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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.