Amid the celebrations of dreams realized and the uncertainty of a remote home in a town with a ballpark and two stoplights, the focus of the Major League Baseball Draft is no longer the players. It’s their agents.
Negotiations through carefully crafted statements, like the one Albert Amora aimed at the Chicago Cubs, serve to give the franchise a base from which to start throwing around bonus numbers. Amora will use the threat of enrolling at Miami so he’s able to accrue more of the pool money (slotted at $3.25 million as the sixth overall pick) before eventually signing and reporting to minor league camp. The best at this art, and it is most definitely art when commissions run seven figures, is Scott Boras. He’s handling Almora’s case and a litany of other prospects including the pitcher pundits pegged to slide off the board with the first pick. Mark Appel may have let slip that he wanted substantially more than $7.2 million from the Astros and perhaps the benefit was Carlos Correa’s. Pittsburgh chose the Stanford ace at eighth overall and because college seniors have little in the way of leverage, Appel will sign. He could return to the Cardinal and embarrass opposing hitters in the Pac 12 for another season but at the risk of blowing a tendon, he’ll argue for $3-4 million and ink a deal.
The new collective bargaining agreement makes this rendition of the Major League Draft something of a guinea pig. No one is all that familiar with the revised slots. No one is sure how negotiations will play with the deadline to sign a full month (mid-July rather than mid-August) earlier. And no one is certain whether exceeding the pool limits is worth sacrificing future first round picks. The process is worth following simply because teams are dealing in the unknown. With millions of dollars, prospective careers and front office jobs at stake, the aftermath of the draft might be just as intriguing as the selections themselves.
Already, the Houston Astros showcased a boldness to pick a player who wasn’t at the top of every mock draft that may allow them to sign a player many thought headed to the University of Florida.
Should Correa’s deal come in that low, the Astros are almost guaranteed to sway Lance McCullers from the Gators. The latter is represented by Scott Boras, he’s everywhere, so it won’t be easy but if his bonus rises from a compensation slot (41st overall) of around $1.2 million to $2.5 million with the money Correa saved, the Tampa prep pitching phenom seems a decent bet for Minute Maid Park.
Even if Correa requires $5 million, a below-market contract eases the fear of later choices demanding higher dollars. Not every team is so lucky, the Pirates and Cubs appear to have the reverse situation unfolding but each instance is interesting in building the future of a franchise.
Every year, players return to school or bypass college when the opposite made sense. With the new rules governing the draft, it’s going to be much harder to decide what makes sense at all.