The Washington Nationals had the no.1 overall picks in the 2009 and '10 Drafts, and there was no doubt about which players the Nats were going to select in either of those drafts. There were some questions about whether or not they'd be able to sign Stephen Strasburg ('09) and Bryce Harper ('10), but no mystery around who they'd make the top picks. Last year the Nationals had Anthony Rendon, widely considered the best available hitter, fall to them 6th overall due to questions about his shoulder, which limited him to DH duties in his junior year at Rice. The Nationals signed Stephen Strasburg to a 4-year/$15.1M dollar major league deal that included a $7.5M dollar signing bonus. Bryce Harper got a 5-year/$9.9M dollar major league deal with a $6.25M dollar signing bonus. Rendon got 4-years/$7.2M. But it wasn't just the top picks who got big $ from the Nationals...
2010 4th Round pick A.J. Cole got a $2M dollar signing bonus. 2011 3rd Rounder Matt Purke, taken 93rd overall, signed a 4-year/$4.15M dollar major league deal. As Nats' GM Mike Rizzo explained it, after a trade this winter that sent Cole and three other Nats' prospects to Oakland in return for A's lefty Gio Gonzalez, it was all part of a plan the Nationals put in place in preparation for the changes that were expected to be made to the draft in the new CBA, which was agreed upon this past winter. As Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell put it after the Nationals drafted and signed Rendon, RHP Alex Meyer, OF Brian Goodwin and Purke last summer, the Nats, "... stuffed dynamite in [MLB's] slot system.":
"Over the next few years, as you watch slashing hitter Anthony Rendon, southpaw Matt Purke, center field speedster Brian Goodwin and 6-foot-8 right-hander Alex Meyer come through the minors, remember what the Nats thought of them on the day they were signed for $16.2 million — blowing away MLB’s recommended "slot" salaries of $5 million for all combined."
"The plan three years ago was to attack the draft before the new CBA," Rizzo told reporters this past winter, "That was our focus, that was our vision, that was our strategy going into it three years ago and we did it, we attacked it for the last three years and I don't think you'll see a draft class like last year's because of the new CBA rules, so..."
According to Baseball America's reporting, the Nationals spent a $11.5M+ on signing bonuses in 2009, $11.9M+ in 2010 and $15M+ in 2011 (and those numbers are just bonuses, not including money guaranteed in Major League deals). The changes to the draft under the new CBA, as MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo explained last November, included the introduction for "Signing Bonus Pools":
"In the Draft, the bonus pool will equal "the sum of the values of that Club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft." The more picks a team has (more on how that has changed later), the earlier a team picks, the larger the pool. According to Major League Baseball, the range of the Signing Bonus Pool for Draft picks is from $4.5 million to $11.5 million. The size of the pools will standardize more from club to club after next year's class of free agents. The size of the pools will depend on the number of picks a club has in a given year and where those picks fall each round. The club picking No. 1 overall -- in 2012, that's the Astros -- will have the largest pool to draw from."
Though teams are allowed to exceed the prescribed totals, but, Mr. Mayo noted, "... not without cost. Penalties range from a tax to the forfeiture of Draft picks the following year, depending on how far above the pool a team goes."
The penalties for spending above the prescribed slot values were broken down further by SB Nation Baseball Nation writer Wendy Thurm in an overview of the CBA entitled, "Breaking Down MLB's New Labor Deal":
"Teams that exceed the ceiling by 5% will be taxed 75%; teams that exceed it by 5-10% will be taxed 75% and lose a first-round draft pick the following year. If a team goes over by 10-15%, the tax will be 100% with the loss of first- and second-round draft picks. Draft spending at 15% more than permitted will be taxed 100% and the team will lose two first-round picks."
Baseball America released a breakdown of the prescribed bonuses for the first 10 Rounds of the 2012 Draft recently. The Nationals have $4,436,200 with a recommended bonus of $2,125,000 for their first round pick this year, which is the 16th overall selection, but as Baseball America's article notes, "Teams can spread the money among their picks in the top 10 rounds in different ways so long as they stay under the total budget,":
"For example, the Astros could sign their No. 1 pick for $5.2 million and spread the extra $2 million among other players. However, if a team fails to sign a player, it cannot apply the budgeted amount for that pick to other players and loses that amount from its overall budget."
Last year, the Nationals had to wait to see what five other teams did before they realized Anthony Rendon was available and made him the first of their three 1st Round picks. This year, the Nats will have to wait until 15 other picks are made before they can make their first 1st Round pick. Mike Rizzo put together the scouting department he did with the goal of being able to build through the draft, identifying, drafting and signing the best availble talent. They'll have to change their approach along with the rest of the league, but as Rizzo explained in an interview on 106.7 the FAN in D.C. this winter, he thinks the people he hired when he took over as GM are capable of finding what the Nationals need:
"When you talk about the impactful drafts that we've had since I've taken over," Rizzo said, "I don't think it's any coincidence that when I took over I made Roy Clark and Kris Kline the architects of our amateur drafts."
"It's cliche-ish," the GM continued, "But it really is the engine that drives successful organizations for the long term."
The job will be a harder one this year, but the entire league is playing by the same rules.
• Here's what some folks who follow the Draft closely think the Nationals will do with the 16th pick this year when the MLB Draft takes place June 4th-6th:
• "16th Pick" - Brian Oliver, Nationals Farm Authority
• Draft#:16 - Gavin Cecchini, Ht/Wt:6' 1"/180 lbs, Position: SS School: Barbe HS (LA) - "2012 MLB Mock Draft" - MyMLBDraft.com
• 16. Nationals: $2,125,000 - Albert Almora, OF, Mater Academy - "2012 MLB Mock Draft: 40 Rounds" - Matt Garrioch, Minor League Ball