Mark Appel and six other first-round picks remain unsigned as Friday’s deadline approaches

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As part of the new collective bargaining agreement MLB moved the deadline for draft picks to sign from mid-August to mid-July, so this year’s unsigned picks have until Friday at 5:00 p.m. eastern time to ink deals.

Most early selections signed within two weeks of the draft, but seven of the 31 first-round picks remain unsigned and that includes several of the draft’s biggest names.

#4 Kevin Gausman, LSU right-hander (Orioles)
#6 Albert Almora, high school outfielder (Cubs)
#8 Mark Appel, Stanford right-hander (Pirates)
#9 Andrew Heaney, Oklahoma St. left-hander (Marlins)
#16 Lucas Giolito, high school right-hander (Nationals)
#25 Richie Shaffer, Clemson third baseman (Rays)
#30 Ty Hensley, high school right-hander (Yankees)

Giolito fell to the Nationals at No. 16 in part because of his elbow injury and in part because of his presumed bonus demands, and Appel’s fall to the Pirates at No. 8 is well-documented. Almora immediately made it clear he’d be a tough sign when the Cubs took him No. 6, and not coincidentally both Appel and Almora are “advised” by agent Scott Boras.

Most draft analysts seem to think at most one or two first-round picks will go unsigned, largely because the new CBA also put in place a slot bonus system that makes holding out for more money very difficult. Of course, that doesn’t mean Appel and Boras, for instance, won’t try.

UPDATE: We can cross Almora off the list, as he’s apparently agreed to terms with the Cubs for an over-slot bonus.

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

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The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.