Reds and Mets Game the MLB Draft System by Craig Edwards June 7, 2019 Baseball teams continue to search for whatever edge they can find when it comes to bringing cheap, talented players into their organizations. The draft is one of the easiest ways for teams to accumulate talent, as clubs take turns picking the best amateur players in the country, and the Commissioner’s office, as authorized by the CBA between the players and owners, tells teams how much they are allowed to spend. Most amateur players have very little leverage, and generally sign for the recommended slot amount. Because individual draft picks receive a slotted amount, but teams are allowed to spend their entire draft pool in whatever manner they choose, money often gets moved around pick-to-pick, with those players with less leverage receiving much less than the slot amount for their pick while those players with some leverage getting quite a bit more. This year, the Reds, Mets, White Sox, and Marlins all appear to be moving significant money around in an effort to manipulate the draft system to their benefit. Is it worth it though? While every team moves money around in the draft, these four clubs stood out for drafting hard-to-sign prep players in the early rounds, then taking college seniors with multiple picks later in the first 10 rounds. Presumably, the college senior picks will sign for amounts significantly under their slot value (you can find all the slot values here), meaning the savings can be used to sign the prep players who threatened to go to college if their bonus demands are not met. Here are the teams, players, slot amounts, and the number of senior signs for each team. Potential Overslot Draft Picks Team Player Pick Slot Senior Signs White Sox Andrew Dalquist 81 $755,300 6 Reds Tyler Callihan 85 $710,700 3 Mets Matthew Allan 89 $667,900 7 Marlins Evan Fitterer 141 $390,400 7 All four players are likely to require more than their draft slot provides in order to sign a contract with their drafting teams. Tyler Callihan has reportedly agreed to a deal for $1.5 million. Allan is rumored to have an asking price of about $3 million, which might be why the Mets selected seniors with seven picks in the first 10 rounds. The slot for Evan Fitterer is pretty low, requiring the Marlins to make sacrifices with many of their subsequent picks. We don’t yet know exactly what it will take to sign all of the players listed, but we do have an idea of how much value teams gave up in later rounds, as well as the expected value of the players who were picked. To determine the value given up, or the value the player needs to be worth in order to make up for the value lost, we perform the following analysis. First, we have the expected value of the draft picks where the teams purposely took lesser players to give a lower bonus. We will subtract the expected value of the players drafted in those slots. For the 443 players who made THE BOARD, one million dollars was set for their value, equivalent to a player taken in the 11-20th rounds. For players not on THE BOARD, $400,000 was set as the value, equivalent to a pick in rounds 21-30. Then we add the value of the pick where the overslot player was taken if we were to assume the team had played it straight instead of taking a more talented, higher-cost player. This number should help provide a break-even point for whether sacrificing multiple picks is worth it. All values are from my prior research on draft pick values. Value Lost With Senior Signs Team Player Value of Punted Picks Value of Seniors Picked Net Loss on Seniors Value of Overslot Pick Break-even Value Hypothetical Break-even Pick/Rank White Sox Andrew Dalquist $11.0 M $2.4 M $8.6 M $3.8 M $12.4 M 24 Reds Tyler Callihan $5.5 M $1.8 M $3.3 M $3.8 M $7.5 M 40 Mets Matthew Allan $14.8 M $4.6 M $10.2 M $3.8 M $14.0 M 21 Marlins Evan Fitterer $16.1 M $5.2 M $10.9 M $2.5 M $13.4 M 22 Keep in mind that it is possible some of the money saved will end up going to picks after the 10th round, where bonuses are capped at $125,000 unless teams use leftover money from the first 10 rounds. Teams also might have gone underslot at other picks in the first 10 rounds without it being an obvious senior sign player, which would increase the sacrifice a team made without making it in the above table. It’s also possible some of the senior signs have values above or below where they are ranked, but this should provide a general idea about what teams gave up to go overslot. The hypothetical pick is the spot where the value of the pick meets the break-even value of the pick given up. For the Reds, if Tyler Callihan is one of the top 40 players in the draft, then the Reds’ senior sign sacrifices are worth it. The other three players need higher valuations for the teams to break even. While the teams certainly have their internal valuations, we have ours to provide a comparison, as well as those from Baseball America, MLB, and Keith Law at ESPN. First, this is where Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel ranked these players ahead of the draft, the pick value for that rank, and the difference between the break-even value and FanGraphs’ value. Value Gained With Overslot Picks Team Player FG Rank FG Value Break-even Value Value Gained White Sox Andrew Dalquist 101 $2.8 M $12.4 M -$9.6 M Reds Tyler Callihan 25 $12.0 M $7.5 M $4.5 M Mets Matthew Allan 20 $14.8 M $14.0 M $800,000 Marlins Evan Fitterer 94 $3.8 M $13.4 M -$9.6 M Based on the information above without much context, it appears the Reds did very well to nab Callihan and the Mets did well to get Allan, but the White Sox and Marlins’ decisions are a bit more curious. There are some potential mitigating factors for the Marlins and White Sox, including late-round overslot picks, senior signs carrying more value than shown here, or simply a much higher valuation on the players they picked. The White Sox took three prep players among their first four picks. To provide slightly more context, here is an industry average from multiple draft evaluators. Value Gained With Overslot Picks Team Player FG Rank BA Ranks KLAW MLB AVG Industry Value Break-even Value Value Gained White Sox Andrew Dalquist 101 67 45 65 70 $3.8 M $12.4 M -$8.6 M Reds Tyler Callihan 25 37 40 35 34 $9.0 M $7.5 M $1.5 M Mets Matthew Allan 20 16 11 13 15 $18.4 M $14.0 M $4.4 M Marlins Evan Fitterer 94 60 UN 74 90? $3.8 M $13.4 M $-9.6 M This is a relatively simple way to try to determine whether the overslot players are worth the sacrifices at other points in the draft. The draft isn’t a crapshoot, but rankings aren’t completely rigid as different teams and scouts see different things and evaluate players in different ways. From a relatively objective standpoint, it looks like the White Sox and Marlins gave up too much value to potentially sign overslot players, while the Mets and Reds did quite well. It should also be noted that the Padres had multiple senior signs in their top 10 rounds, but they might be trying to sign overslot players in rounds 11 and later. To make up what they have sacrificed, they would need to sign a couple of third or fourth round value players or one player among the top 50, i.e. Maurice Hampton. As Longenhagen and McDaniel noted in their review of the draft, the Cubs opted for some easier signs early in order to take younger prep players later. Both playing it straight and shifting money around have their advantages, but one isn’t necessarily better than another. Teams might look smarter by moving money around and getting better talent later than they would have otherwise, but all strategies aren’t the same, and they should be evaluated independently to better understand a team’s process.