2012 MLB Draft: The Gamesmanship Begins

NEW YORK, NY - (L-R) Major League Baseball Executive Vice President Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner. Selig and Weiner announced a new five-year labor agreement between the MLB and the MLBPA. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

The draft ends on Wednesday, but the interesting parts of the draft are just beginning.

If this were Football Nation, we would have had six straight weeks of draft material leading into Monday night. There would have been instant draft grades handed out for each pick, and those draft grades would have received draft-grade grades. We would have argued about the winners and losers for weeks. There would have been pre-draft write-ups, post-draft write-ups, and mid-draft write-ups. Right now, as you're reading this, someone is working on a 2013 NFL mock draft. That is not an exaggeration.

Baseball drafts are different. Here is the most exciting part of the 2012 MLB Draft:

That is not a GIF -- that's a direct video feed from MLB.com of this year's draft. Keep watching. I'm sure they'll get to the exciting part soon.

No, the baseball draft isn't filled with thrills and instant gratification. Of the 1,500 names called, maybe 125 to 150 will reach the majors. About 20 to 30 of them will start at some point. Five to ten of them will become stars. This will happen slowly over the next three to ten years. There's a reason why the draft stuff didn't make it from the Moneyball book to the movie.

But things are a little different with the post-draft machinations this year. Things are going to get a little exciting. By baseball-draft standards, at least. The new CBA has changed the draft landscape, as teams are being given very narrow parameters as to what they can spend in the draft. Penalties for overspending are harsh, including forfeiture of future #1 picks. And that's changing the strategies.

The old, conventional strategy was to pay lots of money to first-round picks. Either teams spent, or they went cheap. Simple. And if they wanted to spend more money, they would draft kids with strong college commitments or two-sport stars or in the later rounds, and pay them to stay away from college or the other sports.

There isn't an established strategy now. The draft is now basically Somalia circa 1991, with roving packs of agents instead of warlords. The agents are going to figure out how to get the most money for their clients, but they have to figure out a way around the new system. The teams are going to want to figure out ways around the new system if it means they can sign the best talent. Think that's an exaggeration? From Jonathan Mayo:

There were even reports of teams trying to circumvent the system by entering non-prospect names, like team interns, to draft and then pay them a minimal amount in order to divert bonus money elsewhere. That plan was caught and thwarted by Major League Baseball.

You probably aren't going to read the verb "thwarted" in a lot of NFL Draft previews. This is the first season under the new rules, and it's just short of anarchy right now. So far, there are two different strategies shaping up:

Safe and secure
The Houston Astros blew up all of the mock drafts when they picked high schooler Carlos Correa first overall. But their strategy became clear when they drafted Lance McCullers with the 41st-overall pick. McCullers was projected to go early in the first round, and as the first round of the draft progressed, teams that didn't have a lot of allocated bonus money shied away from him.

The Astros, though, likely worked out a pre-draft understanding with Correa, which gave them an extra $2 million to spend later in the draft. The Astros can apply that money to McCullers now, so they essentially turned their #1 and #41 picks into something akin to the #3 and #15 picks.

Somewhere between pragmatic and crazy
These are the teams that are picking purely based on talent and figuring everything will sort itself out. Before the draft, the rumors had the Astros taking Stanford right-hander Mark Appel with the first-overall pick. The slot value of the first pick is $7.2 million. But Appel tumbled a bit, falling to the Pirates at #8. The slot value for #8 is $2.9 million.

Which means that in a neat, orderly universe, Scott Boras would say, "Gee, I guess my client is worth $4.3 million less than I thought he was an hour ago. Well, shucks."


The Pirates will have $6.6 million to spread over their top 11 picks -- a total that's still less than what Appel and Boras thought they were getting from the Astros. Boras could try to convince the Pirates that Appel is worth more than the 10 picks that followed. The Pirates could stick to their recommended slot number and send Appel back to the draft the following season. Counting on the following draft is a risky strategy that paid off for Luke Hochevar, but it cost Aaron Crow a lot of money. It cost Matt Harrington millions. Not every amateur pitcher is going to be comfortable turning down millions, regardless of what their agents recommend.

It's tough to see where the cracks or loopholes in the bonus caps are right now. It looks like the teams have leverage, but never bet against Scott Boras. Never bet against the agents. So it's about to get interesting. This whole baseball draft thing is about to get interesting for once.

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