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Draft : : Story
The Real 2009 Draft: Ordered by Bonus instead of Pick
Anup Sinha    
Published: Friday, January 15, 2010

I have two motivations for writing this article.

One is simply the realization that money is the driving force over draft position. This goes for both players and teams. Signability has become so much a part of the June draft that the best players are no longer chosen in order of ability.

New Jersey high school lefty Evan DeLuca was the 1,335th player chosen, yet he received a $500,000 bonus from the New York Yankees. What is more indicative of the Yankees’ investment and DeLuca’s perceived talent? The fact that he was the 1,335th player chosen or that he was given the 98th highest bonus in the draft? Does it make a difference whether DeLuca got paid in the 44th round or the second?

My second motivation for this article is to see how effective Major League Baseball’s slotting system truly was in our last draft.

In recent years, MLB has taken it upon itself to keep signing bonuses in check for the Rule IV First Year Player Draft. MLB has gone as far as issuing recommended bonuses for each pick through the first 10 rounds, in essence defining what “slot money” is.

It’s not enough to compare the 25th slot suggestion to what the 25th overall pick received. I believe it is much more apt to compare the 25th slot to the 25th highest bonus received; the distinction is subtle but intrinsic to what Major League Baseball is trying to accomplish.

It goes back to the old adage of a ton of feathers versus a ton of bricks; they both weigh the same and are just as difficult to carry. By the same token, spending a million dollars in the 10th round is no different from spending it in the first.

With this perspective, it seems that MLB’s definition of slot money was rendered truly irrelevant in 2009. Not only did players get bigger money in the early rounds, but many more struck gold late.

A quick perusal of the 2009 signing bonuses reveals a number of outliers, of players in later rounds who received six- and seven-figure bonuses compared to the slotted four and five figures of their round-mates. There were teams that exceeded slot so many times that if they received even a slap on the wrist for each violation, their hands would still be red today.

In the table below, I’ve accumulated information on players given bonuses of more than $450,000 regardless of where they were drafted. I chose $450,000 as the cutoff because that is what the last pick of the second round was reportedly slotted for by MLB. The Los Angeles Angels owned that pick, the 80th overall, and were able to sign Chipola JC lefty Pat Corbin for the suggested slot money.

There were five players drafted before Corbin who did not sign. So if slotting were effective, it would follow that only 75 players should have made $450,000 or more on their signing bonus. As it turned out, there were 112. There were 37 additional players, taken outside the first two rounds, who were given first two-round money. That is nearly a 50% increase over MLB’s proposed limitation.

How about the first round?

MLB reportedly slotted the final pick in the true first round, 32nd overall, for $900,000, which is exactly what Sacramento State outfielder Tim Wheeler received from the Colorado Rockies. But in the end, a whopping 54 players ended up getting at least as much as Wheeler. Keep in mind that two first-rounders didn’t sign, so only 30 players “should” have been paid $900,000 or more. That means 24 extra players, an additional 80%, received “first-round” money.

So another question begs: Was 2009 an unusually strong draft where 54 players had first-round talent instead of the usual 30? Where 112 players had second-round talent instead of 75?

I personally don’t believe that unusually high talent explains the increased expenditure. Time will tell, 10 years down the road when we see how many of these athletes become productive major league players. But I for one am very doubtful it will turn out significantly better than other drafts. It wasn’t talent that drove the market, it was the market itself.

In light of the bonuses, it is apparent that MLB’s regulation has been ignored by their constituent organizations. Even with the Aug. 17 signing deadline and compensation measures instituted in 2007, clubs have gradually allowed fiscal restraint to slip out of their fingers to a point where it’s less controlled than ever before.

In the table below, I’ve listed the 112 players who received first two-round money, the equivalent of a $450,000 bonus or better. It represents not only the “true” order of the draft in terms of perceived talent, but also the reality of what each pick ended up receiving. As the table shows, what the 10th pick in the draft signs for is not necessarily what is given to the 10th best player in the draft.

2009 DRAFT ORDERED BY SIGNING BONUS

$ Rank

First Name

Last Name

Pick #

Team

Bonus $

1.

STEPHEN

STRASBURG

1

WASH

15,700,000

2.

DUSTIN

ACKLEY

2

SEA

7,500,000

3t.

