Draft Signing Strategy: Michael Conforto and late round spending targets

The excitement of the draft has come and gone and the Mets, like every team in baseball, have been busy signing their draft picks. At this point, they have signed all of their selections from the top 10 rounds. Under the new CBA, teams have a very good idea what it will take to sign a player before the draft, and it is generally in the players’ interest to sign quickly to head out and begin their professional career.

Thursday, Jim Callis broke word that the Mets agreed to terms with first rounder Michael Conforto for $2,970,800, the exact value of the slot for the #10 overall pick. Immediately thereafter, Conforto, who is being advised by Scott Boras, tweeted that he was still in Redmond, WA and had not signed yet. That’s to be expected of course. First the Mets and the Boras Corp. representatives agree, and then Conforto signs the deal.

Conforto’s signing is important not just because when he signs the Mets will have added a very good hitting prospect, but for who else the Mets might be able to sign from their draft class. In the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which took effect between the 2011 and 2012 seasons, teams must manage their total cap amount to fit their players in. The Mets took few risks in terms of signability, and have managed their money in a very similar way to last year.

Here is the Mets’ bonus chart for 2014.

Round Slot Bonus Player  +/- Bonus As % of Slot
1 2,970,800 2970800 Michael Conforto 0 100.0
2 None
3 651,700 750,000 Milton Ramos 98,300 115.1
4 453,600 305,000 Eudor Garcia-Pacheco -148,600 67.2
5 339,600 100,000 Josh Prevost -239,600 29.4
6 254,300 280,000 Tyler Moore 25,700 110.1
7 190,600 100,000 Brad Wieck -90,600 52.5
8 159,600 175,000 Dash Winningham 15,400 109.6
9 149,000 100,000 Michael Katz -49,000 67.1
10 139,100 10,000 Kelly Secrest -129,100 7.2
11 Connor Buchmann 0
12 Alex Durham 0
13 100,000 300,000 Erik Manoah 200,000 300.0
28 Keaton McKinney
Total 5,408,300 5,090,800 -317,500

After Conforto’s signing, the Mets are right where they were before, $317,500 under their slot allocation from Major League baseball. Before this year, under the new CBA, they signed each of their draftees from the first three rounds under the recommended slot. The last two first rounders – Gavin Cecchini and Dominic Smith – signed for about a quarter of a million dollars under slot. Conforto signing for the full first round slot value is a departure from that course and perhaps a reflection of Scott Boras’ bargaining prowess. It also limits the Mets’ ability to spend more on players later in the draft. In fact, both of the players the Mets picked in the top three rounds, Conforto and Milton Ramos, signed for slot, or a little more. In the last two years, each player in the top four rounds signed under slot. This year, five of the Mets top 10 round picks signed for under slot.

Still, there are strategies the Mets have repeated. It’s the third year in a row that the Mets have signed a college senior for $10,000 or less. This year, the guy was 10th rounder Kelly Secrest, out of UNC Wilmington, who signed for $10,000. In 2013, OF Patrick Biondi signed for $10,00 in the ninth round. In 2012, the Mets went value twice, signing Richie Rodriguez for $10,000 in the 9th round and RHP Paul Sewald for $1,000 in the 10th. Secrest is the first Mets draftee from UNC Wilmington since Brad Holt in the supplemental first round in 2008.

Three players among the Mets’ top 10 round selections this year have signed for over slot, but none more than $100,000 over. This is consistent with the last few years. In 2013, four players among the top Ten 10 signed over slot deals, with Matt Oberste farthest over at $139,300 relative to his $185,700 slot. In 2012, two players in the top 10 signed above slot deals – Cory Oswalt and Tomas Nido – both high schoolers. Oswalt signed for $328,400 over slot in the 7th round and Nido for $113,100 over in the eighth.

Just as they have done the last two years, the Mets went overslot immediately after the 10th round. Every pick after the 10th round carries a slot bonus of $100,000. Anything above that counts against a team’s pool. Remember, if a pick in the top 10 rounds does not sign, the team loses that pool money, so it is important to draft a few college seniors in the top 10 rounds to ensure some bonuses well below slot. Picks after the top 10 rounds do not carry that incentive. Anyway, this year’s biggest over-slot bonus so far is for 13th rounder RHP Erik Manoah, who signed for $300,000. In 2013, the Mets paid RHP Tyler Bashlor $550,000 in the 11th round and in 2012, they signed Logan Taylor for $150,00 in the 11th. Manoah, who was committed to FIU, is 6’1″, 2010, and Baseball America praised him for his pitchability. Per BA, threw 87-90 this spring, but was 89-92 last fall and his “curveball flashed plus potential in the fall but played at fringe-average this spring.”

The Mets are $317,500 under their allocated cap. Will they spend that money?

The team took four high school players in the later rounds with the talent to go higher, but who were committed to college and came with significant bonus demands. This quartet includes 18th rounder OF Rafael Ramirez (Pace Academy, ATL/NC State Commit), 21st rounder OF Luke Bonfield (IMG Academy/Arkansas), 26th rounder C Tommy Pincin (Upland HS (CA)/SDSU) and 28th rounder RHP Keaton McKinney (Ankeny (IA) HS/Arkansas). (What is it with the Mets and Arkansas recruits? They pulled Brand Nimmo and Michael Fulmer away from Arkansas committments in 2011, drafted Matt Reynolds from Arkansas in 2012, and could not come to terms with Razorback commit Teddy Stankiewicz in the second round in 2012.)

McKinney would be a nearly impossible sign. The Arkansas commit’s seven figure asking price dropped him to day three of the draft, and he says he’s happy to go to Arkansas in part because he thinks he will be a first-round pick in three years. He does not expect the Mets to make a serious attempt at signing him, describing the pick as a “courtesy” and telling the Des Moines Register, the Mets “don’t have the amount of money to sign me.” Lets assume that McKinney is referring the Mets’ bonus pools for draft signings and not the team’s financial situation.

He’s almost surely right. Teams are allowed to exceed their bonus pools by up to 5% before forfeiting a draft pick. There is however, a 75% tax on any overage. Five percent of the Mets’ $5,308,300 is $265,415. The Mets’ maximum possible offer to McKinney in this scenario is $682,915 (the $100,000 that does not count against the cap, the underage, and the 5% overage). He’s not going to sign for that. Moreover, the Mets would pay a tax on the overage, so that offer would cost the team $881,976.

Bonfield has at least retweeted a few Mets fans asking if he will sign, so he’s not totally opposed to the idea.

Now that Conforto has come to terms, the Mets have the $100,00 each late round pick carries and $317K left. Will that be enough to bring in another guy or two?