Monday, August 16, 2010

No need to panic on deadline day

The clock is ticking. The Nationals and their No. 1 draft pick have until midnight to get a deal done. And they're all but guaranteed to wait until literally the 11 o'clock hour before commencing with serious negotiations.

Why does this scenario sound familiar?

Actually, we in the Washington media and you in the Nats fan base should take comfort in knowing we've been through this rodeo before. Thanks to Aaron Crow in 2008 and Stephen Strasburg in 2009, we know exactly what to expect tonight when the Bryce Harper negotiations come to a head.

There's no mystery here, no incomprehension of the situation. We know that even though the Nats drafted Harper first in the country way back on June 7 (before Strasburg ever set foot on the mound at Nationals Park) the two sides have done little since then other than exchange some pleasantries and offer one or two well-calculated misdirection plays. (Harper's really going to post on his Facebook page that he's looking forward to returning to the College of Southern Nevada this year? Please.)

But we're not worried that the lack of a deal, or even a formal exchange of numbers, is a sign of discord between the two entities. If anything, it's relaxing to know the process has played out exactly as everyone predicted, because this is the way it always plays out.

The draft-and-sign process is seriously flawed, everyone knows that. It will probably be overhauled next winter when the collective bargaining agreement expires, as Stan Kasten suggested. But until that happens, this is the system in place, so the Nats, Harper and Scott Boras have no choice but to play along and take advantage of it.

Boras' only leverage is the midnight deadline, so it behooves him to take it as close to the wire as possible, hoping the threat of not signing Harper forces Mike Rizzo into forking over a few more dollars.

Rizzo, meanwhile, can't go and offer up a record-setting signing bonus to Harper in mid-June, because Bud Selig doesn't want the market being set that early in the summer and thus giving Boras leverage to demand more for the rest of his many clients. As much as MLB tries to get teams to use the slotting system for signing bonuses, the league office isn't exactly going out of its way to discourage GMs from breaking the bank on top-tier talent like Strasburg and Harper.

So, everyone just sits around for two months waiting for this day to come. All the while, Harper (who by all accounts just wants to play baseball) loses two months' worth of minor-league experience. Which means his eventual major-league debut could be delayed by two months.

Perhaps Strasburg came to realize this himself along the way. Had he simply signed the day after last year's draft, he would have immediately reported to Viera, pitched in the minor leagues last summer and quite possibly made the Nationals' Opening Day rotation this year instead of being forced to wait until June 8. Maybe that's why Strasburg offered up his surprisingly blunt take on the Harper situation after yesterday's game. He knows how agonizing the last two months have been for Harper, and he knows the negative label that is thrust upon draft picks who wait til the last minute to sign record-setting deals.

Strasburg, of course, got the deal of all deals: a four-year, $15.1 million, major-league contract, shattering all previous records. Harper won't get anything close to that tonight, for several reasons.

1) Though he's been hyped up plenty, he still hasn't been touted to the extent Strasburg was.

2) He's only 17, four years younger than Strasburg was last summer. Thus, Harper almost certainly won't get a major-league contract. The Nats were willing to do that with Strasburg because they knew he'd be in the big leagues within a year. Harper is at least two years away, probably three. Why pay him guaranteed, big-league money (in the millions) and waste a spot on the 40-man roster for a guy who's learning how to play right field in Hagerstown?

Harper, however, can still be a record-setter. He could still get the largest signing bonus ever given to a draft pick. The record currently belongs to Strasburg, who got $7.5 million in signing bonuses (paid out in three installments through January 10, 2011) to go along with his $7.6 million in salaries through 2012).

The most money ever paid out on a minor-league contract was $6.25 million from the Padres to Donavan Tate last year. That's the minimum threshold for Harper to cross, though don't be surprised if he surpasses Strasburg's $7.5 million as well.

Ultimately, figure Harper's final number falls between $7.5 million and $9 million. It's record-setting, but not outrageous. And along with Strasburg's deal from a year ago, plus the expected over-slot signings of fellow 2010 draftees Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray, the Nationals will have established they are willing to spend money on draft picks. No one in baseball will have spent more the last two drafts.

All of this, of course, has been known since June. This storyline has been written for months. Unfortunately, baseball's screwy draft-and-sign process forces everyone to play this silly game of chicken until both sides finally relent at 11:59 p.m. tonight.

Fortunately, we all know better than to start panicking now, because we've been through this dance before.


Steve M. said...

Mark, excellent article. Not sure why Solis would be over-slot as I just don't see him as a high ceiling player. I am more intrigued by AJ Cole based on my belief that he was the top power pitcher in the Draft and was a freebie in the 4th round and what is up with the internet reports of has he/has he not scenario.

Your estimate of Harper's deal at $7.5 to $9 million is probably where it will end up although you would think value wise he should be between Tate's $6.25 and Strasburg's $7.5 million as he isn't Major League ready.

I think Harper signs as he doesn't want to take his chance in 2011 with the Orioles or Pirates picking at #1 as their history of paying is possibly the worst in baseball (except in the Orioles case you are Angelos mancrush Markakis!).

Anonymous said...

Steve M,

Solis is not dramatically over slot at 1 million; he is considered a good prospect coming off a long layoff (herniated disc) but had a nice bounce back at the U of San Diego and is considered the closest to the majors of the top 4 prospects (all high school and JUCO).

Harper's issue has nothing to do with who is picking first next year; the Pirates actually did a great job this year at picking over slot; what it boils down to is this:

1) Why delay by a year and risk injury?
2) He might not be number 1 next year; it's a stacked draft next year with many top of the line college players.
3) Why go back to JUCO; what's to prove?
4) What if he goes back and has a less than a great year?

