Time Running Out On Signing Picks

For some teams, building through the draft is what their success is all about. The Nationals appeared to have adopted that philosophy last year when they signed a good chunk of their top draft picks. This year though, they're prepared to slide well off that pace

Teams have until August 15th to sign players that they took in the 2008 Draft this past June. In case you don't have a calendar handy, that's just nine shopping days to deadline from the time that this article is being posted, which isn't much time in negotiating terms.

At this point, there are 25 of the 50 picks signed (or unsigned, depending whether you're optimistic or pessimistic) and there is still plenty of work to do at the top portion of the draft list. Only one of the Nationals top five picks have signed and there are still eight unsigned players from the Nationals first 20 picks. What's worse is that team president Stan Kasten doesn't sound too optimistic - nor too concerned - about the remaining players who aren't signed. "We'll still sign some of our picks, but I don't think we'll sign all of them," said Kasten this past week. While nobody is expecting perfection, for a team building on youth, the numbers would need to be much higher than they are now for the draft to be considered a success. Last year, the Nationals signed all of their first 20 picks and even went so far as to give Jack McGeary first round money even though he was taken in the sixth round. "[The 2008] Draft felt like one of those years where we wouldn't sign all of our top picks, which is like a normal year. Last year was an aberration," explained Kasten.

Ross Detwiler signed for a just under slot $2.15 million last summer as the sixth overall pick in the draft. Will that same money be enough for ninth overall pick Aaron Crow this summer? Time is running out to find out. (Photo: Rodger M. Wood/WoodSportsPhotography.com)

The Nationals seem suddenly committed to sticking tightly to the guidelines for how much money to offer a particular player; a process known as slotting. When they signed second round pick Destin Hood for $1.1 million they went over the slotting price slightly, but spread the bonus over five years, appeasing the baseball gods in the commissioner's office. They don't seem at all ready to go over $2.15 million for first rounder Aaron Crow and there are no guarantees that's going to be enough to get him to sign a deal, even though the numbers aren't that bad. Last year, the Nationals drafted Ross Detwiler with the sixth overall pick in the draft and he signed for $2.15 million ($10,000 under slot), so for Crow, who was the ninth overall pick, the same money wouldn't be a bad deal.

For the conspiracy theorists among us, here's one to ponder. MLB has an on-going investigation into several clubs - the Nationals are one of them - who allegedly had front office members insist on a kickback from players (especially Dominican players) that were signed by the club. The theory goes that the Nationals are either A] already being punished by MLB and have been given an "unofficial" edict that they are not allowed to go over slot. Or, B] are hoping to lessen any potential penalty that could come down by being good boys and sticking very closely to the slot numbers. Take your pick.

If the Nationals are to build from within, they have to sign their top picks. Maybe not all of their first 20, but certainly their top five and they really should be able to sign their top ten. In all fairness, give them the full nine remaining days, because many times, somebody on one side or the other blinks right at the deadline. It's hard to imagine that Crow or his advisers figure he's going to go higher than ninth in next year's draft and even other players like Danny Espinosa (round three) have to seriously consider whether they're going to be better off a year from now. For high schoolers like Graham Hicks (round four) and Adrian Nieto (round five), they could gamble that they'll improve their stock down the road. Of course, with that gamble comes the risk of getting to know an orthopedic surgeon along the way. It's like my Mom always said: "Sometimes the devil you know (in this case, the offer you've already got on the table for you) is better than the devil that you don't (in this case, the future).



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