Two weeks before the signing deadline, only 12 of the 32 first-round picks from the 2009 draft has signed. 16 of the top 20 players taken remain unsigned amidst rumors that the commissioner’s office is taking its hardest stance yet on curbing bonuses to players not yet apart of the MLBPA.
Baseball America reported back in May that the commissioner’s office had dropped its all important slot recommendations by 10 percent from its 2008 figures, and it looks like the paper has been proven correct. Of the 12 picks that have signed, five have received exactly what BA estimated for slot: the Angels’ Randal Grichuk ($1.242 million), the Angels’ Mike Trout ($1.215 million), the Brewers’ Eric Arnett ($1.197), the Red Sox’s Reymond Fuentes ($1.134 million) and the Cubs’ Brett Jackson ($972,000).
Six of the remaining seven signed for less than slot, including No. 4 overall pick Tony Sanchez and 10th pick Drew Storen, both of whom had agreed to predraft deals. The only player so far to sign over slot was the Astros’ Jiovanni Mier., the 21st selection, and he exceeded the amount by a mere $26,000 ($1.358 million vs. $1.332 million).
The assumption is that some of the other players have agreed to terms, but that the commissioner’s office is holding back approval. Peter Gammons went so far as to write that the Royals have reached deals with 12th overall pick Aaron Crow and 91st pick Wil Myers, but that the commish had threatened to yank Kansas City’s upcoming All-Star Game in 2012 if they went ahead with them. Maybe Bud Selig and company can’t get away with voiding signings they don’t like, but they can at least pressure teams to wait until Aug. 17 to announce them, thereby preventing truly unsigned players from using those amounts in negotiations.
If, for instance, Reds and No. 8 pick Mike Leake had come to terms on an above-slot $2.4 million bonus, No. 7 pick Mike Minor would use that as artillery in his talks with the Braves. As is, there’s very little besides last year’s bonuses for the unsigned picks to latch on to.
Nearly everyone is going to end up getting signed. No. 1 pick Stephen Strasburg (Nationals) and No. 11 selection Tyler Matzek (Rockies) are the most likely holdouts, with No. 3 pick Donavan Tate (Padres) and No. 14 pick Matt Purke (Rangers) also possibilities. Selig’s precious slots aren’t going to apply to those four.
MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports that the Orioles have interest in free agent right-hander Alex Cobb, who rejected his one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Rays earlier this week. Cobb was most recently linked to the Cubs, who reportedly reached out to his agent during the GM Meetings and garnered mutual interest from the righty, but nothing appears to be set in stone yet.
Cobb, 30, completed his sixth season with the Rays in 2017. He went 12-10 in 29 starts and turned in a respectable 3.66 ERA, 6.4 SO/9 and career-best 2.2 BB/9 in 179 1/3 innings. Despite losing a couple of weeks to turf toe, he remained healthy for most of the year and showed no signs of the elbow issues that robbed him of the majority of his 2015-2016 campaigns.
It’s still fairly early for any deals to come to fruition, but Morosi notes that the Orioles seem to be focused on bulking up their rotation during the first few months of the offseason. It’ll take more than a healthy Alex Cobb to right that ship, however: Orioles’ starters earned a collective 5.70 ERA and 5.5 fWAR in 2017, good for worst and fourth-worst marks in the league, respectively. Behind Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy (and perhaps Gabriel Ynoa/Miguel Castro), they still need three viable starters to compete in 2018. Whether or not they can afford to spring for a single starter with Cobb’s price tag (four years, $48 million, per MLB Trade Rumors) remains to be seen.