June 3, 2012

Dollars for draftees: New rules limit what a big-money team can spend

Although the playing field is more level, the Red Sox still expect to draft quality players this week.

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BOSTON - When Will Middlebrooks played high school baseball in 2007, he was considered a sure first-round pick in that year's major league draft.

DRAFTING ANEW

WHAT: Major league baseball draft

WHEN: Monday (first and supplemental rounds), Tuesday (Rounds 2-15), Wednesday (Rounds 16-40).

TELEVISION: MLB Network and mlb.com

MAJOR LEAGUE DRAFT Q&A

What's new? To make it more fair for smaller-market teams, teams are being told how much money they can spend on draft picks. Plus, there are fewer rounds (40) and an earlier deadline (July 13) to sign draft picks.

How much can teams spend? It depends on where their picks are. MLB has assigned a value to every draft pick in the first 10 rounds.

How many picks does Boston have on the first day? Three. Boston has the 24th pick, and received the Phillies' 31st pick and a supplemental pick (37th) when Philadelphia signed free agent Jonathan Papelbon.

How much can the Red Sox spend? Boston has a $6.884 million pool to spend on its 12 picks in the first 10 rounds ($1.75 million for No. 24, $1.575 million for No. 31, down to $125,000 for its ninth- and 10th-round picks).

If a team does not sign a player in the top 10 rounds, can it use the money for another player? No. If a player isn't signed, the recommended signing bonus for that pick is subtracted from the pool.

What about players drafted after the 10th round? They can be signed for up to $100,000. Anything over that amount will count against the pool.

What happens if a team goes over the pool amount? It is penalized. If a team goes over by up to 5 percent of its pool amount, it is heavily taxed. If a team goes more than 5 percent over, it is taxed and begins losing draft picks in 2013 (a first-rounder for going 5 to 10 percent over; and subsequent picks for going over 10 percent).

-- Kevin Thomas

But Middlebrooks also was a gifted football quarterback with a scholarship to Texas A&M.

Teams feared Middlebrooks might be too difficult to sign, and he slipped to the fifth round, where the Red Sox took a chance.

A fifth-round draft pick out of high school usually commands around $200,000. To convince Middlebrooks to give up football and sign, Boston gave him $925,000.

Those days are over. New rules take effect for the 2012 draft, which begins Monday.

If a team wants to give nearly $1 million to a fifth-round pick, it will have to pay below scale in earlier rounds, or risk a penalty from Major League Baseball.

In MLB's newest collective bargaining agreement with the players' union, a mandatory pay system was implemented for draft picks.

MLB has assigned a value to every draft pick in the first 10 rounds. And based on a team's number of picks and its order in the draft, MLB has determined how much each team can spend in those first 10 rounds.

Boston has 12 picks in the first 10 rounds (getting two extra picks because it lost Jonathan Papelbon in free agency to the Phillies). Boston's "pool" for the first 10 rounds is $6.884 million.

By comparison, Boston spent $6.6 million before the second round last year, on four draft picks. The Red Sox spent $10 million in the first 10 rounds (and that was without signing their eighth-round pick).

Also, draft picks after the 10th round can be signed for up to $100,000 only. Anything more will count against the pool. Last year, Boston gave four players after the 10th round between $125,000 and $275,000.

"Are we going to spend less than previous years? Maybe," said Amiel Sawdaye, the amateur scouting director. "But we'll still get good players."

General Manager Ben Cherington said his team isn't handicapped.

"It's all relative to the competition," he said. "Make more out of our picks than our competition. That's the priority of every draft."

But Cherington admits the new rules make that competition a more level field for smaller-market teams.

In previous years, Boston and other big-market, big-spending teams were able to pick top players later in the draft after small-market teams avoided them because of demands for a large signing bonus.

In 2010, Anthony Ranaudo of Louisiana State may have been the best college pitcher in the draft, but he was coming back from an injury and his agent was the demanding Scott Boras. Teams stayed away until Boston picked him in the supplemental round with the 39th overall pick.

Boston eventually signed Ranaudo for $2.55 million. Only six players drafted ahead of him received more money.

Boston also drafted high school infielders Sean Coyle and Garin Cecchini in the third and fourth rounds and gave them each $1.3 million.

Big-market teams can no longer spend that much on a few picks. And drafted players can't demand over-the-top salaries. That means smaller-market teams can go after anyone.

According to Cherington, the theory with the new system is "the first player taken is the best player and on down from there it spreads the talent out more. That is the intent."

Another likely effect is high school players who don't get chosen in early rounds may opt for college.

MAKE UP YOUR MIND

Colleges get another break from the rules, besides likely keeping more recruits. The deadline for draftees to sign was moved up a month to July 13, which means colleges will know sooner which players they're losing to the pros. And pro teams can get their players signed and playing immediately.

(Continued on page 2)

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