Today is draft day around major league baseball, but even the most avid Tigers fan may not find this year’s draft as interesting as it has been in previous years. For one thing, this year’s draft class is said to be thinner than most. There is no player with the appeal of a Bryce Harper or a Stephen Strasburg. Secondly, the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement will severely limit the amount of bonus money that clubs can give to players. That money is often used to lure the best high school graduates away from college.
Most importantly to Tigers fans, Detroit doesn't have a first-round pick in this year’s draft, since it lost its top pick, number 27, to the Milwaukee Brewers as compensation for signing Prince Fielder. In fact, the Tigers won’t make a selection until the 91st pick. (The complete draft order is here.) That means you don't even have to tune into the first day of the draft, unless you're a hardcore draftnik. Detroit doesn't make its first pick til Tuesday.
The Tigers didn’t offer any of their own free agents arbitration, so they didn't get any compensation picks. The Tigers lost veterans Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Joel Zumaya and Brad Penny through free agency, while they re-signed Ramon Santiago and picked up the option on Jose Valverde. Beginning next year, clubs will no longer receive compensation picks for departing free agents unless they make a "qualifying offer" of about $ 12.5 million. The Tigers are not likely to make that kind of offer to potential free agents Valverde, Delmon Young or Gerald Laird.
This will be the second consecutive season that the Tigers don’t have a first-round draft choice. In 2011, they lost their first round pick to Boston as compensation for signing Victor Martinez. Without any compensation picks, they took catcher James McCann in the second round with the 76th overall selection, paying a signing bonus of $600,000.
The rules of the new CBA will certainly alter the methods that the Tigers have used in previous drafts. Gone is the ability to offer players a major league contract and stash them in the minors for a couple of seasons while they develop, as the Tigers have done with Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Jacob Turner. More importantly, the ability to pay players "over slot" money will be severely curtailed.
The Tigers have a total of just under $ 2.1 million that they can spend on signing bonuses in the first 10 rounds this year. This is a total limit on spending, rather than an amount for each slot, although the total amount is calculated by adding the amount that is allocated for each slot. The Tigers are allocated $531,800 for their second round selection, down to $125,000 for their ninth and tenth round picks. Jason Beck at MLB.com has the Tigers' allotment chart here. Any bonus over $100,000 after the 10th round will be counted against the club's spending total.
Only the Angels, who lose their first two picks for signing Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson, will have a smaller draft budget than Detroit. The Twins will have the largest draft budget, with two supplemental first round picks as compensation for losing Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, giving them four picks in the first two rounds, including the second overall selection which carries a bonus allowance of $ 6.2 million of their total $ 12.3 million allowance for 12 selections in ten rounds. Jim Callis at Baseball America has all the slot allowances through the first ten rounds.
A club can, for example, pay their top pick more money, and not have to pay a penalty as long as they compensate by paying less money to another pick in the top 10 rounds. However, if player does not sign, the club loses its bonus allotment for that slot. The limit is not absolute. A club can spend as much as it likes on signing bonuses, but the penalties for paying above the club's allocated amount are extremely harsh. The following chart shows the amount of penalty that clubs will pay for going "over slot" bonus recommendations.
|Up to 5% over total bonus amount
|75% tax on the amount of the overage
|5% to 10% over
|75% tax on the overage, plus loss of first pick next year
|10% to 15% over
|100% tax on the overage, plus loss of first, second picks
|More than 15% over
|100% tax on the overage, plus loss of the next two first round picks
What this means for the Tigers is that they could go over their total allowance by about $ 105,000, and they would pay an additional penalty of $ 78,000, but they would not lose any future draft choices. Unless a real premium talent falls to them in the late second round, they won’t be going more than five per cent over their bonus allowance.
Many observers believe that the lack of big bonus dollars will lead some of the best high school players to college instead of signing a pro contract, unless they are selected very high in the draft. But still, a quarter or half a million dollars cash, plus a professional baseball contract is something that many high school graduates will find difficult to turn down.
The Tigers have had some recent success in drafting quality players below the first round. While Verlander, Porcello, Castellanos, and Turner were all first round selections, the Tigers managed to find Brennan Boesch and Rob Brantly in the third round, Alex Avila in the fifth, and Andy Dirks was an eighth round choice. The Tigers also drafted Drew Smyly, Andrew Oliver, and Danny Worth in the second round. Worth was taken with the 91st pick and received a $ 378,000 bonus. Smyly and Oliver received over slot bonuses of $ 1.1 and $ 1.6 million, respectively.
If you ask Tiger scouting director David Chadd, or anyone in the Tiger organization, what positions they will focus on, the stock answer is that they always draft the "best player available." Yet, they chose four college relief pitchers with their first four picks in 2008 and it sure looked like they were focused on position players last year. While it would be nice if they could find a major league ready second baseman hiding somewhere, it stands to reason that the Tigers will refocus on pitching this year, since they have fortified the organization with position talent at the lower levels of the minors, and position talent was a focus in last June's draft.
There is a reasonable case to be made that the Tigers won’t be dramatically impacted by the changes to the rules -- at least this year. Since all of the major league contracts that they gave, and most of their money that went into "over slot" bonuses was spent on first round selections, they wouldn’t be missing out on that opportunity this year anyway, since they don’t have a first round pick.
The MLB Network and MLB.com begin their live coverage of the draft at 6 pm, EDT, with the first selection set for 7 p.m. The first and supplemental first rounds will take place Monday, with rounds two through the finish covered only by MLB.com on Tuesday and Wednesday.
That's right, Tigers fans. If you want to see Detroit's selections as they're made, you have to tune in on your computer.