Unlike the Hendricks brothers and Jim Bowden; Boras and Rizzo are not stupid. They will play it tough right to the end and then get the best deal possible for both sides. No way this doesn't get done.

NatsJack in Florida said...

And Rizzo put out the "glitch" comment on Coles signing due to the record "over-slot" amountpaid. MLB does not want any "over-slot" signings anounced until late tonite.

Anonymous said...


You are probably right; unfortunately once it hits the wires the cat is out of the bag.

Selig must have gone into hysteria when he found out that a 4th rd. pick got 2 mil and it came out publicly; must have been on the phone to Lerner immediately.

Nats fan in NJ said...

Harper will sign tonight because the system will be changed with the 2012 draft. Based on that, the 2011 draftees will basically either take what they are offered or go back into a slotted, pre-determined salary draft the following year. Thus, Harper has limited leverage after this year. That being said, both parties want to make this happen. I will go to sleep before midnight confident that he'll sign.

Oh, and having Solis, Cole and Ray signed too will make this a potentially huge draft. Especially considering Odubar and Hague are off to strong starts, too.

Steve M. said...

Anon, its not my money and I think the deal is done at $1 million. When Solis was picked with the 51st overall pick I questioned it then given his previous injury but I know Rizzo has liked this kid even back to High School.

Solis, a redshirt sophomore from the University of San Diego, went 9-2 with a 3.42 ERA this season, striking out 92 and walking 29 in 92 innings. Solis, 6-foot-5 and 228-pounds, missed almost all of the 2009 season with an injury. Solis will turn 22 in August.

Anonymous said...

MLB Network was hammering Stras for his comments, and I'm not sure why. I liked his bluntness and I don't want Harper on the Nats if he doesn't want to be here, either.

Anonymous said...

My wife assumes Mrs. Harper is spending the day sewing 'Bryce Harper' nametags in socks, underwear, etc. so that he can report to school soon. My wife was astonished to learn that Mrs. Harper cannot even sew "B Harper" nametags since they could be confused for Bryan Harper's, Bryce's brother, underwear. I tried to assuage my wife's concerns by telling her Bryce lives at home while attending Junior College and his mother does all the laundry anyway.

I also suggested that Mrs. Harper may prefer the millions being offered her son and his agent.

Anonymous said...


The reason they are hammering him is that he signed at the last minute as well so he should know the process and given they both use the same agent it is felt that he was needlessly harsh on the kid.

It's much ado about nothing; as NatsJack suggested I will go to bed before midnight as well; not worried about Harper not signing.

He's gonna sign.

The better question is; will he join the GCL rookie league before their season ends in a couple of weeks?

traveler8 said...

@raymitten, totally agree with you on Strasburg's comment - liked the bluntness a lot, also really liked the way he was identifying himself so much with the team, saying that "we" don't want him here if he does not want to be here.

Anonymous said...

Raymitten -- if Kruk agrees with him then you know he's on the right track. Doesn't matter what MLB Network says.

Anonymous said...

So am I reading into the comments that the reason we do not have an announcement about Cole and Solis is because they are being pair over slot, and MLB wants these kept secret as long as possible?

Cause I really want to hear the announcements.

Anonymous said...

Are the Cole and Solis signings still unconfirmed? I thought the consensus was that they were done.

Tcostant said...

Do the Nationals have any other unsigned picks in the first 20 rounds besides Harper? Would love an accounting on any other unsigned picks that need to get done tonight.

court said...

Cole, Solis and Ray are all done, according to Jim Callis, pending physicals so they are not "official" yet.

Steve, you forgot Solis's best stat - LHP. He gets more because he's a big-bodied lefty. If Olsen is let go after the year, then Detwiler is our only real lefty SP in the system. (Ray is LH too, though) Hopefully Solis gets into the AFL to get his career going. I doubt neither of the high school does more than Viera.

Steve M. said...

When Mark posted the Strasburg quote yesterday I applauded. Strasburg has been a classy kid and a team player.

I kind of sense that Strasburg doesn't want to throw himself in the same grouping as Harper and maybe thats what his comments were intended to do.

Everything I have heard about Bryce Harper is that he likes being the center of attention. I could see that leading to do a lot of self-promotion to get his marketing machine going and according to Sports Business Journal Bryce Harper is # 5 for young players in marketibility. Can't be getting paid for baseball marketing as an amateur which is why I see Harper signing for sure. His millions in endorsement could be huge with baseball cards, cleats, and autographs.

In that same survey of baseball marketibility of players under 25 years old, Strasburg was #1. Now then, he may be marketible but I can see with Stephen's personality that he may also say no.

hleeo3 said...

The Nats "unofficially" have signed 23 players from the first 25 rounds. Smalling, the other guy after Harper, won't sign because he got an injury which dropped his price tag. So he will go back to school. Usually HS players drafted in the later rounds go to college to up their value and try again in next years draft. So really Harper is the last one. Would love to see Kiene and Simms sign but that will most likely not happen.

Anonymous said...

"If Olsen is let go after the year, then Detwiler is our only real lefty SP in the system."

Lannan is a lefty. Are you one of those who's saying he's not real?

TimDz said...

Maybe Anon is saying that Lannan is a finess type/soft tosser, whereas Detwiler/Olsen are more power pitchers?

Pete said...

Mark, can we get an update regarding the other draft picks?

Richard said...

Also, Tom Milone is a lefty and is looking good at Harrisburg.

And, what the heck, I liked Strasburg's Harper comment too, for all the reasons mentioned above.

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