stanford mark appelAs Jeff Passan reported last week, the Houston Astros and top pick Mark Appel were expected to have a deal in place by this week, and now Jon Heyman reports that a deal is, indeed, in place.

A key difference in the reports? While Passan was not specific about the signing bonus, his piece left you understanding that Appel was going to get close to the full $7.79 million slotted for the first overall pick (even if Passan has subsequently said that isn’t quite what he was saying). Heyman, on the other hand, says Appel is getting between $6 and $6.5 million.

That is a huge, huge distinction – and one that carries a fair bit of importance for the Cubs. But we’ll get to that.

First, it’s worth laying out how the Astros may have gotten Appel for so far under slot.

If you’re Appel, you’ve got a pretty good argument for accepting no lower than $6.7 million, which was the Cubs’ slot at No. 2: “Look, Astros, if you hadn’t taken me, the Cubs would have. And they would have paid me at least their slot. So there’s no way I’m taking less than $6.7 million.”

Of course, the Astros have a pretty good rejoinder: “Look, Mark, that’s irrelevant, because the Cubs didn’t take you. We did. So, here are your options: take $6.3 million right now from us, or take ANOTHER year off in your professional development, go play independent ball, and then try to get a better offer next year in the Draft. Good luck with that.”

If I’m Appel, I find that argument pretty persuasive, and I take the cash.

Against that backdrop, how relevant is the huge under slot signing to the Cubs’ negotiations with their top pick, third baseman Kris Bryant?

At, say, $6.3 million, Appel would be signing for $1.5 million under slot. Combine that with No. 3 pick Jonathan Gray signing for $800,000 under slot, and the Cubs have plenty of ammo for arguing that their top pick – Kris Bryant, selected second overall – should sign for something under slot in the $800,000 to $1.5 million under slot range.

From the Cubs, the argument would look fairly similar to the one the Astros made to Appel: “Look, Kris, you can return to San Diego for your senior season, sure. And maybe you have an even better year. But in a better draft next year, you still might not be selected first overall – hell, you might fall to third or fourth. Your options are to take the $6 million (or $6.2 or $5.8 or whatever) we’re offering you now, or take a chance with injury/ineffectiveness/anything else that precludes you from duplicating an historically good junior season at San Diego. Maybe you get a few hundred grand more next year. Is it really worth the risk? This isn’t an Appel situation where there are additional millions on the table for you with another good season. It’s $6 million this year – and your professional career gets going a year earlier – or *maybe* $6.5 to $7 million next year.”

Feels like a pretty compelling argument, and one that I suspect will win out in the end.

(There is also the representation element of his: Scott Boras represents both Appel and Bryant. Is Boras really going to want to tell Appel (and the world) that he could get him only $6.3 million – hugely under slot – but could get Bryant more than that at No. 2?)

So what does Bryant land from the Cubs? I feel more confident about the Cubs’ ability to get him for under slot than I did before Appel’s bonus was reported, that’s for sure. Bryant probably had the most leverage of the top three picks – Appel is a senior, Gray was at risk for a free fall after the positive stimulant test – but, for the reason laid out above, wielding the return-to-school leverage is fairly hollow for Bryant. And with the guy ahead of him signing for well below slot (and since no one can argue that Appel was a mere “value” pick), Bryant may have to accept what the market is saying about the top picks in the Draft this year.

Given that Bryant signing – and signing for a price within a known range – was always so critical for the Cubs’ overall draft approach, I remain fairly certain that the Cubs knew what it was going to take to sign Bryant before they selected him. I reckon that the two sides are currently negotiating within a narrow range of prices – $5.8 million to $6.5 million? – and the Cubs will hope to get him locked down sooner rather than later so that they know how much money they’ve got to use elsewhere in the Draft.

Long story short: Appel signing way under slot does not, alone, ensure that the Cubs can get Bryant for under slot. But it certainly doesn’t hurt. Even if Appel signs for $6.5 million, the Cubs could still make Bryant the best paid pick in the entire Draft and still sign Bryant for slightly under slot.



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