The St. Louis Cardinals’ most recent draftee to come to terms is pitcher Ian Oxnevad, who agreed to a $500,000 bonus this week. The half-million dollar bonus is $332,600 above the commissioner’s recommended slot value of $167,400 for the eighth-round pick, 251st overall selection. As such, the Cardinals have watched their available bonus pool dry up just a bit more. With the prep left-hander officially in the fold, the question arises: just who can the organization still sign from their key 2015 draft choices?
The Cardinals have several unsigned high-upside players from the later rounds. Kep Brown was a surprising choice in the 10th round. The prep outfielder, considered by some to have first-round talent, fell all the way to the 311th selection due to an Achilles tendon injury which severely limited his playing time this spring. The Cardinals picked high school shortstop Cadyn Grenier in the 21st round. In the 25th, St. Louis nabbed high school right-hander Kyle Molnar. In the 28th round, the Cards selected a redshirt sophomore from Texas Christian University, Mitchell Traver. With the 911th pick, the Cardinals took a local product from CBC High School, Matt Vierling.
Due to signing bonus limitations, there is basically zero possibility of signing all of the above players. In fact, it is most likely that only one of the aforementioned prospects will be in the Cardinals system by the July 17th signing deadline. Before trying to discern who that future Cardinal prospect might be, we have to do a little housekeeping.
Tracking available funds
The commissioner’s office assigns a slot value to every pick in the First-Year Player Draft through the 10th round. When totaled, those recommended values provide the bonus pool a team can spend. For the St. Louis Cardinals, their collection of slot values add up to $7,387,600. Additionally, teams can spend up to 5% beyond their assigned pool total before incurring significant penalties. As such, the Cardinals’ total could increase to $7,756,980. They would also be required to pay a 75% tax on the overage, which translates to just over $277,000 additional that would be due to the commissioner’s office.
From that, we need to subtract the bonuses for players already signed.
#23 Nick Plummer - $2,124,400
#39 Jake Woodford - $1,800,000
#66 Bryce Denton - UNSIGNED
#100 Harrison Bader - UNSIGNED
#105 Jordan Hicks - $600,000
#131 Paul DeJong - $200,000
#161 Ryan Helsley - $225,000
#191 Jacob Evans - $150,000
#221 Jesse Jenner - $10,000
#251 Ian Oxnevad - $500,000
#281 Andrew Brodbeck - $5,000
#311 Brown - UNSIGNED
The Cardinals have also signed multiple players from rounds 11-40, but the first $100,000 of each bonus to players from those rounds does not count against the pool. The big sticking point right now is that three of the Cardinals’ first 12 picks have yet to sign.
The main reason is timing. Bader, the junior outfielder from the University of Florida, had been playing in the College World Series. As such, he was unable to sign a professional deal until his season concluded, which it did late Saturday night. That holdup may be in part of what has kept Denton from signing, as the Cardinals need to know how much money they still have available.
For simplicity, let’s assume Denton and Bader both sign for their slot values. Why? Bader is a college junior, and when looking historically and at other third-round college junior picks this year, they have typically signed at slot. Bader’s slot value is $570,300. Denton is a high school hitter with a commitment to baseball powerhouse Vanderbilt, but he was a slight overdraft at 66 and is a massive Cardinals fan. We’ll say those balance out to slot value, which is a hefty $935,400. It would not be a bad payday for an 18-year-old.
With those two values established in our analysis, the Cardinals would have $636,880 remaining in their pool before losing a future draft pick.
Here’s where things get tricky. The Cardinals could simply offer that full amount to Brown to lure him away from his agreement to the University of Miami. However, Brown’s commitment is reportedly strong, and that amount may not be enough to keep him away from South Beach. If Brown rejects the Cardinals’ offer, the organization would lose Brown’s slot value and the corresponding 5% overage. The slot value for his pick, 311th overall, is $149,700, and with the overage, that would zap $157,185 from the Cardinals’ pool, dropping them to $479,695.
