05/05/08 10:00 AM ET
New Draft rules erase last-minute drama
With deadline to sign at Aug. 15, picks inking for greater amount
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
The biggest change dealt with the signing deadline. In years past, teams had up until the week before the following year's Draft to sign a draftee. That led to protracted holdouts at times and the practice of Draft-and-follows, taking a chance on a player, sending them off to junior college and making a decision at the last minute. Now, with the deadline set at August 15, those dramas would be things of the past.
For the most part, the new rule did the trick in that regard. Even though many took it right up to the Aug. 15 deadline, every first-round and supplemental first-round pick signed in time and on August 16, every team knew where it stood with all of its draftees.
"There's psychological value in it," one scouting director said. "You know there's a finish line."
"You're either going to sign your guy or you're not," another scouting director agreed. "There's closure, that's the bonus."
Through the first two rounds, most teams had closure of a positive nature. There was a total of 94 picks through the first two rounds (including the supplemental first round). Ninety-two of those picks are now in professional organizations. Four went unsigned in the third round, bringing the total through 124 picks to 118 signed amateurs. That may sound like a really good percentage, and it is, but it's actually lower than in 2006, when only three players were unsigned through 136 picks and three full rounds of the Draft.
Prior to last year's Draft, some felt the new deadline would mean a greater number of players wouldn't sign, as teams could be more firm in terms of bonus offers with the new deadline. With a stricter "take it or leave it" attitude, the thinking went, more high schoolers would leave it and head to college. An extra three unsigned players really isn't all that statistically significant.
And teams ended up not being all that firm, either. There may have been less time to negotiate, but that didn't mean that the deadline pressure didn't make some teams still ante up to sign their top picks rather than see them slip through their fingers. Perhaps some teams missed the ability to continue negotiating all offseason, where in the past all they would have to do is convince a draftee not to go to a four-year school and remain under their control until the following May. Whatever the reason, the desired effect of the new deadline to keep bonus dollars down did not come to fruition.
As Aug. 15 rolled around and the clock ticked toward midnight, many teams blinked in some fashion to get a deal done. Eleven first-round picks didn't sign until deadline day, and all of them got as much as, or more, than both the estimated slot, and what that spot in the Draft got in 2006. That's not even considering some of the later-round signees that got well above-slot to come to terms. Coincidence? Not so much. And it's something that some feel is likely to continue.
"Players that want to go out and play are going to sign in a timely fashion," the second scouting director said. "Those who are more concerned about maximizing their value, you might see more guys waiting until the deadline to sign because the numbers did go up at the deadline. It'll be up to the organization to hold the line."
That's proven to be a tough line in the sand for teams to draw when faced with losing their top picks. Rather than go empty-handed, most have decided to open the checkbooks a little wider in order to get that special player in the organization. It's hard to blame them, when the percentage of players making the big leagues plummets once you get out of the first round.
"If I'm an agent, I wouldn't let my guy sign until the deadline because anyone who waited, got their money," the first scouting director said. "I don't know that the system worked in terms of keeping down the dollars. I think that's probably what's going to happen. They're not going to be in a hurry to sign and then the pressure's on us to get them signed by the 15th."
At least there's no more pressure to sign a Draft-and-follow. Many teams enjoyed success using the strategy, but all teams won't have to worry about how spending extra dollars to sign a guy under their control from last year's Draft will impact their decisions with this year's selections. Jordan Walden (Angels) and Matt Latos (Padres) both got seven-figure bonuses in late May last year, because the teams feared they'd command at least that much if they re-entered the Draft.
Max Scherzer wasn't a Draft-and-follow like Walden and Latos, but instead was a first-round holdout who eventually got $3 million from the Diamondbacks to sign after heading to independent ball to show his wares to all organizations. It didn't preclude Arizona from shelling out $2+ million to Jarrod Parker in last year's first round, but it's probably safe to assume the organization doesn't mind not having a similar dent in the pocketbook this time around.
"You won't see exorbitant figures given to Draft-and-follows," the second scouting director said. "There won't be a million and a half given to someone before the deadline. That's a plus."
Jonathan Mayo is a senior reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.