Post-Draft Signing Deadline Reactions Thread, and Mini-Blueprint

Last night was the deadline for teams to come to terms with the amateur draft picks they selected in June.  For many high-profile players, this August 15th deadline is quite significant and many teams had negotiations go down to the wire.   For the players who did not come to terms - typically these are high-school guys, Juco players, or draft-eligible sophomores, since those groups have more leverage to return to school than do college juniors and seniors - they retain their amateur status, go back to college, and the drafting team loses their draft rights. 

This is meant to be a "Tidbits with Taj"-style post with some bullet-point reactions to this year's draft signings, and I hope you'll share your own in the comments below.

*There were four high school players drafted from Santa Clara County : 

-Shawon Dunston Jr. from Valley Christian, who was taken in the 11th round by the Cubs (No. 339 overall) and who signed for more than $1.2M, an incredible overslot figure for that draft slot.  This pick is all projection, family pedigree and tools; I'm pretty sure that Dunston wasn't even all-league in the very competitive WCAL (granted, sample sizes are very small in a 30-game high school season, but the cream still rises to the statistical crop typically at that level).

-The last three Santa Clara County high school draftees all came from Saint Francis High in Mountain View - 3b Tyler Goeddel, who was drafted No. 41 overall by the Rays and signed last night for $1.5M to break his commitment to UCLA; 1b Richard Prigatano, was was drafted by the Jays in the 16th round, No. 499 overall, but couldn't come to terms and will attend Long Beach St.; and shortstop Alex Blandino, taken in the 38th round by the A's (pick 1,156).  

I paid particular attention to this local high school angle, having had the opportunity to watch my alma mater a few times this year.  When the A's drafted Blandino, the Mercury CCS Player of the Year with a section-leading nine homers (more impressive given the new BBCOR bat restrictions that have drastically suppressed amateur offense), and a 90 mph fastball, I was intrigued, even though I knew Blandino was a Stanford commit and that he'd be an extremely difficult player to sign. 

*Even though I shouldn't have had my hopes up, I was a little disappointed when I refreshed MLB Trade Rumors last night and saw that the A's were one of the few teams that did not appear to make any over-slot signings of draft picks in the last 48 hours. 

You couldn't help but feel that there was a really exciting party last night and the A's weren't there.  Click on the first three pages of MLBTR, and you'll read headlines like "Pirates Break Draft Records," and "Nationals Spend Big in Draft." There were all kinds of records made in the last two days, and the Pirates, Nationals, Rays, and Blue Jays all added a ton of potentially high-impact talent to their systems. The Rays had 10 of the first 60 picks, and if you study this list from MLBTR, they managed to sign all of them, and none of them look like Jeremy Brownesque, drastically-below slot pre-draft agreements.  I love what the Rays did.  They slashed $20M off their major-league payroll this year, perhaps in part because they knew they would need to budget an additional $10M more than usual to prepare for the historic opportunity they would have in this year's draft.  And, now that they have signed 10 of the top 60 picks without having to sign below-slot talent, I think they should feel very good about how that plan worked out.  They won't make the playoffs this year, but retaining Carl Crawford for $18M a year wouldn't have changed that.

*Some other stats from last night:  The Pirates spent a record $17M+ on their 24 signees; top overall pick Gerrit Cole signed for a record $8M and second-rounder Josh Bell signed for a record $5M, more than double the previous record (prior to this year) for any player selected outside of the first round.  The Nationals also spent nearly $17M, including a $4.4M major-league deal for third-rounder Matt Purke.

*In the A's defense, they were left out of this spending orgy partially because of circumstances.  The team didn't have a 2nd-round pick, as a result of signing Type A free agent Grant Balfour last year.  They also didn't have the benefit of any compensation picks in the sandwich round, like the Rays and Jays used to bolster their very strong drafts.  As such, the A's had a Grand Canyon-sized gulf between pick No. 18 overall, Sonny Gray, and their 2nd pick - No. 105 overall B.A. Vollmuth.  Both players received approximately slot-level deals - Gray for $1.54M, and Vollmuth for about $300K. 

