For the first time since 2015, the Chicago Cubs will be drafting inside the top ten picks in the MLB Draft, with pick number seven in the first round. Not only does that mean the Cubs will be guaranteed a shot at a historically strong top of the draft – seriously, they’re going to be able to get a very, very good prospect – but it also means their draft bonus pool will be the largest they’ve had, relatively speaking, since 2014.
Recall, a team’s bonus pool in the draft is tied to the slot value of each of their picks in the first ten rounds of the draft: you take the slot value for each of those picks, add them up, and you get the bonus pool. So long as you sign all of your top ten round picks, you get to use that full pool – any player you don’t sign, however, has their associated slot value subtracted from your pool. Short version? You really don’t want to fail to sign any of your top ten round picks, and that can impact which players you select.
Teams that exceed their bonus pool when signing picks are subject to penalties. So long as you don’t exceed your pool by more than 5%, however, you do not risk losing any future picks – so the most aggressive draft clubs should always spend right up to that 5% overage mark. (Incredibly, only four teams – the Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, and Cardinals – have overspent every single year in the bonus pool era. I can’t speak for the other three without the numbers in front of me, but the Cubs have pushed RIGHT up to that 5% mark every single year.)
MLB has released the full bonus pool figures for the July draft, including specific slot values for the top picks. For the Cubs, their 2022 MLB Draft bonus pool will be just under $10.1 million, the 10th largest pool in the draft. So, with the 5% overage, the Cubs will be able to spend just shy of $10.6 million on draft picks this year without incurring any draft pick penalties.
The top ten bonus pools:
If you’re wondering why the Cubs pick 7th but have only the 10th largest bonus pool, it’s because of the extra picks that certain teams get by virtue of (1) competitive balance rules (freebies for the smaller markets and the Cardinals), (2) the departure of qualified free agents, and (3) in the Mets’ case, the failure to sign their first round pick last year.
The slot value for that number seven pick is about $5.7 million, which is likely to be more than the player at that spot will require to sign (unless one of the top high school bats inexplicably slides, in which case the Cubs may have to promise to go full slot to get the player to agree that he’ll sign (otherwise, on the fly, the Cubs may have to go another direction, because you don’t want to risk picking someone seventh and not having them sign because it completely blows up your pool)). Signing a top ten pick at some amount under the slot is not quite considered an “under slot” signing in the way people use that term, unless you’re going multiple millions under slot. I don’t expect the Cubs to go that route in this particular draft, since it’s so heavy at the top.
Even if the Cubs sign that first rounder for something close to slot, they would still have the pool space available for multiple seven-figure picks thereafter, depending on how they deploy the overage and how many later picks they sign substantially under slot. After the 10th round, the picks do not count against the bonus pool except for any signing that goes over $125,000. In those cases, the amount over $125,000 does count against the pool. So if teams have “saved” some pool space in their first ten rounds, they can take some big swings in those later rounds on guys they know might be tougher to sign.