hangoverLet us play Conspiracy Theorist for a moment

Back in June the Rays took LeVon Washington in the first round (30th overall) and Kenny Diekroeger in the second round (78th overall). The Rays failed to sign either player. Seemed like a bad draft at the time. But what if the Rays never intended to sign either of their top picks from the 2009 draft? Crazy?

OK, here is where we add two plus two and get the square-root of Andrew Friedman’s IQ.

After the draft Washington’s father told the Gainesville Sun that the Rays “didn’t want to sign” LeVon, noting that the Rays refused to negotiate for more than two months following the draft. He also said that the Rays gave his son a take-it-or-leave-it offer just prior to the deadline for signing 2009 draft picks. An offer the Rays certainly knew would be rejected.

As for Diekroeger, it was well-known prior to the draft that he was expected to honor his commitment to Stanford. Still, the Rays took a chance on Diekroeger. In the end, there is no indication the two sides were ever close to an agreement.

So why would the Rays not make any effort to sign their top pick and use their second pick on a player they knew was unsignable? Because not signing those picks could save the Rays a crap-ton of money in future drafts.

By failing to sign either pick, the Rays receive compensation picks in the 2010 draft in comparable slots. For example, in addition to their 15th pick, the Rays will also have the 31st pick in the first round. Failing to sign Diekroeger also netted the Rays an additional second round pick. Add the compensation picks between the first and second round for the departure of free agents Gregg Zaun and Brian Shouse* and all of the sudden the Rays have 6 picks before the third round.

The immediate concern is how much the Rays will have to dish out in signing bonuses for 6 picks in the top 80. That is a lot of cash for a team that counts every nickel.

But what if the Rays have no intention of signing all 6 picks?

The compensation picks for Zaun, Shouse, Washington and Diekroeger are protected. That is, if the Rays fail to sign the players chosen with those picks, they will not receive compensation in 2011.

That leads to what could be the Rays draft strategy for 2010 and beyond:

  1. Target 2-3 players with protected picks that the Rays want to sign and are within the Rays budget. The Rays will have a good idea prior to the draft how much these players will cost.
  2. Target 1-2 players with protected picks that the Rays would like to sign if the price is right. The Rays may not have a strong sense of how much these players will cost.
  3. Use the regular first-round (#15 overall), second-round (approx. #52 overall) on players the Rays have little intention of signing.

The Rays can then use the players they don’t intend to sign as leverage during negotiations with the players they targeted with the compensation picks. The Rays can also use the four players selected with the protected picks as leverage against each other. The Rays have already set the precedent that they are willing to let a player walk if the price is not right. In addition, the Rays can make it clear that they will only spend a specific amount on bonuses. The Rays can then tell the targeted players that if they don’t take that money, the Rays will be happy to give it to one of the other top picks and it will still be considered a strong draft.

For the players the situation changes from one in which they are hoping to negotiate a higher signing bonus to one in which they must choose between an amount the Rays like and nothing at all. In the end, the Rays could lose 1-2 picks that are not protected. But they will be able to sign 2-3 players at reasonable prices and they will get extra picks in the first- and second-rounds next year.

And with at least four picks in the first two round next year they will be able to repeat the entire process. In theory, the Rays could continue this cycle of extra draft picks forever, continually using the extra picks to keep signing bonuses low and with no intention of signing all of the drafted players. And all this for the low, low cost of sacrificing the 2009 draft.

It’s just crazy enough…that it might be true.

*Shouse is not expected to accept arbitration from the Rays and as long as he signs with another team, the Rays will pick up a second compensation pick between the first and second round.



  1. Kevin says:

    Maybe it is part of the plan, but it seems too much of a risk for this front office. First, they acquired Zaun before the August 15th deadline, but there was no guarantee he'd be a type-B free agent(I believe he was the last one to make that cut). And what if he or Shouse accepted arbitration(possible handshake deals aside)? And like you said, there's the obvious possibility of losing draft picks, something I don't think the Rays can afford, even given the surplus.

    And besides all that, I think the draft strategy you outlined is kind of a poor one, because it handicaps their budget in the later rounds. By having five or six picks in the top 2 rounds, I don't expect them to take as many over-slot guys in rounds 3-10(Glaesmann, Bailey, Malm, James) in 2010 as they did in 2009, which means more slot and under-slot guys.

    I think the Rays did okay for themselves in the 2009 draft in a vacuum. They got some good talent. But I do think they handcuffed themselves for the 2010 draft unless they plan on really opening the checkbook. And considering it was a difference of $170,000 that kept them from signing 20th rounder Dylan Floro(and probably a comparable amount on 15th rounder Pierce Johnson), I don't know if that's a realistic expectation.

    • Definitely some risk involved. But the plan still works without the arbitration draft picks. They are just an added bonus. And maybe since rest of the draft was strong it made it easier to go forward and let the top two picks walk and reap the benefits next year and year after. Whether by design or not I can't see Rays signing all 6 picks. So why not use to team's advantage.

    • Beth says:

      The whole scenario makes sense only if we assume they didn't like what was available for the going rates in the first two rounds of the draft. If they thought the talent going at the top was over-priced, then gaming the system in this way would make sense. But obviously this can't be a strategy a team repeats in subsequent seasons -- at some point you have to use your draft picks, and even with these signing bonuses, it's still cheaper to build your team through the draft than through the free agent market.

      • The Rays will definitely use their picks this year, I just can't see them using all of their picks.

        As for this last draft, I suspect if this plan was premeditated that it was something they would only implement if the situation was right and this might have been the right year to do it. Ad they only had to sacrifice one draft to make this work for all drafts down the road.

        • Beth says:

          It also leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth if they had no intention of ever signing Washington, as these player prospects can only negotiate with the team that drafts them. So if you draft a player in the first round (who is therefore likely to be a legitimate MLB prospect) knowing that you aren't going try to sign him in any serious way, you are messing with someone's career. There had better be a good reason to do that!

          • That is absolutely true. The counter-argument is that in order to receive compensation next year, the Rays have to make a contract offer. And they did make Washington an offer that was at least close to slot value. So Washington did have a choice. They may not have given a good choice. But he could have accepted. Deikroeger is another story. He never wanted to sign.


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