The new collective bargaining agreement presented new challenges for front offices who spent heavily on past drafts. The Red Sox, who routinely went over slot with players they wanted to pull away from the lure of a college commitment, were one of these clubs -- without a change in approach, there would be no more Will Middlebrooks types, players selected later in the draft for early-round money.
Boston went with a plan that a few other clubs also chose, and drafted college seniors with many of the picks of the first 10 rounds. Seniors have little leverage in negotiations: they can't simply stay in school another year, leaving them with independent ball or whatever signing bonus a major-league team offers them if they plan to continue playing baseball. (This strategy is described in more detail over at Baseball Nation, where I covered it following the second day of the draft.)
One of Boston's draft picks, fifth-round selection Mike Augliera, admitted as much prior to his being drafted, on the blog of Binghamton University:
I will not be using an advisor or agent come draft day. Being a senior I don't have much need for negotiating and would like to get started as soon as I possibly can. An advisor would be more beneficial to a high schooler or underclassmen who may be in line for a bigger signing bonus.
Boston has now signed all six of their selections from rounds five through 10. The slot recommendations for those picks accounted for $908,100 of the team's overall $6,884,800 budget for the draft, but Boston spent far less than that on them.
Augliera inked for just $25,000, despite the slot $218,000 recommendation. Justin Haley's numbers aren't official yet, but the 21-year-old redraft reportedly went for close to the $163,500 slot. Righty Kyle Kraus agreed with the Sox for just $1,000, $142,000 less than what his seventh-round status recommended. Nathan Minnich, Division II baseball's top player, became part of the Sox for $10,000, $123,500 under slot. Mike Miller did nearly the same, taking $5,000 for a bonus, well below the ninth-round's $125,000 recommendation.
Though there is no report of what 10th-round pick J.T. Watkins signed for, he's the son of an area scout, and even without that, you'd expect him to be under the $125,000 slot recommendation, given he begins his military service in the fall.
Let's say the Red Sox also give Watkins a $1,000 signing bonus, which seems to be the minimum employed here. That would put their total savings from rounds five through 10 at $702,600. Essentially, that's an extra $702,600 to spend on the six picks from rounds one through four. It's likely that most of that will end up going to fourth-round selection Ty Buttrey, as he's committed to Arkansas and was ranked #38 in Baseball America's top 200 draft prospects. But even if they were to give him an even $1 million to sign, there would be some money left over -- Buttrey's budgeted for $291,300 already.
Where does the extra come from, beyond these senior savings? If the Sox choose to, they can go right up against the penalty for overspending, without crossing it. There's a 75 percent tax on the extra funds should a team exceed their budget by five percent; between five and 10 percent, draft picks are lost, so there's reason not to push spending past that five percent marker, but creeping right up against five percent has its perks.
That five percent doesn't sound like much, but with Boston's $6,884,800 budget, that's $344,240 extra available to them. Let's call it $344,000, as leaving the extra $240 on the table would keep the Sox out of the penalty (assuming the league isn't rounding up, anyway, and even if they do, that just means a 75 percent tax on roughly $300,000). Combined with the money saved from seniors, that's $1,046,600 Boston has to play with in order to sign their first six picks, and it's likely that the #31 pick, Brian Johnson, can be had for under his recommended $1.575M slot, too.
Should there be extra money after that, Boston can shift some of it to a few of their picks after round 10. The problem here is that, should a bonus exceed $100,000 for picks from rounds 11 and up, it will count against their draft budget, so the money isn't there for them to do whatever they'd like with it once it escapes the first 10 rounds. Since not signing picks from rounds 11 onward has no effect on the draft budget, negotiation issues might just lead to non-signings in this area.
Despite it being the first year with the new CBA rules in place -- and with just months to prepare for it -- Boston came ready with a plan, and has had it work out to this point. All that's left now is to sign the remaining selections from the top 10, and thanks to the savings from signing the latter half-dozen, that job has now become simpler than it could have been.