Report: Astros agree to deal with No. 1 pick Mark Appel

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UPDATE: Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports is reporting that Appel “just needs to put pen to paper,” so it appears that just some formalities stand in the way of a deal. Brian McTaggart of MLB.com also senses that a deal is close and writes that the Astros “wouldn’t have drafted Appel if they didn’t feel they could get a deal done quickly.”

2:36 PM: OK, maybe it’s not done yet. Contrary to Heyman’s report, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow tells Brian Smith of the Houston Chronicle that “nothing’s changed” in negotiations with Appel. He expects talks to pick up next week.

2:28 PM: We heard yesterday that the Astros were nearing an agreement with No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel, but the deal is now done.

Exact terms of the deal aren’t yet known, but CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman writes that it will “probably” be between $6 million-$6.5 million. Either way, that figures falls well short of the $7.79 million recommended slot value for the No. 1 pick. It’s a nice deal for the Astros, who can now use that savings to apply to their other draft picks.

Of course, the Astros passed on the chance to draft Appel last year, as he eventually fell to the Pirates at No. 8 overall. The Scott Boras client then turned down $3.8 million to return to Stanford for his senior season. The gamble paid off, as he worked his way back to the top of the draft board. While it’s a bit surprising to see a resolution this quickly, he didn’t have the alternative of returning to school this time around. It’s also worth noting that he’s a Houston native, so playing hardball with his hometown team may not have been high on his list of priorities.

Appel, 21, is armed with a mid-90s fastball to go along with a slider and a changeup. He’s expected to move quickly, and could make an impact with the Astros at some point in 2014.

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.