Six first-rounders unsigned as deadline nears

New CBA changes strategy; last day for clubs and picks to agree is Friday

By Jonathan Mayo / | 07/11/12 12:24 PM ET

Orioles draft RHP Gausman No. 400:02:41

The Orioles select right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman with the fourth pick of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft

When the new First-Year Player Draft system was collectively bargained, the expectation was that it would rein in costs, get players to sign early and avoid signing deadline drama.

For the most part, it's done exactly that. The deadline to sign is Friday at 5 p.m. ET. With the Cubs agreeing to terms with No. 6 pick Albert Almora, there remain six first-round picks who haven't signed. Five of the unsigned are pitchers, including the first three college pitchers taken in the top 10 picks in June. Kevin Gausman, the Orioles' pick at No. 4, does have the leverage of being a Draft-eligible sophomore, but the club seems optimistic it would be able to sign the big right-hander.
"We are engaged in talks with his representatives and are moving forward," Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich said.
That's largely the party line for any team as time runs out. Things are moving forward for Baltimore. They're moving in a positive direction for the Rays and Clemson corner infielder Richie Shaffer. The Yankees have extended an offer to No. 30 pick Ty Hensley, the high school right-hander from Oklahoma.
The main difference between this year and the past, of course, is that the deadline drama should be limited based on the Draft pool system. In the past, the deadline would often become a game of chicken between teams and advisors and it became routine for first-round talents -- those either taken in the first or those who slid because of signability -- to wait until the 11th hour. Often, teams would blink and hand out above-slot bonuses to get players signed.
Now, there's sure to be some negotiating going on as the clock ticks, but the wiggle room is somewhat limited. For example, the Orioles have a total pool for the first 10 rounds of just over $6.8 million. They've spent nearly $2.25 million with Gausman and fifth-rounder Colin Poche yet to officially sign. If Poche signs for his pick value at $262,000 and they use the $120,000 they saved on their ninth and tenth rounders, that leaves them with roughly $4.32 million to spend on Gausman without going over their pool at all. The value for the No. 4 pick is $4.2 million. Even if Baltimore is willing to go over and pay a tax, as some teams have done, they could only max out an offer to the LSU ace at approximately $4.66 million. Anything more than that would mean a penalty in forfeited picks in 2013 and it seems fairly clear no team wants to go that far.
The two most interesting cases to watch might be in Pittsburgh and Washington. The Pirates took a chance when Stanford ace Mark Appel fell to them at No. 8. They've saved a touch over $600,000 with other signings in the top 10 rounds. Add that to that overage that only causes a tax -- they also have two other unsigned picks -- and they might be able to top out with an offer of $4 million, compared to the pick value of $2.9 million. Whether that's enough remains to be seen.
The Nationals also took a bit of a risk when they selected Lucas Giolito No. 16 overall. Based on talent alone, Giolito would have gone in the first few picks, but an elbow injury that forced him to miss nearly all of his senior year of high school created many question marks. Washington was willing to take a shot, knowing the pick value of $2.125 million wouldn't get Giolito to walk away from attending UCLA. They've signed all of their other picks in the top 10 rounds and saved $687,700 in the process. Going a little over could allow them to offer Giolito $3 million, the number many have thought was needed to get a deal done.
Several teams got things done quickly and many were creative within the confines of the new system to bring in talent. As of Tuesday morning, 14 teams had signed all of their selections from the first 10 rounds. Only a handful went over their allotted pool at all, incurring a tax. None have gone so far over to be penalized by the loss of a Draft pick.
The Astros have just one unsigned pick in that group, college senior Preston Tucker from the seventh round, and it wouldn't be surprising if they saved enough money on his signing to avoid any tax for going over their pool.
Houston was able to use the savings from No. 1 pick Carlos Correa to go way above pick value for sandwich pick Lance McCullers and fourth-rounder Rio Ruiz. They even had enough left over to give a bit extra to third-rounder Nolan Fontana and sixth-rounder Brett Phillips.
"Once we established there was not a prospect that solely separated themselves for (the overall top pick), our goal became to get the most premium talent from the second largest top 10 pool," said Astros assistant general manager of scouting Bobby Heck, who had $11.2 million in that pool to work with. "With the number that Correa came in at it allowed us to pounce on opportunities that we would not have been able to otherwise had we been married to the suggested slot numbers.
"We knew from history there would be some opportunities due to signability and/or in-season injuries to first-round caliber prospects but you would also need first-round dollars on hand to run the play. We feel like we executed the plan we laid out and feel really good about the talent we have been able to inject into our system from this Draft."
The Blue Jays employed a strategy used by many teams -- signing college seniors at a discount -- more than any organization. Their fourth through 10th round picks were all college seniors from which they saved a combined total of just over $1.2 million. That windfall, along with a bit of a discount from No. 17 pick D.J. Davis, allowed them to sign aggressive picks like Matt Smoral in the supplemental first round and two-sport star Anthony Alford in the third round.
"Based on the CBA rule changes that affected the Draft, we were prepared for a variety of scenarios," Blue Jays assistant general manager Andrew Tinnish said. "It was difficult to definitively say 'We're going to take seniors in the top 10 rounds' without knowing which players would be available with the early picks. Once we took Smoral and Alford, we felt like we needed to employ that strategy in order to have a shot at signing them."