Deadline turns signing into late chess game
Many Draft picks delay until final hours to sign, maximizing deals
It began in 2007 -- the year David Price was taken No. 1 overall -- and no one was quite sure how the change would impact the First-Year Player Draft.
It was obvious that the move of the signing deadline to Aug. 15 ended the era of draft-and-follows and the drawn-out, nearly year-long negotiations that frequently occurred. That year, most players came to terms in advance of the deadline, with 18 of the 30 first-rounders that summer signed by Aug. 13 and only seven top picks remaining unsigned on deadline day.
"This being the first year ever, I think some people weren't sure how this thing was going to turn out," one scouting director said at the time, prior to the deadline. "I was extremely leery of this deadline to begin with. I thought it was made to be too comfortable. I wanted to see it unfold the first year. I think that dictated how some people drafted and others were unaffected by it. Some people would say it was business as usual, some would say you'd better be conservative. I guess we'll find out who calculated right and who miscalculated."
In the end, all 30 first-rounders signed by the deadline, though the fireworks that came right at midnight, with players agreeing at the very last moment, hinted that future deadlines would be just as gut-wrenching.
It didn't get more dramatic than in 2008. There were 10 first-rounders who waited until the very last minute, including picks two through five, to sign. Two of those -- No. 2 pick Pedro Alvarez and No. 3 pick Eric Hosmer -- were advised by Boras Corp., as agent Scott Boras seemed to use the deadline to its fullest extent. That deadline process ended in controversy, with charges of after-deadline agreements. In the end, both Alvarez and Hosmer signed.
But for the first time since the system was implemented, two first-round picks did not join the clubs that drafted them. The Washington Nationals didn't sign No. 9 pick Aaron Crow and the Yankees let the 28th selection, Gerrit Cole, go off to UCLA. Those teams did get the benefit of the other new aspect of the system: pick compensation. The Nationals got what was pick No. 10 in '09, which turned into reliever Drew Storen, while the Yankees received the 29th pick, who ended up being high school outfielder Slade Heathcott.
It was more of the same in '09. Stephen Strasburg headlined that deadline period and he ended up inking his record-breaking deal right before the clock struck midnight. But he was far from alone. Strasburg was one of six Boras advisees who were unsigned as the deadline approached. That included the No. 2 and 3 picks -- Dustin Ackley and Donavan Tate. Both players signed on the final day, like Strasburg. So did Boras clients Jacob Turner and Grant Green.
But LeVon Washington, taken No. 30 by the Rays, did not. Neither did the Rangers' top pick, Matt Purke. The No. 14 selection went to TCU instead. Texas used the No. 15 pick in this past year's Draft to select Jake Skole, while the Rays nabbed Justin O'Conner at No. 31 as compensation. Not surprisingly, both players have signed, as there would be no further compensation for unsigned picks in those spots.
As the fourth edition of the August signing deadline comes to a head, a few things have become clear. While most players do sign, and having them do so by August allows them to at least get Instructional League experience under their belts,s more and more of the high-end talent is waiting for the very last minute to sign. While there have been the few exceptions of players who don't sign, for the most part they've realized that pushing up against the deadline means a better financial outcome for them.
"We're rewarding players for not playing," one scouting director said. "I don't know if that ever can be spun to be a good thing. It's basically moved too many decisions to the middle of August. As far as a lot of the higher guys, it seems that every year there are more and more guys waiting. For me, it's counter-productive. I don't see necessarily a positive impact."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.