Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ignoring Slot Recommendations

The 2009 Amateur Draft took place only two months ago, but the deadline for signing players who were selected in that draft is drawing near. Adam Rubin of the Daily News wrote this week that the Mets are optimistic about signing their top draft pick, Long Island high schooler Steven Matz, before he accepts an athletic scholarship to pitch at Coastal Carolina in the fall.

The August 17 deadline is less than a week away, but the Mets have known what it will take to sign Matz for quite some time. The Ward Melville left-hander hasn't been shy about expressing his expectations for a signing bonus - it will cost the Mets a cool $1.1 million to get Matz to forego his college career.

Signing Matz would represent somewhat of a departure from the Mets' approach to the amateur draft in the last few years. Matz, a second-round pick in 2009, is asking for a signing bonus nearly twice as much as what MLB told its teams to pay for players selected at that point in the draft. The Mets, for some strange reason, have been reluctant to offer signing bonus beyond the slot recommendations of the commissioner's office.

In fact, the Mets have had a bad habit of strictly adhering to these slot recommendations - a major no-no for a big-market club. There are no repercussions for paying out signing bonuses beyond MLB's recommendations, for starters. A slotting system was not included in the current collective bargaining agreement and therefore MLB has no recourse to punish teams that ignore their recommendations.

Small-market teams and timid large-market teams have nevertheless been reluctant to draft a player whose financial expectations are perceived to be excessive by MLB. Bolder franchises have seen right through this charade and have drafted players who slipped in the draft not because of their talent level but because of the bonuses they command.

Detroit's selection of Rick Porcello in the first round of the 2007 draft is a classic example of this phenomenon. The Tigers were only able to draft him because they were the first team on the board willing to meet Porcello's price tag. The result? Porcello is already in the majors at the tender age of 20 and has all the makings of a future star.

Franchises willing to commit $3 to $5 million more in bonuses can greatly improve the quality of their draft simply by targeting players whose bonus demands go beyond slot recommendations. If the Mets meet Matz's demands, it would be a positive sign that the front office has come to the realization that the demands of the commissioner's office to adhere to slot recommendations are toothless.

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