Draft Signing Day
A bunch of you have been asking in the comments about Philippe Aumont lately, but I’ve held off talking about it until today to avoid making any misleading statements. Since today is the deadline to sign picks from June’s amateur draft, we’ll cover a bunch of topics all at once.
Aumont’s deal is basically done. They’ll put ink to paper later this afternoon, but there was never a real concern that he wasn’t going to sign. Expect the signing bonus to come in around $1.8 million.
Why did it take so long? Well, thanks to an initiative by the commissioner’s office to hold the line on labor costs, the process that teams go through to sign their draft picks has become quite political. MLB sends every team a “recommended” signing bonus for each pick in the first 5 rounds with each selection being worth marginally less than the one previous. They’ve been using this recommended slotting procedure for several years now, but they’re getting more aggressive – this year, they slashed 10% off of last year’s slot bonus recommendations.
Now, thanks to the collective bargainining agreement, the commissioner’s office does not have the power to mandate these bonus recommendations. In the end, the team makes the decision on how much they’re willing to pay. However, MLB has instituted a procedural chain of events that leverages the influence they do have. Before a team can sign a player to a contract for higher than the recommended slot bonus, they must inform the commissioner’s office. If they don’t, they’re subject to a fine. Once the commissioner becomes aware that the player development staff is on the verge of breaking from the recommendation, he places a call to that club’s owner, who in most cases, he’s very close with and has a lot of power over. He leans on the owner, who then in turn leans on the front office, in an effort to convince them to hold the line on the bonus figures.
For most teams, this works. Selig has a lot of allies in ownership groups, and as we saw last year with the Miller/Morrow decision, many clubs will simply decide that it’s not worth it to fight the commissioner for guys who make it known ahead of time that they expect a contract out of line with MLB’s recommended bonus. The Mariners are one of these teams. The ownership is Selig friendly, and they’re not going to significantly deviate from the bonus suggestions with their top picks.
Detroit, New York, and Boston, however, could legitimately not care less about the slotting system. They’re exploiting its flaws to their own gain on a yearly basis. The last four years, the Tigers have selected Justin Verlander, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, and Rick Porcello – all elite prospects who required significant signing bonuses. Only Verlander didn’t require an above slot deal, but since he went #2 overall, he still cost an arm and a leg. Maybin, Miller, and Porcello all fell to the Tigers in large part due to their contract requirements. Detroit, recognizing a chance to add premium talent on a yearly basis, continues to lay out the money necessary to get these kids signed, and it’s been a massive success – Miller and Verlander are both in their rotation, Maybin is a top 5 prospect in baseball, and Porcello’s drawn comparisons to Josh Beckett.
Likewise, the Yankees and Red Sox have also loaded up on guys who fall in the draft due to their bonus demands, using their significant revenue advantage to simply outspend every other team with their draft budget. The other 27 teams are essentially ceding a competitive advantage to the three teams who don’t particularly care about the recommended slot bonuses. It will be interesting to see how many years they’ll be willing to let the rich get richer before realizing that giving these clubs the pick of the litter every year is probably not the best way to run a franchise.
Anyway, that’s a little bit of a diversion from the Aumont issue, but here’s how it applies to the M’s – they’re going to give Aumont a little bit more than the recommended slot, and they’ve known this for a while. However, the commissioner’s office essentially requested that teams that were going to go over slot to sign someone hold off until the last possible minute so that other clubs couldn’t use that signing as leverage in negotiations. As such, there are a ton of deals that will be announced today that have essentially been done for quite a while. The M’s aren’t lying when they say they don’t have a deal with Philippe Aumont just yet – there is no signed contract. But if you take away the commissioner’s offices role in the contract negotiations, this would have been done months ago. There was never any real risk that the Mariners weren’t going to sign him – the delay is just part of the political process teams have to go through to stay on the commissioner’s good side now.
Also, in slightly related news, Monday saw the reassignment of Frank Mattox from director of player development to an undefined role in the scouting department. Mattox, you’ll remember, was the Mariners scouting director before Bob Fontaine’s arrival (rescue?) and he oversaw some of the worst drafts in the history of major league baseball. Greg Hunter will take the director of player development role at least on an interim basis, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he ended up with the gig full time.