Commissioner Bud Selig called the general managers to the Owners' Meetings in Minneapolis last week to, as one GM put it, "[talk] about signing Draft choices for more than the prescribed slot numbers."
So what we have now is the equivalent of the rush for the iPad. Some agents like letting the signings go down to the deadline. The Commissioner's Office discourages -- sometimes disapproves -- above-slot signings the week before the deadline.
So as the countdown entered the 24 hours prior to Monday's midnight ET deadline, 17 of the 32 first-round picks remained unsigned. There will be cases when teams stick to slot and pass, because they believe that the selection they get at the same spot next near will be far superior to what they got from the 2010 crop. But on Tuesday and Wednesday, we will learn of a host of signings that will have Selig on the phone to owners; the Nationals and Yankees have already broken the stalemate.
Somewhere around 11:59:57 Monday night, the Nationals will strike a deal with agent Scott Boras on Bryce Harper. The numbers will be spun many ways by both the Nats and Boras, and Washington team president Stan Kasten, who has been railing against the system, will complain. But look up and down the division, look at the 20-year-olds named Jason Heyward and Mike Stanton, then think about this: The Nationals aren't going to get a shot at another Harper for a long time.
Below is the signing status of the first-round picks of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. For a complete list, click here.
Harper, as everyone knows, was the age of a high school junior, went to Southern Nevada Junior College, and at the age of 17, became the youngest player to win the Golden Spikes Award as college baseball's best player -- four years younger than any previous winner. In a wood-bat league, the 220-pound Harper hit .443 with 31 homers and 98 RBIs.
There have been five previous high school-age position players taken as the first pick in the country in the last 25 years. Three -- Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Justin Upton -- were All-Stars by the age of 21. Chipper Jones was an All-Star at 23, a rise delayed by injury. Josh Hamilton is the one exception because of his detailed personal struggles, but he now can make the case to being the best player in the sport.
Griffey was 18 and hit seven homers his senior year in high school. Jones was 18 and hit five. Rodriguez was 18 and hit nine. Upton was 17 and hit 11. All with aluminum bats.
To repeat: Harper at 17 played in a JUCO division and hit 31 homers.
When Stephen Strasburg signed his record deal last August, he upped the franchise value and put people in the park. Harper will up the franchise value, and by 2012, he may well be hitting behind Ryan Zimmerman. And if his power is what it appears to be, he'll be putting fannies in the seats and selling all sorts of merchandise.
Teams like the Royals and Pirates have begun the long process of restoring their organizations by going above "slot," by signing talent and trying to deliver to their fan bases a reasonably consistent talent flow. Tampa Bay has done it brilliantly.
So most of the remaining unsigned first-rounders will get signed by the deadline Monday. Cleveland and Arizona may let their draftees go back to school and take the comp picks next June. The Rockies and Dodgers may let their picks go play quarterback -- Kyle Parker at Clemson and Zach Lee at LSU, respectively -- with Los Angeles' financial situation so messy that it never had interest in realistically trying to sign the big right-handed pitcher.
It's just too bad that Harper couldn't have been signed in June. He could have been playing in the Minor Leagues and his merchandise could already be on the market.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.