Long before he took the reins from Drew Bledsoe and led the New England Patriots to victory in the 2002 Super Bowl, Tom Brady was a talented multi-sport athlete at Junípero Serra High School in San Mateo, California. While his skill on the gridiron made him a virtual lock to attend Michigan and play QB with the Wolverines, his skill behind the plate made him worth a late round pick by the Montreal Expos in the 1995 MLB Draft.
Brady was an alluring left-handed hitting catcher coming out of the storied Junípero Serro program, which produced Barry Bonds and Gregg Jefferies. His plus size and excellent throwing arm might have gotten him drafted as high as the fifth or sox round had he not be so obviously committed to Michiganand football. The Expos felt his baseball talent was worth at least an 18th round pick and further monitoring. They took Brady with the 507th overall pick and watched his progress as an athlete at Michigan.
Today Tom Brady ties John Elway, another two sport star who picked the gridiron over the diamond, to become the only other quarterback ever to lead his team to five Super Bowl berths. His choice has paid off better than anyone could have possibly imagined, but the certain NFL Hall-of-Famer is a good reminder of the possible damage that MLB may be doing with the newly introduced quasi-hard slotting rules that now govern the amateur draft.
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams face dramatic penalties for signing amateur players to over-slot bonuses. The new CBA establishes a cap for the money a team can spend on picks of that fall within the first ten rounds based on the number of picks and their order in the draft. Exceeding that cap results in penalties, as Dave Cameron at Fangraphs explains–
‘Tax on over-slot signings – 75% tax on up signings up to 5% over recommendation, 75% tax and loss of first round pick for signings from 5.1% to 10% over recommendation, 100% tax and loss of first and second round picks for signing 10.1 to 15% over recommendation, and finally, a 100% tax and loss of two first round picks for signing of greater than 15% over recommendation. These penalties are so severe that they essentially eliminate any benefit a team would get from signing a player for more than the slot recommendation, so they equate to de facto hard slotting’.
This rule is great for MLB owners as it keeps draft costs down and helps to restore the competitive advantage poorly performing teams can glean from the draft by eliminating one advantage higher payroll teams like the Red Sox have been exploiting. The only downside for baseball is the increased possibility that a higher percentage of two sport talents like Elway, Brady and this past year’s 5th overall draft pick, Bubba Starling will forsake baseball and pursue football or basketball in the NCAA.
Starling singed with the Kansas City Royals for $7.5M, opting to take the early payday and play baseball over playing college football for Nebraska. With such audacious signing bonuses now all but impossible, players like Starling may be more willing to delay their first paycheck and choose other sports over baseball. While the first round bonuses are still high enough to attract many top players, the grueling road through the minors and the appeal of entering National stardom in the NCAA may be enough to keep some premiere talent out of professional baseball.
As the one-time catching prospect takes his place behind center in his sixth Super Bowl tonight, it is easy to dream about what Tom Brady might have done if his heart had been behind the plate instead. In the future, baseball may have to wonder about more and more athletes who walk away from the sport in favor of football and basketball stardom.