But the A's created those circumstances for themselves.  They signed Balfour, which cost them the opportunity to draft another high-impact talent at pick No. 75, such as Austin Hedges ($3M to the Padres) or Purke, who went at pick No. 96 overall to the Nationals.  Both Hedges and Purke were widely considered first-round talents, and they were paid accordingly. 

They also could've acquired a comp pick, as the Blue Jays did last winter when they traded $500K for Miguel Olivo, a pending Type B free agent, solely to acquire the comp pick he would garner in the sandwich round once he signed elsewhere. 

I would've been much more excited about the A's draft if it yielded Gray, and Hedges or Purke, and Vollmuth, instead of just Gray and Vollmuth, which is basically what the A's 2011 draft depends upon, since they signed only one high school and JuCo kid and didn't pay anyone well over slot.  Granted, Hedges or Burke would've cost somewhere between $3-4.5M, which means the team probably wouldn't have had enough money to sign either Balfour or Fuentes.  Aw shucks. 

In review, I am slightly disappointed, because I feel the team should've compensated for the lack of high-end opportunities - only one pick in the first 100 - by taking tons of high-upside high school kids in the next 15 rounds and signing most of them to well-above slot contracts.  Basically, exactly what the Blue Jays did. 

Blandino, the 38th rounder, is a great example.  I realize a Stanford scholarship is an incredibly difficult one to break, but I hope the A's offered him high six figures, and that this wasn't just a ceremonial pick - like Geren's kid, or Scott Boras' kid, or the 79-year-old ticket lady at the Coliseum's kid, or Beane's neighbor's kid (only two of those are ridiculous things that didn't happen, by the way).  Signing a few players of this stature - there are only 10 sections in California, which produces ~15-20% of the future major league talent, and Blandino was the Section Player of the Year in one of them - late in the draft is a great way to buttress an otherwise bleak draft. 

Instead, the A's seemingly did the opposite of the Blue Jays approach:  The A's took almost all three-year college kids for the first 20 rounds.  The one high schooler they did take, a lefty in the 9th round, they didn't sign.  Then they took a bunch of high school kids in the last 25 rounds, including Blandino, and signed only one of them, Chris Bostick, their 44th rounder who had a full ride to St. John's.  The A's raised their initial bonus offer "significantly" after watching him play more in the summer.  This probably gives us an insight into how they handle many of their late-round high school draftees:  treat it as a mini "draft and follow" - draft him in early June, then watch him more closely for two months to see if he does indeed warrant a bonus worthy of a higher-round pick. 

Anyway, I'm a big fan of how the Blue Jays are doing things, and their GM seems tireless and very willing to think outside the box, and I don't think it's a good thing when I find myself typing "Instead, the A's seemingly did the opposite of the Blue Jays approach." 

*This draft may have been the last opportunity, ever, to go "over-slot," which may partially explain the spending craze of yesterday.  The new Collective Bargaining Agreement, expected to be announced sometime around the World Series, may include hard-slotting of draft picks and even a worldwide draft.  This might have a huge impact on the future decisions of high school prospects - if a 5th round pick is a hard-slot $100K, very few kids are going to turn down college scholarships.  Suddenly, the only HS talent that goes pro are top-200 picks, guys drafted in the first four rounds.  MLB powers-that-be wouldn't mind this at all, because they save on development costs while the NCAA operates as a free farm system for them, just as NCAA football does for the NFL.  I think hard-slotting would cost baseball some really good amateur athletes, especially elite African-American players, which baseball already struggles to attract.  NCAA D-I baseball teams can only offer 11.7 scholarships spread amongst 27 players, so most players are on partial, 25-50% scholarships.  The only thing that lures a Dominic Brown-level athletic talent away from playing big-time college football and pursuing an eventual career in the NFL is that high six figure, low-seven figure bonus he is offered out of high school in the draft.  If baseball cuts those late-round bonuses off in the new CBA, teams will only be able to sign high-upside, toolsy high school talent in the first 3 rounds.

