The rule is, a player who is drafted can choose not to sign, and if he has not signed on the day before the next year's draft, the team that drafted him loses the rights to him and the player is re-entered into the draft. The usual reason a player doesn't sign is to go to college (or stay in college. Unlike other pro sports, every amateur player in America is eligible for the draft, so they don't lose college eligibility. For this reason, every team must consider signability as a factor in drafting high schoolers or underclassmen. And sometimes, if a player seems intent on going to college, they won't get drafted until late, if at all.
There is another interesting rule: If a team signs a free agent before a certain date (the deadline for the Free Agent's team to offer him arbitration), or after the free agent's prior team offers arbitration, the signing team must compensate the other team with draft picks. Exactly what pick and how depends on the player. The point of the rule was to protect teams during free agency: if they lose a player they want to try and keep, they get compensated. If they don't make an attempt to keep the player (as in, not offering arbitration), then it's considered no big loss.
This rule got Brian Sabean into trouble this past year. For those that don't remember, he signed free agent Michael Tucker, a veteran with an undistinguished career, mere hours before the arbitration deadline, after the Royals had decided they weren't going to offer him arbitration. The result was that the Giants gave the Royals a first round draft pick for no apparent reason.
With a system that's very depleted, Giants fans were enraged. The excuse of saving the first round bonus money that would have to be spent a player who had no guarantees of becoming anything did not sit well at all. The owners continued to receive an ever growing reputation of being cheap, and no one really understood it. Sabean, other than the aforementioned excuse, stayed silent on the issue.
But perhaps there was a lot more to this plan, that no one had any clue about. The possibility arose in the 18th round, when the Giants drafted Jeremiah Luster out of Oceanside high school in San Diego. As a shortstop, he hit .494 with 6 doubles, 3 triples 8 home runs and 20 steals in 28 games. And, if that wasn't enough, as a pitcher, he threw 50 innings, collecting a 0.98 ERA, 17 hits, 9 walks and an amazing 82 strikeouts. As a 17 year old, he had a 90 mph fastball and a fully mature slider. Sure, it may be high school, but it's talent. It's first round talent. It's comparable to that other shortstop/pitcher out of San Diego who went #1 overall, Matt Bush. Bush hit .417 with 11 doubles, 1 triple,10 home runs, and had 11 steals. He pitched a 0.46 ERA in 59 innings, with 32 hits, 11 walks and 88 strikeouts.
So why did this high round player drop to the 18th round? Because everyone thought he was surely going to college. But, in an interview just before the draft, he said he would consider signing if things went right.
This is just a theory, and even if the Giants try, it may not happen. But perhaps this is why the Giants gave away their first round pick. To offer a big contract and a chance to stay on the west coast to this young player, to lure him to the pros rather than going to college.
This isn't the first time this has happened. In 2002, the Giants also let a first round talent, Travis Ishikawa, slide 21 rounds amongst rumors of going to college. Instead, the Giants had an inkling of what it would take to sign him, and they did. Ishikawa got the largest ever contract given to a non-first round pick, and the Giants got a relative steal.
If this is, indeed, the Giants plan, it's pure genius. Most people don't like the way the draft is set up, and the Giants are using it to their advantage. And one should also take into consideration that since expansion in 1995 when the 29th overall pick became a first rounder, no 29th pick has made the majors. That includes when the Giants picked Arturo McDowell in 1997. So perhaps saving that money to use in an overwhelming offer elsewhere was a pretty good idea.
But then, one must look at how Travis Ishikawa is doing: 3 years later, he has not advanced past Low-A ball, hitting right about .200. As I said before, no players in the draft are a sure thing.
Either way, Giants fans always say they want Sabean to take a risk. He finally did. It just took 8 months to find out.
OTHER NOTES FROM THE DRAFT THAT WAS:
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