The Toronto Blue Jays failed to come to terms with 21st overall draft pick Tyler Beede ahead of last night’s, or to be more accurate this morning’s, midnight deadline for signing 2011 draft picks. Beede was the only first round draft pick not to sign with the club that selected him.
The gulf in dollar figures between the two parties was believed to be $1 million, and while that represents a minuscule amount of total payroll for even the lowliest of teams, it was $1 million more than the Blue Jays were willing to spend on Beede.
I’m not so much of an apologist for Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos as to suggest that a mistake wasn’t made here. Even with a compensatory 22nd overall pick in the 2012 draft, the Blue Jays didn’t take full advantage of the opportunity that they were presented with the 21st overall pick in what many believed to be the deepest draft in recent memory.
If they had done it all over again, would they have drafted Blake Swihart or Alex Meyer in Beede’s place? Probably. But the mistake made here was in underestimating what type of bonus the Massachusetts prep arm would settle for, not in the Blue Jays refusal to meet his demand.
As Anthopoulos explained in his early morning teleconference with the press:
I think generally speaking we’re very pleased with the result. We had a lot of a draft picks, we took a lot of [what] draft experts deemed tough signs and were able to come to terms with pretty much all of them. I don’t think we went into it with the expectation that they all sign. Not only that but I think the model that we use going forward is what we’ve done here. When you’re going to be aggressive like this I expect each year to have several players unsigned. But on the whole I think we’re going to come out ahead.
The team had a set value for each drafted player that they wouldn’t exceed. I assume that Beede’s camp made it clear to interested teams that they wouldn’t settle for anything less than something close to the $3.5 million that they held strong to during negotiations. The Blue Jays selected him with the hope that they would be able to negotiate a deal closer to the $2.5 million that was reportedly their final offer. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.
While drafting and signing elite level talent offers the possibility of a great bargain, it obviously becomes less great when you hand that possibility a blank cheque. According to the often quoted Hardball Times research by Victor Wang, the average late first round draft pick WAR value in dollar terms ends up bringing back around $5.5 million after accounting for signing bonuses. The Blue Jays measured that risk and believed that $3.5 million wasn’t worth the investment for the potential return. That’s not to suggest that Beede wouldn’t have returned a value higher than the $3.5 million he requested. It’s merely that the Blue Jays believed that $3.5 million would have a higher return invested somewhere else.
For an example of the Blue Jays strategy working well, one need look no further than one of the players that they did sign prior to the midnight deadline. Heading into the draft, it was widely believed that Daniel Norris would seek something in the neighbourhood of $3.9 million for a signing bonus. The Blue Jays had a value in mind for the high school left hander and were able to negotiate to a figure within that value range, ultimately signing him with a $2 million bonus.
The same was also done with Jacob Anderson, Dwight Smith Jr., Kevin Comer, Christian Lopes and Matt Dean, a third baseman considered by Baseball America to be among the best high school position players in the draft.
In fact, the only other top pick not to sign was another high school pitcher from the Northeast, Andrew Chin. As we learned shortly after the Blue Jays selected Chin, he had just had Tommy John surgery a couple months before the draft. I’m still unclear if this was a horrible mistake by the Jays scouting department (unlikely, right?) or if it was a case of trying to cash in on a guy at his lowest value.
No matter what, it’s a testament to the team’s scouting staff and management’s negotiation skills that the Blue Jays, despite not coming to an agreement with their first selection, still appear to have had a very successful draft. And now it’s time to use the conclusion that only the very best of articles use: Only time will tell, though. Unfortunately, this cliched phrase is almost always the most accurate way to end any discussion related to draft picks in baseball.