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MLB Draft 2016: The basics of under-slot deals

Could the Rockies use an under-slot signing to get more talent later?

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

As draft day approaches, rumors of under-slot signings and pre-draft deals are heating up. It’s likely that each of the top three teams will base their selection in part on the bonus demands of their top targets. With that in mind, I wanted to break down these draft day deals, and where the Rockies potentially fit in these dealings.

The Background

Bonus demands have played a prominent role in the draft for years, with big market teams flexing their financial muscles to sign top talent in the back half of the first round. Since MLB implemented the current slot system, these signings have have taken two new forms, both demonstrated prominently in last year’s draft.

First, there is the approach the Rockies used, where they drafted Brendan Rodgers with the third pick, then signed him for $5.5 million, which was $723,000 under slot for the selection. They then found another $299,000 in savings in the fifth round, where they signed Parker French for $100,000. They used those savings to aggressively pursue high school talent that had fallen slightly in the early rounds, going over slot on Mike Nikorak ($295,000), Tyler Nevin ($373,000) and Peter Lambert ($100,000). While I don’t believe any of these picks were anticipated in advance of the draft, the flexibility provided by the savings on Rodgers made them possible.

The second strategy is the prearranged deal, as the Astros worked out with Daz Cameron. Cameron was considered a potential top 10 talent, and in order secure his signature, they went under slot at the second pick ($1.52 million savings for Alex Bregman), the fifth pick ($189,000 for Kyle Tucker), and the 46th pick ($225,000 for Thomas Eshelman) to negotiate a pre-draft deal for $4,000,000 for Cameron at pick 37 ($2.33 million over slot). While Cameron’s representatives made it clear that he had a pre-negotiated deal, no one knew the amount until the deal was announced.

The Components

In order to make these deals work, there are three necessary components:

1. The slot money to meet the demands of an over slot high school talent.

2. A player willing to negotiate because he can negotiate for more than he would otherwise receive at his expected draft position.

3. The combined talent of the two players has to exceed what can be drafted by going best player available with each selection.

There are five teams this year that potentially have the money to make this work. Those teams, with slot values of the picks in the first two rounds are listed here.

  • Philadelphia Phillies: #1 ($9,015,000), #42 ($1,536,200)
  • Cincinnati Reds: #2 ($7,762,900), #35 ($1,837,200), #43 ($1,497,500)
  • Atlanta Braves: #3 ($6,510,800), #40 ($1,616,800), #44 ($1,459,700)
  • Colorado Rockies: #4 ($5,258,700), #38 ($1,701,600), #45 ($1,422,900)
  • San Diego Padres: #8 ($3,630,900), #24 ($2,191,200), #25 ($2,159,900), #48 ($1,317,800)

There are rumors that Cal Quantril already has a deal, possibly with San Diego. Also, the thought is that the Phillies will not go beyond Dansby Swanson’s $6.5 million last year, freeing up at least $2.5 million and giving them over $4 million to work with for the 42nd pick.

The Rockies

At this point, the Rockies haven’t been mentioned as seeking an under-slot deal, as each of the three teams in front of them have. There are possibilities to do so, however.

There has been a lot of talk about the Rockies picking Riley Pint and Mickey Moniak fourth overall recently, and they’re my two personal favorites. However, there’s a third player that should be talked about more and could be a possible under-slot candidate for the Rockies

Zack Collins may be the best overall bat in the college ranks this year. There are questions with his defensive profile and whether or not he’ll be able to stay at catcher in the majors. Even if not, the bat is real and he could reach the major leagues as early as late 2017, if he can make the transition to first base defensively. It’s easy to see him as a 30 HR, middle of the order bat through 2023, peppering the seats in right field at Coors.

Collins has been mentioned prominently as a potential under slot signing throughout the top ten, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him go to Cincinnati or Atlanta before the Rockies selection. If he is there, I could see a scenario where the Rockies reach a deal around $4 million (roughly the slot for the sixth pick, since he seems unlikely to be picked by the Brewers and fifth overall), and save $1.25 million. If they make another Parker French-esque deal in the middle rounds, they may be able to get to around $3.5 million at pick 38.

Assuming the Rockies are looking for a $3.5 million deal at 38th overall, who would the targets be? Personally, I would look to the prep bats. Josh Lowe, Nolan Jones, and Alex Kiriloff all stand out as guys likely to be taken in the teens, but who have the potential to be among the best players from this year’s class.

Lowe and Jones, in particular, stand out as potential plus power bats from the left side, and both have the potential to provide above average defense from the left side of the infield. Assuming their representatives do not believe they’ll go in the top ten, a $3.5 million signing bonus is likely in their best interests, as the Twins slot at 15, for example, is $2,817,000.

There is a catch though. Lowe and Jones go to high school in the suburbs of Atlanta and Philadelphia, respectively. Assuming they’re open to a deal, they will likely go to hometown teams who, by terrible luck this year, are among the three or four teams in the league who are positioned to be able to offer more than the Rockies.

The one other option I did not mention here is Blake Rutherford. His stock seems to have declined slightly, but he still has a chance to stick in center field and is the type of California prep the Rockies have coveted in the past. If he can’t get a guarantee in the top ten and wants some protection going into the draft, $3.5 may be appealing to both him and the Rockies, who are said to be looking for an outfielder this year.

The arms do not present the same opportunity, in my opinion. Pint and Groome should be top ten picks, meaning they will not be open to a deal. Manning, Anderson and Garrett are the next tier, but all have been linked to teams picking in, or just outside of, the top ten, and may not be willing to pass on that opportunity for a pre-draft deal. After those five, the talent is so bunched up, it’s probably best to go best player available at fourth and take whoever drops to 38th.

In the end, a Collins-Lowe draft would be the ideal scenario for me, with Collins-Jones close behind. Realistically, I think it’s a long shot, as both could be targets of teams with deeper pockets. Jones in particular has been mentioned as a possible 1:1 candidate, and I almost expect Philadelphia to make that deal before the draft. Unless one of Garrett/Manning/Anderson are willing to cut a deal, I really believe the Rockies will be better off with, say, Pint/Carter Kieboom or Moniak/Alex Speas than Collins and a Kiriloff or Joey Wentz.

Much can change before draft day, so stay tuned, as this draft is really wide open right now.