The draft pick signing period concluded today at 5:00 PM. In previous years, we’d be finding out about who would be signing right around the time I’m writing this article (midnight). We also wouldn’t get the final results until a month from now. Moving the draft deadline up, and setting the time earlier in the day were two big positives. But the rest of the changes were a big negative.
I talked about the draft earlier today and what led to Mark Appel’s decision to return to Stanford. There was really nothing the Pirates could have done. They offered Appel $3.8 M, which was the most they could offer without losing their first round pick next year. He turned that down, which left them with no choice other than turning to other picks.
I thought I would look at how this year’s draft would have played out under the old rules, to give an idea of what the Pirates lost.
Mark Appel may not have fallen to the Pirates with the eighth overall pick. With no restrictions on spending, there might have been a team willing to take him and give him his asking price. That’s ironic, because the new draft rules were meant to avoid this, and avoid teams having to pass on players because of high prices.
Even if Appel didn’t fall to the Pirates, they had options. They would have ended up with one of Appel, Carlos Correa, Mike Zunino, Byron Buxton, Kevin Gausman, Kyle Zimmer, Albert Almora, or Lucas Giolito.
Signing the Pick
If the Pirates somehow ended up with Appel under the old system, there would have been no problem signing him. If it took $6 M, they could have paid him $6 M. Considering they gave more than that to Pedro Alvarez, Jameson Taillon, and Gerrit Cole, it probably wouldn’t have been an issue. That said, I’d imagine Appel would be asking for more, shooting for Gerrit Cole money ($8 M) under the old system. Either way, the only thing preventing the Pirates from signing him would be an unwillingness to spend, which they never had.
Middle/Later Round Picks
With no limitations on spending, the Pirates wouldn’t have to go with easy to sign players in rounds 6-10. Instead, they could have taken some above-slot guys. It’s possible that those guys would have been the guys they signed in the middle rounds (Max Moroff, Taylor Hearn, John Kuchno), and Walker Buehler.
I heard from a few later round picks that the Pirates were only about $100 K apart from their signing number. Some of those picks reduced their initial bonus demands by half. The Pirates ended up with $92,600 remaining in their draft pool. In the old system, it wouldn’t have been a problem. They could have added a few more guys like 22nd round pick Taylor Hearn, 27th round pick Jake Johansen, or 35th round pick Jackson McClelland. They could have also met the high demands of Walker Buehler. And all of that includes signing their first round pick.
That’s probably the worst part of this system. There were players that wanted to go pro, and weren’t demanding massive bonuses to do so. Yet MLB overhauled the draft to prevent these later round players from getting $200-300 K bonuses, all while big market teams in the majors spend $20 M a year every year on the top free agents. It doesn’t seem like MLB addressed the real spending problem.
Did the System Hurt Other Teams?
I saw a few comments about how every other first round pick signed, so the system must have worked. But that’s not the point. It’s not just about signing the first round pick.
The fact that Mark Appel fell to the Pirates to begin with showed that the system didn’t work. It was set up to prevent exactly that, and it failed from the start.
Then there was the Washington Nationals. They signed first round pick Lucas Giolito. But they booted their entire draft to do so. Washington has had some extremely difficult signings in the past, with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. But that never stopped them from going for talent after round one.
That’s how it was for most teams. Teams either passed on top talent and took signable players, or they took top talent and had to punt a few picks in the later rounds to sign those guys. The draft was supposed to prevent all of that, and it failed in a big way.
The biggest failure of the draft came with the Pirates, and Joe Sheehan said it best:
Any system that prevents Mark Appel from signing with the #Pirates is shattered beyond recognition. Capping investment in R&D is nuts.
— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) July 13, 2012
The draft changes were made to help small market teams. And in the first draft under the new rules, a small market team couldn’t sign their first round pick, after having no problems under the previous system.
Overall the Pirates would have benefitted from the old system. They would have signed Appel (or whoever fell to them from the top eight), they would have signed Buehler, they wouldn’t have gone with under-slot guys in rounds 6-10 (although the over-slot guys in rounds 16-18 probably would have been drafted higher), and they could have added a few of the later round picks.
The only concern with the old system was that some team like the Yankees or Red Sox could go crazy spending in the draft. But that wouldn’t impact the Pirates. It’s not like free agency or the international market. You can only draft a limited amount of players, and players can only sign with the team that drafted them. So even with other teams spending big, the Pirates could still spend big and add talent to their system. I also found it unlikely that big market teams would take this extreme approach. The Yankees don’t care about prospects. If they’ve got an extra $10-20 M, they’re spending that on a big league player.
The worst part about the new system will come if the Pirates start winning, and continue to win. If they win, they’ll be moved down in the draft and will face lower draft budgets. That would be good because they’d be winning, but bad because it wouldn’t allow them to stock their system with talent to keep that winning going for the long haul. In the past, guys who were top ten picks would always fall to a big spender in the second half of the first round. Even if that happens now, it will be difficult for the Pirates to sign those players with a restricted budget. Makes you think twice about wanting to trade the potential impact prospects they currently have in the system.
Links and Notes
**The Pirates lost 10-7 to the Brewers.
**Pirates Notebook: Pitching Struggles Against Milwaukee, Presley Set For Rehab Assignment.
**Prospect Watch: A Lot of Good Performances in West Virginia’s Double Header.
**Pirates Draft Signing Recap: Is the System to Blame For Appel Not Signing?