I know Blundo said he didn’t want this to be a homer blog the last two times he wrote about the Bucs, and here I am writing about the Bucs. However, while I will be discussing the Pirates drafting of Mark Appel (I believe they made the right decision), this article is more to point out the fallacies of the system that the MLB has implemented than it is about the Pirates themselves.
First a quick background of the new draft rules. Starting this year each draft pick in the first 10 rounds has a monetary allotment attached to it. The total allotment for all of a team’s picks can be distributed however they choose (if you don’t use your entire allotment for one pick, the extra amount can be used on your other picks without penalty), but they lose the allotment for any picks that they don’t sign. Teams that go over their total allotment must pay a 75% luxury tax on all the overages. On top of that, if they go 5% over their allotment, they lose their first round pick the following year; going over 10% will cost teams their first and second round picks; and teams that go over 15% above their allotment will lose their next two first round picks.
While I can understand the outrage to these changes from fans of small market teams (they closed a loophole that teams like the Royals, Pirates and Nationals were exploiting), the fact of the matter is that larger market teams (the Red Sox) were bringing this debate to the forefront. Without reform now, these larger market teams would have been free to make (and only a couple years away from making) outrageous offers to players in order price the smaller market out of contention for signing top draft picks; creating the same inequities that exist in free agency. The bottom line is that, in the long run, small market teams cannot sustain a financial advantage over the larger market teams. This new system was just implemented before things got any further out of hand.
Back to this year, Appel, a junior pitcher at Stanford was expecting by many to go #1 (in an admittedly weak draft class), which has a slot of $7.2M. He is represented by Scott Boras, which all but guarantees that, no matter where he was drafted, his signing will be going right down to the deadline. He fell all the way to the Pirates at number 8, a $2.9M slot (why in the world is the allotment for #1 2.5x higher than that for #8?), presumably because of the expectation that he would demand a high salary.
Now the Bucs have to try to sign him without forfeiting draft picks next year. Their total allotment to sign their 11 picks (rounds 1-10 and a compensatory pick for losing Ryan Doumit) is $6.56M, but that is only if they sign all of their picks. If they don’t sign any other picks, the Bucs can only offer $3.045M to Appel without losing future picks (he is NOT worth forfeiting a 1st rounder next year). If I can figure that out, so can the agents of every other player the Bucs draft. While I can’t see how this new system helps Boras or gives Appel leverage, it absolutely gives the Bucs other 10 picks a ton of leverage: The Pirates would be better suited to sign each of other players for 4% over their allotment in order to increase the team’s total allotment (and 5% penalty threshold) than they would be to just let the players walk without signing (thus losing the entirety of their allotment and decreasing the 5% threshold). Even if the Pirates reach for players well before they were projected to be drafted, those players and their agents know how important their signings are to the Pirates hopes of signing Appel and can use that negotiating chip to sign for above their true value.
In my opinion, the Bucs have to simply draw a line in the sand and offer Appel just under 5% over his allotment, if he signs, great. If not, (he very possibly won’t [this is why he fell to 8, getting a lessor talent who can realistically be signed is still stupidly part of the thinking involved in preparing for the MLB draft], but that leaves him returning to Stanford to make $0 and risk an arm injury [Andrew Luck he is not] let him walk and take the #9 pick in the deeper draft next year. With that mentality, they can draft the best available players with their remaining picks and negotiate with them without regard to the impact it will have on their negotiations with Appel.