DONAVAN

TATE

3

SD

6,250,000

3t.

JACOB

TURNER

9

DET

5,500,000

5.

AARON

CROW

12

KC

4,500,000

6.

TYLER

MATZEK

11

COL

3,900,000

7.

ZACK

WHEELER

6

SF

3,300,000

8.

SHELBY

MILLER

19

STL

2,875,000

9.

GRANT

GREEN

13

OAK

2,750,000

10.

TONY

SANCHEZ

4

PIT

2,500,000

11t.

MATT

HOBGOOD

5

BAL

2,420,000

11t.

MIKE

MINOR

7

ATL

2,420,000

13.

MIKE

LEAKE

8

CIN

2,270,000

14.

ALEX

WHITE

15

CLE

2,250,000

15.

SLADE

HEATHCOTT

29

NYY

2,200,000

16.

WIL

MYERS

91

KC

2,000,000

17t.

BOBBY

BORCHERING

16

ARI

1,800,000

17t.

KYLE

GIBSON

22

MIN

1,800,000

19.

CHAD

JAMES

18

FLA

1,700,000

20t.

DREW

STOREN

10

WAS

1,600,000

20t.

DANIEL

FIELDS

180

DET

1,600,000

22.

MAX

STASSI

123

OAK

1,500,000

23.

ANDY

OLIVER

58

DET

1,495,000

24.

CHRIS

DWYER

122

KC

1,450,000

25t.

A.J.

POLLOCK

17

ARI

1,400,000

25t.

DAVID

RENFROE

107

BOS

1,400,000

27.

CHAD

JENKINS

20

TOR

1,359,000

28.

JIOVANNI

MIER

21

HOU

1,358,000

29.

NICK

FRANKLIN

27

SEA

1,280,000

30.

TANNER

SCHEPPERS

44

TEX

1,250,000

31.

RANDALL

GRICHUK

24

LAA

1,242,000

32.

MIKE

TROUT

25

LAA

1,215,000

33t.

ZACK

VON ROSENBERG

175

PIT

1,200,000

33t.

J.R.

MURPHY

76

NYY

1,200,000

33t.

JARED

MITCHELL

23

CHW

1,200,000

33t.

KENTRAIL

DAVIS

39

MIL

1,200,000

37.

ERIC

ARNETT

26

MIL

1,197,000

38.

REY

FUENTES

28

BOS

1,134,000

39.

COLTON

CAIN

235

PIT

1,125,000

40t.

JAKE

MARISNICK

104

TOR

1,000,000

40t.

TYLER

SKAGGS

40

LAA

1,000,000

42.

MIKE

OHLMAN

326

BAL

995,000

43.

CAMERON

COFFEY

656

BAL

990,000

44.

STEVEN

BARON

33

SEA

980,000

45.

MADISON

YOUNGINER

228

BOS

975,000

46.

BRETT

JACKSON

31

CHC

972,000

47.

REX

BROTHERS

34

COL

969,000

48.

CHRIS

OWINGS

41

ARI

950,000

49.

TODD

GLAESMANN

108

TB

930,000

50.

IAN

KROL

213

OAK

925,000

51t.

TIM

WHEELER

32

COL

900,000

51t.

GARRETT

GOULD

65

LAD

900,000

51t.

MATT

DAVIDSON

35

ARI

900,000

51t.

BRODY

COLVIN

227

PHI

900,000

55.

STEVE

MATZ

72

NYM

895,000

56.

AARON

MILLER

36

LAD

889,200

57.

JOSH

PHEGLEY

38

CHW

858,600

58.

BRAD

BOXBERGER

43

CIN

857,000

59.

GARRETT

RICHARDS

42

LAA

802,800

60t.

MYCHAL

GIVENS

54

BAL

800,000

60t.

BRYAN

MITCHELL

495

NYY

800,000

62.

KYLE

HECKATHORN

47

MIL

776,000

63.

EVERETT

WILLIAMS

52

SD

775,000

64.

MATT

BASHORE

46

MIN

751,500

65t.

BRANDON

JACOBS

318

BOS

750,000

65t.

BROOKS

RALEY

200

CHC

750,000

65t

LUKE

BAILEY

139

TB

750,000

68.

TYLER

KEHRER

48

LAA

728,100

69.

