptions, most notably Mark Appel — will still get their money, and some weak ones are going to benefit as well. The savings are coming out of the midrange prospects.
Appel, widely projected to be the first overall pick, was reportedly offered $6 million by the Astros before the draft and turned it down. (The first pick was slotted for $7.2 million.) He wound up the eighth overall pick, by the Pirates, and their total bonus pool was $6.6 million. He has no chance of getting what he expected.