All across baseball, teams, agents and amateur players will be engaged in a high stakes game of chicken as tonight’s midnight deadline for signing players selected in the recent June Rule IV draft approaches.
August 15 is the last day that teams are permitted to retain the rights of their selections from the most recent draft. If a contract is not signed by the deadline, the player gets thrown back into the pool for the following year’s draft. Although teams are compensated with a supplemental round selection in that same draft, the lost development time and decrease in relative value are both substantial. Similarly, there are several risks encountered by the players. Not only do they miss out on an immediate pay day, but they must also bear the risk of a future injury or decline in performance. Needless to say, much is at stake for all parties involved.
Presently,17 of 32 first round selections remain unsigned, including seven of the top 10. When you throw in those players selected in later rounds who are seeking over slot bonuses, there should be a flurry of activity as the evening progresses. However, most people will likely only be focused on the deadline stare down taking place between the Washington Nationals and Scott Boras, the agent for number one selection and 17-year old hitting prodigy Bryce Harper.
Both sides played a similar game at this time last year, when the Nationals and Boras took the negotiations for Stephen Strasburg down to the wire before agreeing on a record breaking $15.1 million four-year deal. According to some reports, Boras may be looking for even more money this time around, so another last minute decision seems likely. It remains to be seen who will blink first.
Over the last decade, eye popping contract figures for highly regarded draft picks have become more than norm than the exception, leading many to wring their hands and call for reform. Of course, ignored in that equation are the hundreds of other players drafted, most of whom have no leverage and wind up signing for the required minimum bonus. In his fantastic Thunder Thoughts Blog, Mike Ashmore tells their story (a similar tale is also told in the highly recommended 2005 documentary “A Player to Be Named Later”). Although mega-bonuses paid to the best amateur players do not make up for the hardships encountered by the majority of minor leaguers, Ashmore’s account provides a fresh perspective and an excellent lesson in the role that leverage plays in the economics of baseball. So, the next time you read about an owner lamenting the economics of the draft, remember all the players toiling for salaries that amount to well below minimum wage.
For the most up-to-date rumors on the status of unsigned draft selections, Keith Law’s always informative twitter feed is highly recommended.