MIKE

BELFIORE

45

ARI

725,000

70.

VICTOR

BLACK

49

PIT

717,000

71.

TOMMY

JOSEPH

55

SF

712,000

72.

JEFF

KOBERNUS

50

WAS

705,000

73.

BROOKS

HALL

136

MIL

700,000

74.

RICH

POYTHRESS

51

SEA

694,800

75.

JEFF

MALM

169

TB

680,000

76t.

CALEB

COTHAM

165

NYY

675,000

76t.

GRAHAM

STONEBURNER

435

NYY

675,000

78.

BROOKS

POUNDERS

53

PIT

670,000

79.

BLAKE

SMITH

56

LAD

643,500

80t.

NOLAN

ARENADO

59

COL

625,000

80t.

TRAYCE

THOMPSON

61

CHW

625,000

80t.

KEVIN

JAMES

289

TB

625,000

83.

BILLY

HAMILTON

57

CIN

623,600

84.

ERIC

SMITH

60

ARI

605,700

85t.

ZACK

DODSON

115

PIT

600,000

85t.

KEYVIUS

SAMPSON

114

SD

600,000

87.

TOMMY

MENDONCA

62

TEX

587,700

88.

JASON

KIPNIS

63

CLE

575,000

89.

BRYAN

BERGLUND

66

FLA

572,500

90t.

MARC

KRAUSS

64

ARI

550,000

90t.

DANIEL

WEBB

550

TOR

550,000

90t.

KENDAL

VOLZ

288

BOS

550,000

93.

TANNER

BUSHUE

69

HOU

530,000

94.

ROBERT

STOCK

67

STL

525,000

95.

BILLY

BULLOCK

70

MIN

522,000

96.

DAVID

HOLMBERG

71

CHW

514,000

97.

D.J.

LEMAHIEU

79

CHC

508,000

98t.

EVAN

DELUCA

1335

NYY

500,000

98t.

K.C.

HOBSON

190

TOR

500,000

98t.

ZACH

DOTSON

404

NYM

500,000

98t.

MATT

HELM

216

ARI

500,000

98t.

MATT

GRAHAM

177

SF

500,000

103.

MAX

WALLA

73

MIL

499,000

104.

CAMERON

GARFIELD

74

MIL

492,200

105.

KELLY

DUGAN

75

PHI

485,000

106t.

RANDY

HENRY

116

BAL

475,000

106t.

KYRELL

HUDSON

106

PHI

475,000

108.

ALEX

WILSON

77

BOS

470,700

109t.

CRAWFORD

SIMMONS

422

KC

450,000

109t.

CHAD

BELL

424

TEX

450,000

109t.

PATRICK

SCHUSTER

396

ARI

450,000

109t.

PAT

CORBIN

80

LAA

450,000

THE “REAL” SLOTS

If you take the data literally, the entire first round (the top 33 picks) for the upcoming 2010 draft would necessitate bonuses exceeding $1.2 million without accounting for inflation. This is not what MLB wants to hear, but it is exactly what happened to the best 33 players in 2009. The end of the second round in 2010 (with the overall pick number still to be determined) will correspond to more than $600,000, well above the 450,000 slotted for in 2009.

Though MLB was hoping for only 10 players to get bonuses exceeding $2 million, they ended up with 16. One of the Two Million Dollar Babies (prep catcher Wil Myers, Kansas City Royals) was taken in the third round.

A number of players were rewarded for holding out. Many waited until Aug. 17 to sign and were offered bonuses well over the recommended slot. One could hardly expect holdouts to decrease in 2010, given that MLB clubs have allowed the precedent to be set.

It will be interesting to see where Commissioner Bud Selig goes with slotting in 2010. MLB has never significantly hiked the slot recommendations and has actually decreased them twice, in 2007 as well as 2009. If Selig is conservative with slotting again in 2010, it runs the risk of becoming completely irrelevant and immaterial in the eyes of the teams, the players and ultimately the agents.

More interesting will be what happens in 2011 when the Basic Agreement comes to a close. MLB has failed to institute an automatic slotting system thus far, but with the recent expenditures and the slotting success of the NFL and NBA, there seems to be much more momentum for bonus reform today than there was the last time MLB addressed the issue in 2006. Another wild draft in 2010 will only further the movement.