Playing the Slots with MLB Draft Picks

Adley Rutschman still hasn’t signed, which could be causing some apprehension in Birdland. The reality is, Rutschman is signing. For how much of a signing bonus has yet to be determined, but it will probably land in the $8 million range (slot is $8.4 million). Bobby Witt Jr. signed for his full bonus (nearly $7.8 million), breaking Casey Mize’s $7.5 million record. This gives the Beverly Hills Sports Council (Adley’s representation) some leverage in negotiations. But no matter the figure, Adley will sign and become a member of the Orioles organization. Who this potentially affects is Gunnar Henderson, the O’s second selection. Henderson is deciding between honoring his commitment to Auburn University or signing a presumed over slot deal with Baltimore. These slots can be a confusing concept to the average fan, so in this article, I’m going to explain them and how they affect certain selections.

The Basic Concept

The basic idea of slots are to award the most slot money in total value to the worst teams, because they’ll have the highest picks and therefore will have to spend the most. This is generally the rule, except this year when the Diamondbacks had the most to spend (just over $16 million) due to the sheer volume of picks they had in the Top 100. Arizona had two high profile free agents leave in A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin and they failed to sign their 1st Rounder from 2018. This allowed the Diamondbacks to pick four times in the first 34 picks, allotting them more dollars to secure those picks.

The idea most clubs have is to strategically choose players in certain rounds, to get the best possible bang for their buck. For example, one may choose to pick a high school player higher in the draft, because it will take more of a signing bonus to dissuade that player from their college commitment. On the other hand, you can choose a college player early, sign them under slot, and use the savings on a high school player later in the draft.


If a team exceeds its pool value, penalties come into play. If a team were to outspend their allotment by 5 percent or less, they would incur a 75% tax. If a team chose to spend more than 5%, they could lose future picks, including a 1st Round Pick, and incur a 75% tax. You get the picture; penalties only worsen the higher the threshold goes.

Teams frequently do this, however. Just last year, 23 teams overspent their pool allotment, but of course by 5% or less. Another thing to consider is that any bonus money above $125k for an individual player after Round 10 counts against a team’s total allotment.

Senior Signs

‘Senior Signs’ happen every year and are a most unfortunate part of doing business in the draft. Basically, clubs will undercut college seniors to a signing bonus roughly between $5-$20k, because teams know that the senior has no recourse. They either sign for a low amount or they won’t play professional baseball. They’ll then go onto play minor league baseball for around $10k per year, but that’s another subject for another day. Of course this can motivate that senior, as we’re seeing this year with Bowie’s Mason McCoy, who was a ‘senior sign’ out of Iowa. McCoy has posted a .858 OPS between Frederick and Bowie and has cracked the Orioles Top 30 Prospects list according to MLB Pipeline.

The system could use some improvement, but overall it gives players leverage (with the exception of senior signs) to fight for the bonus they feel they deserve. We’ve also seen a draft prospect like Carter Stewart opt to play overseas, because he could potentially have a more lucrative first five years or so over there and hit MLB free agency in his early to mid-20’s. But, with the bonus pool allotments increasing annually, especially with the 1st overall pick, players are seeing less incentive to not sign. Of course, there will be exceptions. We saw Brady Aiken not sign 1st overall, because the Astros saw something in his physical, as they later backed off from the deal. Kyler Murray opted to go to the NFL, because of not only his love for the game of football, but because he could rack up more career earnings in the NFL as a quarterback drafted 1:1. The bottom line is that there will always be extenuating circumstances, but this process for the most part is doing its job.

O’s fans shouldn’t worry about Rutschman signing or not signing. That’s a formality at this point. What SHOULD be concerning us though, is the status of Gunnar Henderson. Ranked as the 27th best prospect in the 2019 Draft, Gunnar stands 6’3″ and weighs 195 lbs. as a 17 year old. He also plays a premium position in shortstop. He produces hard contact and has great speed, while still growing into his frame. He has the tools, if he develops correctly, to make an impact and rise up the Oriole prospect rankings quickly.

His slot value is $1.77 million and it’s believed it could take as much as $2.5 million or more to sway him away from his commitment to Auburn. Here’s where the slot money comes in. It’s estimated that the O’s have over a half million in savings so far (see below tweet, from Orioles Hangout’s Luke Siler). This doesn’t include Rutschman’s presumed under-slot deal. Gunnar’s likelihood of signing could very well hinge on where Mike Elias and Co. decide to allocate the rest of the slot money.

But it just goes to show, slot money has the potential to make or break a good draft class if it doesn’t go your way. I have faith in Elias though. He’s been here before with Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and others. If the Orioles play this right, by ensuring they have enough funds for Gunnar, they could have two premium players at premium positions for years to come.

Ink ’em up, Mike.

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