This money would then likely be allocated to another difficult-to-sign draftee taken after the 10th round. Keep in mind, though, that the first $100,000 of any bonus for a pick in rounds 11-40 does not count against the cap. As such, the Cardinals could actually offer up to $579,695 to one of those players.
I have ranked the five aforementioned “tough sign” players from least to most likely to join the Cardinals organization.
What he offers: Grenier is an athletic shortstop with plus speed. He’s a strong defender and should stick at shortstop. He doesn’t have much power, but he has a good feel for hitting and sprays the ball all over the field.
Will he sign?
Almost undoubtedly, no. Grenier was said to be a target for the Cardinals with their 23rd overall selection, but the Redbirds reportedly would not match Grenier’s asking price. It seems highly doubtful Grenier has eased up enough on his demands to agree to an offer below $600,000. He has already stated on his personal Twitter account he is heading to Oregon State in the fall.
What he offers: The athletic Molnar has a great pitcher’s frame as he checks in at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. He has a plus fastball that tops out at 94, and he has an advanced approach that includes a solid changeup. His curveball still needs work but should become at least average by the time he reaches the majors.
Will he sign?
Very doubtful. Molnar, like Grenier, fell due to signing demands thanks to his commitment to UCLA. Due to his advanced feel for the game, Molnar should become a freshman starter in college and could significantly raise his draft stock by 2018 when he can be drafted again.
What he offers: Traver is a monstrous right-hander who uses his size well running his fastball in the mid-90s. He complements his heater with a good curveball. His changeup is definitely the third of his offerings, but it has the potential to be average.
Will he sign?
Doubtful. While he could find value in joining a professional organization, it is far more likely will not sign. Traver is expected to return to TCU and lead their staff during his junior season with the departure of the 43rd overall selection this year, Alex Young.
What he offers: Bat speed. Brown had some of the best raw power available in the draft, but he certainly has issues making contact. He is almost a carbon copy of current Cardinal Randal Grichuk, offensively. Brown is a good enough defender to stick in left field, and his bat should play there.
Will he sign?
Possibly. While Brown previously stated he was going to Miami, Chris Correa, Cardinals’ scouting director, recently said Brown was “ready for professional ball.” The only question will be if a check in the $637,000 range will be large enough to get the deal done. While that is under the amount Brown would have received had he been healthy, the Cardinals can offer Brown the chance to rehab his Achilles injury under superior medical care. Oh, and it just so happens that Adam Wainwright is also healing from an Achilles tear.
What he offers: Vierling is a two-way player who has spent time on the mound and in the outfield. On the mound, he tops out at 95 mph with a curveball around 80 and a strong change up around 85 mph. That strong arm plays well in the outfield, the position at which he was announced on draft day, and he shows good power thanks to plus bat speed.
Will he sign?
Vierling may be the most likely of this bunch to agree to terms. While that does not guarantee he will be wearing the Birds on the Bat, he makes the most sense. Vierling is a local product and a lifelong Cardinals fan. On the mound, he has modeled his game after Cardinal hurler Michael Wacha, even focusing on his changeup in hopes of becoming the next Wacha.
The Cardinals could instead go in a completely different direction. The organization also selected high school pitchers Paul Salazar, Jacob Schlesener, Aaron Coates and Parker Kelly. Kelly, the younger brother of Cardinals catching prospect Carson Kelly, has declared he will attend college. St. Louis also took high school catcher Josh Rolette and college outfielder Gio Brusa. Brusa has said he wants to finish his degree before starting his professional career.
One other option would be to split the remaining pool money between two (or more) draftees. Assuming Brown doesn’t sign, the Cardinals could actually take the $479,695, divide it in half, and offer two late-round picks a maximum bonus of $339,847 ($479,695 divided by two = $239,847 + $100,000 allowed without penalty = $339,847 each).
Follow Scott Schook on Twitter @scottschook.
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