Because of this I hope the hard-slotting aspect of the new CBA is some type of hybrid system that "hard slots" the first 2-3 rounds and then follows the current open-ended model for the remainder of the draft.  That way teams can better project and control their costs in the draft, and yet the sport of baseball doesn't lose out entirely on the next generation of toolsy multi-sport talents.  And I hope that teams are allowed to trade the hard-slot picks (rounds 1-3) as well, because I don't think a team should be forced to pay an $8M signing bonus to the first overall pick if they don't believe there is a player at that slot worthy of $8M. 

*The A's should know their own "backyard" really well in scouting.  I hope they saw Blandino, Prigatano (BA's top 200 overall pre-draft), and Goeddel (No. 89) at least a few times before reaching an evaluation of them.  Instead of drafting family members and your next-door neighbor's kid in the last 25 rounds, why not draft the best HS prospects from Santa Clara, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties?  It's cheaper to scout those guys, and they should be able to get a better read on them than anyone else, like the Braves did with Heyward.  Maybe the prospect will have some sentimentality after being drafted by their local team, and maybe it's a little bit easier to break his college commitment as a result. If the guy does make it to the pros, it's a terrific local story, and he becomes a fan favorite because he's a local boy.  I think one of the Giants' significant advantages right now is that they have so many marketable personalities, and the A's have none.  But what if you hit a home run with one of these late-round local guys and Blandino fills out and becomes the next Tulowitzki, and part of the fanbase is because he's a local guy who professes to love the area, lives in the community and has all his life, etc.  The thing about signing him now is, it might be the one chance you have to sign him.  Because if he does blow up in college, you never even get a chance to draft him again, like Tulo did after leaving the South Bay, going to Long Beach and turning himself into a top-10 pick.

*Last thought:  Next year's team will not be a playoff team.  So, I hope they offer arbitration to Willingham, Matsui, Crisp, and DeJesus.  If one of them accepts, fine, but I wouldn't be surprised if all four decline, because you don't try to rebuild your offensive value on a one-year deal in Oakland.  If all four decline, that's five compensation draft picks. I don't really think any of the Type A free agents are good fits for the A's this off-season, so they'll keep their 2nd rounder next year. So now we're looking at potentially as many as 7 of the first 70 overall picks in the 2012 draft, 8 of the first 100 picks, as opposed to this year's draft, which only provided the team with one of the first 100 picks, Sonny Gray, who is really their only draft pick this year that I feel optimistic about.  (Some would argue that Vollmuth is worthy of excitement, but look at the bust rate of guys who get $300K signing bonuses after pick No. 100, and it tempers your expectations.  I'm expecting the A's get 1.5 major leaguers out of this 2011 draft).

Seven of the first 70 overall picks.  Not seven quirky, plucky odd-looking guys that only the A's could appreciate, and for the low, low price of $300K apiece.  Seven guys that every team in major league baseball legitimately liked and had somewhere on their top 200 Big Board.  Seven guys that will cost a combined $10-15M.  That's the type of draft this team needs to turn the corner long-term, I feel.  Next August 16th, I hope the A's fan base is buzzing with the type of excitement that is surrounding the long-term futures of the Nationals, Pirates, and Rays right now.

Devoting that much money to the draft would mean signing no major league free agents for anything more than a Brandon McCarthy or Rich Harden one year, $1-1.5M deal, which is fine.  It's easier to sign pitchers to come to Oakland than hitters, anyway, and the team has enough intriguing offensive talent talent that it's time to go all internal candidates for 2012, add Recker, Mitchell, and Miller to the 40-man  to protect them from the Rule 5 draft and let our 18-20 cost-controlled offensive players on the roster all duke it out equally to make the big club.  Literally no offensive position guaranteed a spot entering camp, with battles everywhere and the losers headed to the bench or Sacramento.  They wouldn't make the playoffs but I think they'd play hard and be fun to watch.

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