The Detroit Tigers will make the first selection in the MLB amateur draft next June as a result of finishing 2017 with baseball’s worst record. But having the first draft pick is only the beginning of the rewards Detroit will receive for finishing at the bottom of the standings.
Slot money: Teams are assigned a “pool” of dollars they can use to sign players selected in the first 10 rounds of the amateur player draft in June. The pool is based on the total “slot” value of each of the team’s selections. Slot values are heavily stacked toward the top of the draft, with the highest slot worth a lot more money than even later first round slots.
How much bonus money comes with the first draft pick? The Minnesota Twins had the first pick in the 2017 draft, which came with a bonus of $7,770,700. They had a total bonus pool of $14,156,800 for the first ten rounds of the draft. Minnesota had more bonus money for the first slot than 14 other teams got for the entire first ten rounds!
By comparison, the Detroit Tigers, selecting 18th, had a slot bonus of $3,214,600 for the first round and a total draft bonus pool of $6,520,100. So the Twins got more than double the bonus money to spend. Now, the tables will be turned. Baseball America has all slot values for 2017.
A team’s total bonus pool is the important number, since they don’t have to spend the assigned slot value in each round. The Twins took advantage of this by signing first round high school prospect Royce Lewis for $6.7 million, or more than $1 million below the slot amount. While Lewis received the highest bonus ever paid to a high school player, the Twins had an extra million dollars to entice other players taken in later rounds to sign with them, which they did.
Players who are disappointed by where they are selected in the amateur draft, and may be leaning toward going to college to improve their slot position, could be persuaded to turn professional if they are offered essentially the same money as they would have received if drafted in an earlier round. This is where surplus slot money can come in handy. Teams may speak with players before the draft to assess their “signability”.
In a year where there is no clear number one choice, a club can save a significant chunk of cash on their first round bonus and use that to talk another young prospect out of going to college. Slot bonuses for the second round run from $900,000 to $1.8 million and drop to just over $500,000 by the end of the third round. An extra million dollars could be very persuasive for a player selected in a later round. In fact, no player has come close to receiving the slot money for the first overall pick in the first five drafts since the slotting system was implemented.
There is still a full season of high school and college baseball to be played before the draft next June, so a player could certainly emerge as the clear top choice. If there is no Bryce Harper or Justin Verlander to get excited about, the Tigers could choose one from the pack, make him the lucky number one pick, and later select another player who might have been a top 15 or 20 talent, but falls because of “signability” issues.
Rule 5 draft: Not only will the Tigers select first in the amateur player draft next June, which is also known as the “Rule 4 draft”, but they will select first in the Rule 5 draft at the end of the winter meetings in December. Rule 5 players can be traded, and there is always keen interest in a couple of players available in the Rule 5 draft. The Tigers can either take the player they like the most, or cut a deal with another club to draft and trade the player.
Waiver priority: During the off season and continuing through the first month of the 2018 regular season, players who are removed from their team’s 40-man roster must clear waivers, and the priority order is based on the teams’ 2017 season record. The Tigers will have first crack at every player placed on waivers by any team in either league until May 1, 2018.
International bonus pools are completely separate from the amateur draft bonus pools. Each team will have either $4.75 million, $5.25 million, or $5.75 million to spend on signing bonuses for international free agents. The amount is based on whether teams receive a “competitive balance” selection in the amateur draft, which in turn is based on market size, revenue, and win-loss record.
The Tigers were not one of the 14 teams who received a competitive balance round A or round B selection in 2017, and they will not receive a competitive balance pick in 2018. It is not clear whether they will be able to receive one in future seasons as attendance and revenues are expected to decline in the near term while the team rebuilds.
Detroit has an international signing bonus limit of $4.75 million for the current signing period. Teams can trade their bonus money and can acquire up to an additional 75 percent of their international bonus pools, so the Tigers could swing trades to give them up to $8.3 million to spend on international bonuses. There has been no indication that the club is interested in doing so thus far.
The penalties for teams exceeding their total draft bonus pools by over five percent are severe enough that no team has blown past their limit yet. Under the terms of the new CBA, international bonus limits are hard caps that can not be exceeded.