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Draft Dilemma: Signability is the issue

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  • Draft Dilemma: Signability is the issue

    Draft Dilemma: Signability is the issue

    can someone post this article for me? stltoday won't load because stltoday is dumb. TIA!
    Sometimes elections have positive consequences!

  • #2
    Draft Dilemma: Signability is the issue
    By Derrick Goold

    Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak (left) talks with longtime Cardinals instructor George Kissell (right) earlier this spring at Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo.
    (Chris Lee/P-D)

    When the Cardinals organize their draft room, there is one board of names kept out of direct sight and separated from the players the team has ranked.

    It's as if the board is quarantined.

    That's where the signability concerns go.

    "It's at least a large board," said Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals vice president and director of the draft. "A sizable number of players are listed there, like fourth-rounders who want first-round money. We do go to the signability board and take players. We did that in 2006" with Mitch Canham in the 41st round.

    "Turns out the board was right," Luhnow said. "He didn't sign."

    As common in baseball lingo as "plus bat" or "electric arm" is a player's "signability" — or the chances of a team inking him to a reasonable signing bonus and contract.

    Despite the efforts of Major League Baseball to suggest signing bonuses by draft slot, talented players still slide in the draft because of uncertain signability. Detroit nabbed Rick Porcello, billed as the best prep pitcher available, with the 27th pick of last summer's draft. He was the No. 1 player available on the Cardinals' draft board when they picked 18th. Like others, the Cardinals passed. It took a reported $7 million deal to sign Porcello. But such willingness to pursue players above the suggested bonus has paid off.

    And the Cardinals, who pick 13th in this year's draft, which begins June 5, have noticed.

    "We're going to look at some new things and we will be more aggressive," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. "The perception is that if you pick 25th, you get the 25th-best player. But if there is an opportunity to get, say, the fifth-best player at 25, we understand there is a chance we have to go outside the box for a signing bonus. ... We want to be prepared to make that decision."

    At 13, the Cardinals have their highest pick in the draft since 2000. The player they selected in that draft, Shaun Boyd, got a $1.75 million bonus but is no longer in organized baseball. When prospect Colby Rasmus makes his expected big-league debut, he likely will be the first first-round pick since J.D. Drew, class of 1998, to do so with the Cardinals. Drew's $3 million bonus would now be considered an over-slot signing.


    Last summer, the top 30 picks in the draft averaged a $2 million bonus, according to Baseball America. The Cardinals spent an estimated $3.78 million total in bonuses, 18th most in the majors. That total would have been higher had they signed fourth-round pick Kyle Russell, who led the NCAA in homers. He was on the sequestered signability board.

    The board was right. He didn't sign.

    Baseball America audited the 2001 to 2004 drafts and found that teams that signed players to over-slot bonuses were more likely get a return of performance. Of the top 41 picks in the 2006 draft, six received over-slot bonuses. Four of those players are already in the major leagues, including Arizona's Max Scherzer and New York Yankees pitchers Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain.

    When the Cardinals do their post-draft review, Luhnow said, they often rank players by the bonuses, not by draft spot.

    "You can almost line up the talent by the dollar," Luhnow said. "When you make a decision like that, there is a clear sense that you are going to get production from that kind of investment. In most cases, you get what you pay for."

    Ask Detroit.

    As they did with Porcello last season, the Tigers have been willing to snag top draft prospects who slip to their pick because they have the financial wherewithal to answer the signability issue. In consecutive drafts, Detroit paid over slot for pitcher Andrew Miller, outfielder Cameron Maybin and Porcello. Miller and Maybin were key components of the trade that landed Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from Florida.

    "We have been very fortunate that a player like Porcello was available to us at our pick, and that we have the ability to sign him," said Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski. "We feel we have good scouting and information on these players and have decided what they are worth to us."


    MLB's executive office already has distributed a list to the teams of suggested signing bonuses by pick, or "slotting." There is no way baseball can mandate the bonuses, nor is there a penalty for going above slot. In fact, Rob Manfred, MLB's senior vice president of business and labor, said teams have the right to use over-slot bonuses as draft strategy.

    "Clearly, the underlying theme of a draft is the best player goes to the worst team," Manfred said. "Clubs still have the right to pay over slot. But if teams agree to a value for a player before the draft, it puts that player in position to manipulate draft order. That tacit agreement is what we want to avoid."

    As teams lock up their young, pre-arbitration players to long-term deals and many clubs, like the Cardinals, profess a need to develop from within, the free-agent pool is growing shallower and older and more expensive. The draft takes on an increased prominence. Money spent on picks now is leveraged as an investment against not spending later.

    When Porcello slipped in last year's draft because of signability issues, the Cardinals made a call to see whether what he wanted matched how they valued him. They went with another player. This year, Mozeliak and Luhnow want to be sure that they have reports that make them nimble enough to consider a player they covet who slips because of signability.

    As scouts have scoured the amateur fields, assessing and ranking players by their on-field abilities, so too have they measured each player's signability. Factors include a high school player's commitment to a college or a chance to play another sport, whether a college player has more eligibility, or whether the player is advised by Scott Boras, whose name has become synonymous with signability concerns.

    The Cardinals use info gathered from scouts to put the player on the appropriate board and help see whether their value for the player matches the value a player puts on himself.

    It's a line of subtle questioning that Mizzou pitcher Aaron Crow has come to know. Each Monday this semester, the end of his business management class meant it was time to go to the baseball offices and get to the business at hand. He would interview with a couple of scouts each week. As one of the finest college pitchers available in this year's draft, he's expected to be a top-10 pick.

    Scouts have the radar-gun reading on his mid-90s mph fastball with hard sink. Meeting him gives them a read on other indicators.

    "Signability, it's something you're aware of, sure, but it hasn't come up a lot," Crow said. "Everyone's dream is to get drafted and play in the big leagues. Signing is part of reaching that dream. ... There are still a few weeks to go. I'm sure it's going to come up more."

    [email protected] | 314-340-8285


    • #3
      thanks Backstop.
      Sometimes elections have positive consequences!


      • #4


        • #5
          do you liek that article?? I thought it was neat.
          Sometimes elections have positive consequences!


          • #6
            It's a good article. I would say we'll see the proof of this or not when the draft comes, but even then, it's impossible to see what they're thinking.