SBJ/July 2-8, 2012/Labor and Agents

MLB teams sign 20 first-round picks to bonuses at or below the league-slotted level

MLB clubs had signed 20 first-round draft picks at or below their league-designated slot figures and just one player above his slot number as of midweek last week, with teams working this year under new, stricter guidelines governing the first-year player draft.

Deven Marrero is the only first-round pick so far whose deal exceeded his slot figure.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
As of Wednesday night, with 21 of the 31 first-round picks signed, only Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero (No. 24, by Boston) had a deal that exceeded his draft position’s slot figure. Twenty-seven of the 29 supplemental first-round picks also had signed, with 22 of those deals coming at or below slot.

Three of the top five overall picks had signed, each below slot. Most notably, Houston’s No. 1 overall pick, Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa, signed a deal with a bonus of $4.8 million, one-third less than the draft position’s designated bonus of $7.2 million.

Among the foremost changes in the new five-year collective-bargaining agreement signed last year by the league and MLB Players Association, the new draft system strips an overspending team of a future draft selection for exceeding its assigned aggregate bonus pool by as little as 5 percent. The system was pushed by MLB as a means to provide greater cost certainty in a realm of player spending that has seen historic increases in recent years. The union, in turn, struck a compromise deal with the league on the structure by retaining individual bargaining rights for draftees as opposed to the hard-slotting system desired by the league.

With nearly two weeks to go before the July 13 signing deadline for drafted players, league executives were gratified with the structure’s initial progress.

“We have been very pleased with the way the new system has operated so far, although it’s very early,” said Rob Manfred, MLB executive vice president for economics and league affairs. “From our perspective, the biggest thing is that players are signing earlier and getting out earlier and commencing their professional careers.”

Manfred said this year’s draft did not have a bona fide top overall pick; Correa was one of several rumored candidates for Houston’s first selection. As a result, teams have elected to spread their draft bonus pools more evenly.

“It may be the most efficient allocation of dollars given the distribution of talent that is out there this year,” he said.
The Minnesota Twins, owners of the largest individual bonus pool of any MLB team at nearly $12.4 million, also has paid the largest singular signing bonus: $6 million to No. 2 overall pick, Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton. But even that deal was $200,000 under the position’s slot figure, and the team remained under its total cap.

“It’s hard to understand fully how this will all play out from just one draft, but we’re supportive of what’s in the collective-bargaining agreement and think this has been a boon to get our players signed earlier, into minor league teams, and learning the Twins Way sooner,” said Twins President Dave St. Peter. “We think this will definitely accelerate player development.”

Player agents speaking on the condition of anonymity, however, said the high number of players signing, and the terms to which they agreed, could be attributed to clubs and players agreeing to deals before the draft.

“I would be surprised if a club was going to expend a first-round draft pick on a player they intended on spending below slot without having some kind of conversation with him about how they were going to accomplish a below-slot signing,” said one agent.

MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner declined to comment.

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