Jon Heyman is hearing that negotiations between the Cubs and second overall pick Kris Bryant are not progressing well. Bryant, the slugging junior third baseman out of the University of San Diego, is said to be seeking in excess of $6.7 million to sign, which is the slot value allotted for the pick, whereas the Cubs are offering in the neighborhood of $6 million. As context, first overall pick Mark Appel, who the Cubs had rated higher than Bryant on their draft board, agreed to $6.34 million, which was approximately $1.5 million below his slot value. Third overall pick Jonathan Gray signed for $4.8 million, also below his slot value of $5.6 million.
For the last week or so in the comments, I’ve been harping on the importance of the Cubs signing the remainder of their top 10 picks at no more than $192 thousand above their slot values. Under the new CBA, the first ten rounds are the only ones that count in determining a team’s overall draft budget. The slot values of those picks is combined, and the team is not allowed to exceed 105% of that amount in signing not only those players, but also difficult-to-sign high school players later in the draft. As such, It has become commonplace for teams to select three or four college seniors in rounds 5-10, sign them very cheaply (on the order of $10k), and put the savings toward other picks. If the 105% limit is breached, the club forfeits their first round pick in the next year’s draft, an extremely stiff penalty, to say the least.
I can only imagine that during the draft, Bryant advisor Scott Boras was salivating as he watched the Cubs’ draft play out. Only one of their top ten picks was a “signable” college senior, tenth-rounder Zach Godley, and a number of highly- regarded players were in the mix. As it turned out, third-rounder Jacob Hannemann, fourth-rounder Tyler Skulina, and tenth-rounder Charcer Burks required overslot deals to sign. If the remainder of the top ten didn’t come in significantly underslot, Bryant would have placed himself in an extremely strong negotiating position. You see, the 105% limit for the Cubs comes in at $528 thousand if Bryant signs, but only $192 thousand if he doesn’t. That means there was a very real chance that Bryant could have held hostage the Cubs’ first round pick in 2014 by threatening to go back to school. (Though it should be noted that even in that hypothetical, the Cubs would receive the third overall pick in 2014 as compensation for the Bryant loss. They would have been looking at only #3 overall, rather than #3 and #9, or wherever their natural pick ends up. The draft is confusing. Deal with it.) As it turns out, the Cubs have avoided that eventuality, coming in at only $187 thousand over for picks two through ten. Kudos to the front office for realizing what was at stake and making it work. It’s nice to root for a predictably competent organization.
What’s At Stake Now
Kris Bryant is currently lacking in any sort of significant leverage. He has the option of returning to school, but that’s always a risk for an athlete. Returning players slump and get dissected by scouts. Any injury could be devastating. Younger players emerge and rise up draft boards. For the Cubs, the 2014 draft is considered to be a strong one, and having two top ten picks certainly wouldn’t be the worst thing. What they do risk is not having a first round pick for a year, a significant loss of development time and progression that every team seeks to avoid. Also at risk is the ability to sign later picks at greater than slot value. On draft day, twelfth-round high school pitcher Trevor Clifton let slip that his agreement with the Cubs was for approximately $470 thousand above slot value. For that to happen, the Cubs need Bryant to sign for at least $130 thousand below slot. Other potential signees like high 24th-rounder Tyler Alamo could be casualties if Bryant requires more money than expected.
My guess is that Bryant signs for approximately the same amount as Appel, in the range of $6.2- $6.5 million. My guess is that Clifton also signs. While Bryant has been relatively tight-lipped about negotiations, the UK-committed Clifton told a reporter that he hated school… so that’s not going to help his negotiating position. All in all, the Cubs may lose on a late-round pick or two that they expected to sign, but that’s a relatively minor setback compared to getting Bryant in the fold. That said, the deadline is July 12th, and with Boras involved, I expect that it will go down to the wire.