The big story of the 2011 Washington Nationals, at least according to the Nats' GM, Mike Rizzo, was the continued development of the young core of players currently at the major league level and on the way up in the organization. The other big story was the tremendous haul the Nats got in the 2011 Draft and the amount of money Washington spent to get their picks signed.
The Nationals, under Rizzo's direction, have made a commitment to scouting, spending on the draft and player development, selecting the best available players and then making sure to sign them, often to the sort of well-above-slot deals addressed by the changes to the rules for the amateur draft announced in the new Collective Bargain Agreement agreed upon by Major League Baseball and the Players Association yesterday less than a year after, as Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell put it back in August, the Nationals, "stuffed dynamite in their slot system," with the deals they gave to their top four picks 1st Rounders Anthony Rendon, Alex Meyer and Brian Goodwin and 3rd Round pick Matt Purke.
In an interview with Chad Dukes and Danny Rouhier on 106.7 the FAN in D.C. last week, the Nationals' general manager spoke about how the franchise has gone about getting to the point where they are now considered a threat to make the post season, attributing that success to, "... not only ownership allowing us to be very aggressive in the Draft, but also allowing us to go out and get front office people who really know their business and are the best of the best."
"When you talk about the impactful drafts that we've had since I've taken over," Rizzo told the hosts,"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," Rizzo said of constantly talking about the importance of scouting and player development, "But it really is the engine that drives successful organizations for the long term and we identified the best players in the last three drafts, we drafted them, we were aggressive in signing them, we spent a lot of money in the amateur draft, and we see, I think, the first wave of those players hitting the Nationals this coming year, but we feel that we have two or three more waves that will hit the Washington Nationals in the very near future."
Did the Nationals approach the last few drafts as they did, giving 2010 4th Round pick A.J. Cole a $2M dollar signing bonus to keep him from going to college or giving a pitcher with injury concerns like 2011 3rd Round pick Matt Purke a major league deal worth $4 million dollars-plus to keep him from going back into the draft and hoping to go higher after an injury-free season. Kris Kline, the Nats' scouting director, told Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore yesterday that the Nats may have anticipated the changes:
"'I think we had a little foresight with what was coming in 2012,' Kline said. 'I think with the draft we had this year, I think that was pretty good plan.'"
The changes that were made for the 2012 Draft, as explained by MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo this afternoon in a post on the CBA entitled, "Analysis: CBA makes several changes to Draft", were made to address the fact that spending had, "... spiraled out of control in terms of the bonuses given to amateurs, either in the Draft or via international free agency." Teams will now be limited to spending a prescribed amount which is based on, "... 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. Teams are allowed to exceed the money in their pool, but 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 breakdown of the penalties for spending above the prescribed slot values were described by SB Nation Baseball Nation writer Wendy Thurm yesterday 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."
In addition to the rules regulating spending on the amateur draft, there will be a "Competitive Balance Lottery" added, through which low-revenue, small market teams can receive extra draft picks, and there will also be changes to the rules for international free agents. There's a lot to sort through, but that hasn't stopped some from offering criticism based on their first readings of the new rules. The Nats' scouting director, however, is not one of those people criticizing the changes, as he explained to the Washington Post's Mr. Kilgore:
"'Everybody is going to have to stay within the guidelines,' Kline said. 'I like it. You’ll have to do your diligence with the signability of each player, know him inside and out.
"'To be honest with you, I think it’s gotten way out of hand,' Kline added. 'I think there needs to be more structure. The system was certainly broken. If this is something that’s going to help us keep it in check, I’m all for it.'"
The Nationals gave the no.6 overall pick Anthony Rendon $6M dollars last August, Alex Meyer, the 23rd pick, got $2M, Brian Goodwin, taken 34th overall got $3 million to go along with Purke's $4M+. Washington spent just over $15 million on signing bonuses in 2011, ($11.9 in 2010, $11.5 in 2009), with '09 no.1 overall Stephen Strasburg, 2010 no.1 overall Bryce Harper, Rendon and Purke getting major league deals. Under the new guidelines, no prospect can get a major league deal, and the Nationals will be able to spend somewhere right in the middle of $4.5 and $11.5 million on the entire draft before they get taxed/penalized.
Those guidelines, as they've been announced thus far, are not popular with everyone. Super agent Scott Boras, however, as you might expect, is not thrilled with the changes. The man who represented Strasburg and Harper (and top picks league-wide) when they signed record-setting deals and three of the Nats' top four picks in the last draft, told MLB Network Radio on Tuesday that the new CBA unfairly penalizes teams committed to building through the draft. It's hard not to think of the Nats, though they aren't mentioned by name, when Boras is talking about what's going to happen to teams committed to building through the draft. You can listen to the full quotes from Boras HERE, HERE and HERE. Some of what he had to say is transcribed below...
• Scott Boras on MLB Network Radio:
"Scouts [know] who to invest in, and they also know who not to invest in. If someone came to me and said, 'In this draft we need amendments to save money,' the answer would have been, we're going to determine what less spending we need to have beyond the second round. Cause when you look at the effectiveness of scouts, of general managers and of organizations and of what they've done in the top sixty or seventy picks, you're talking about a percentile that is vastly different, ten times more effective than what you're going to get from the 3rd Round on. If we had measurements in those areas. That I would have understood.
"But what I'm looking at is, when the Los Angeles Dodgers go to be sold for over a billion dollars and I'm the new owner, I no longer have the thought process that I can put together an administration, a general manager, a scouting department that is going to vastly allow me to take advantage of what I know is a superior intellect in the draft. And when you've seen owners like [Brewers' owner] Mark Attanasio, and you've seen owners like [Stuart] Sternberg in Tampa, these people have brought in staffs that have put them in a position of winning and they've done it through the draft.
"That pathway is now, the more successful you are, that pathway is eliminated. And if you're in a major market team like the Dodgers where you're going to spend money, you're not finishing last. You're going to finish maybe third or second, but the reality of it is, you're not going to have access to going out and ferreting through the draft market to sign players that maybe other teams wouldn't have signed or maybe there were mistakes that came down to you, because you're going to be limited."
"I still have not figured out the benefit of why we're saying to certain organizations in one draft you're not going to spend, but in another draft you may spend six million more than you did the prior draft. That is scouting. Let them have the freedom to do that because that is why they're successful."
"The second point is, we can not have teams who have driven the path of scouting and development to success be penalized for it and that is one of the major products of the current system, is that someone who builds their club to an effective measure of winning and is in the playoffs, they now pick lower and they have less access and they also have half the money to sign the players. We want that organization to be rewarded and we want that organization's philosophy to continue but what we've done is to set up a system where the philosophy can't continue because you're going to have less money to draft the very players that allowed you to be successful.
"That hypocrisy is a structure that I think we have to look at and say, it's going to eventually create a large disparity amongst the revenue teams and the clubs that are small revenue clubs. And we need to be cautious of that at inception."