05/20/09 10:00 AM ET
Economy could affect Draft
Players' contracts and bonuses could go down this year
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
It did seem to alter the free-agent scene, with some players ending up with shorter contracts for less money than they expected. Will the same thing happen to this year's draftees?
Bonuses doled out to amateurs have climbed in recent years, and with it, expectations and demands have grown. Most agree that at the very top, with Stephen Strasburg the presumptive No. 1 overall pick, nothing is really going to change. It still seems likely that a new record for a Draft bonus and contract will be set.
After that, it's much like projecting the order of next month's First-Year Player Draft itself: how bonuses will go is anyone's guess. It will be up to each individual team to make the decision as to where to draw the line in the sand, particularly when it comes to the most costly first-round picks.
"There are going to be some adjustments made," said Orioles scouting director Joe Jordan, whose club has the No. 5 overall pick. "These are not good economic times. There will be some tough conversations we're going to have to have with our owners between now and June 9. We haven't gotten to that yet. We're still trying to figure out the evaluation part, but there's a whole new challenge coming."
It might be a particularly interesting challenge if those on the other side of the equation don't buy into the "it's the economy, stupid" argument. Agent Scott Boras recently told MLB.com that, from his vantage point, Major League Baseball's revenue stream is still strong. The implication was clear: The money is still there for teams to pay the kinds of first-round bonuses that have become commonplace. Others on his side of the ledger seem to agree.
"I think everything is going to be exactly the same, to be honest," said one agent, who asked not to be named. "It's not like the Yankees or Red Sox all of the sudden will stop spending. They budgeted for it."
It should come as no surprise that these two sides are at odds with each other. Every year, it's a necessary, but adversarial, relationship. Is it possible that the issue of the economy could drive a deeper wedge, making the negotiating period between the Draft and the Aug. 15 signing deadline even more acrimonious?
More than anyone, area scouts take the pulse of the Draft scene. They're the ones who get repeated looks at players in their regions. They're the ones who have to file reports on a player's signability. There's a worry that the two worlds -- the teams' and the players' -- are going to collide in a big way.
"They don't think it affects them," one said. "It only takes one team to fall in love with you, so you might get what you're looking for. "But we're in a real-life recession now and these kids don't know it. So they may not get signed and many will get passed over."
How it will play out seemed pretty simple to this scout. Teams will try to keep bonuses limited and below previous levels because of the economy. Agents will counter by doing cost analysis of what teams are or are not making in order to try to prove a team can afford and should meet their demands.
What happened in the free-agent market could serve as an example, one that could feasibly be used by both sides. Sure, the Mark Teixeiras of the world got the huge salaries, but the Jon Garlands out there ended up with less than originally was hoped. Then it will come down to arguing over whether the amateur in question fits into the first or the second category.
"There should be a tie into that, if you look at the free-agent salaries," the scout said. "There will be the argument that top players got top dollars and mid-players didn't get what they thought they should get. The argument will be that these are all top guys."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.