Dodgers Eye Blair on Draft Cutoff Day

The cutoff date for signing draft choices imposed this year by major league baseball arrives at midnight EST today (Wednesday). By that time teams will either have signed a player chosen in June's selection process or give up his rights. No more draft-and-follows. No more prolonged negotiations in which Scott Boras specialized.

        Since as of Tuesday morning there were still 11 first-round picks unsigned not to mention four from the supplemental round and some more from the second, you can expect a flurry of high-priced signings. For the Dodgers the biggest prize out there is Kyle Blair.

    Blair was L.A.'s fifth-round choice in June and the only one of their top 14 choices that hasn't come to terms. But he's no fifth-round talent . No, he has first-round ability and almost was the team's initial selection.

   Tim Hallgren, the director of amateur scouting, explains, "It came down to (Chris) Withrow and Blair. We liked them both and debated. We knew we could sign Blair for first-round money but we thought that Withrow had a tick more upside so we went with him.

  "There was no point in taking Blair in the supplemental round because we knew he wouldn't sign for slot money there. As the draft went on we thought that maybe some team that spends a lot of money like the Red Sox might take him but they didn't. The fifth round was the final round the first day of the draft, if you remember, so when it got there, we decided to take him and see what happens."

   "Slot money" is the crux of the issue. Major League Baseball has an amount assigned to each spot in a round that they recommend to teams. It's designed, of course, to cut back on the extravagant bonuses handed out each year. They can't demand a team adhere to such a limit but they hold up approving contracts that exceed what they recommend. Any team that doesn't go along is rocking the boat.

    For the most part they've succeeded in a general cutback. The Dodgers certainly have gone along with the recommendations. They did, however, recently signed righthander Tim Sexton from Miami-Dade South in Florida,to a lot more than what's suggested for Sexton was chosen in the 25th round but received a bonus reported to be $123,000 which is sixth-round money.

     But that's small change compared to what Blair is looking for. He wants the kind of money Withrow received with is $1,350,000. He spent the summer pitching in a collegiate league in Minnesota and loved the experience, "All baseball, no books," he quipped and is ready to turn pro- if the Dodgers come up with the cash.

   Until now, the two sides have barely negotiated. And the Dodgers' man in charge of scouting overall, Logan White, knows when to ask for huge amounts. He can't do it every time he desires a player but has to pick and choose.

    There are others out there that they selected later in the draft whose demands dropped them far down the list like Devin Fuller (14), Sean Koecheler (20), Taylor Cole (26) and Rob Rasmussen (27) who haven't signed either. All are pitchers, by the way.

    But the prize is Blair. As White puts it, "Either way it goes we know somebody's going to get a heck of a pitcher when he finally signs."

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