Clock ticking for teams to sign top picks

Clock ticking for teams to sign top picks

With fewer than two weeks to go before the First-Year Player Draft signing deadline, there are only 12 first-round picks who have signed with their respective teams. That leaves 20 unsigned picks with roughly 12 days to go before the clock on signing these highly touted prospects expires. It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that those figures add up to an exciting and nail-biting conclusion to the Draft signing period.

It officially ends at the end of the day on Monday, Aug. 17 -- technically, according to the Commissioner's Office, at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 18 -- and if the brief history of the August signing deadline is any indication, many of these deals won't come until the final minutes -- even seconds -- as the clock strikes midnight. If that's the case, the Commissioner's Office will have even more paperwork to do than in year's past.

A year ago, No. 16 overall pick Brett Lawrie signed with the Brewers on Aug. 4, making him the 19th first-rounder to sign and leaving just 11 players to work out details by the deadline. All did, with the large exception of No. 9 pick Aaron Crow.

That, of course, was the Washington Nationals' top selection. It's not surprising to anyone that their first pick this year, No. 1 overall selection Stephen Strasburg, has yet to come to terms. From the outset, it appeared certain those negotiations would go down to the wire. His agent, Scott Boras, has had a history of deal-making in the waning moments of the signing period. Last year, it was Pedro Alvarez and Eric Hosmer; back in 2007, Mike Moustakas and Matt Wieters signed at midnight. Expect the same thing with Strasburg, the man most consider to be one of the greatest Draft prospects in history.

Most are well-versed in what's been reported on this front. Some fairly large figures have been circulated in the media in terms of what Strasburg and Boras are looking for -- as much as $50 million. Suffice it to say, the Nationals will likely be looking to come in under that, even if it breaks a record for Draft bonuses. All of this is conjecture, as the Nationals have refused to discuss the issue publicly. If Strasburg doesn't sign, there are a few directions in which this saga could head. He could return to San Diego State for his senior year, or he could head to an independent league team, like 2008 draftees Crow and Tanner Scheppers did. In either scenario, Strasburg would re-enter the Draft in 2010, where he'd still be the top pitching prospect available. He might have to compete with Bryce Harper for top overall prospect honors. The Nationals, for not signing their top pick, would receive an additional compensation selection. If the standings finish the way they currently stand, that means Washington would have the top two picks in next year's Draft.

Assuming Strasburg wouldn't agree to sign the waiver needed to be re-drafted by the same team, that would leave the Royals at No. 3 and Strasburg's hometown San Diego Padres at No. 4 to decide if they wanted to go down the negotiating path with the big right-hander.

Boras represents the top three picks in the 2009 Draft: Strasburg, Dustin Ackley (Mariners) and Donavan Tate (Padres). He's got six of the 20 unsigned first-round picks, so there's no question the Boras Corporation offices will be a bit busy on Aug. 17. Calls to Boras were not returned in time for this article.

This point of the signing period has been described as a "never-never land," where there's not much news to report and in many instances, not much in the way of solid communication between teams and agents. Some of it is a waiting game, with players lower down in the round waiting for similar players higher up to sign to set the bar from a bonus perspective. A variable in this year's process has been the Commissioner's office recommending a 10-percent cut in the suggested bonus for each slot of the first round. Even taking out those who are looking for above-slot deals, no one among the top guys still unsigned wants to be the first to sign for 2009 slot money instead of 2008's figures.

Chances are, players and their representatives know the history of the past few years. Right or wrong, it does seem that the players who waited until the 11th hour did better financially. It stands to reason that players who haven't signed yet are less likely to do so anytime soon, hoping instead that the deadline will work to their advantage as it draws closer.

All of this means that right now things are more or less in a holding pattern. Talking to executives with teams elicits a lot of generic comments like what Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said about Tate: "We have started to move forward and feel confident as we proceed." Or what Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said about No. 30 pick LeVon Washington (another Boras client): "We are very optimistic that we will reach an agreement with Levon."

It's not necessarily that either organization is being evasive. It's just that right now there isn't anything tangible to talk about. That obviously will change over the next 12 days, but for now, here's where things stand with the 20 remaining unsigned first-round picks from the 2009 Draft.

1. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals: If the reports are to be believed, the Strasburg camp has put something like a $50 million price tag out there. The two sides have reportedly not discussed much in recent weeks, but that follows the script of previous negotiations with Boras' top clients. If the Nats get it done, expect it to be announced no earlier than midnight.

2. Dustin Ackley, Seattle Mariners: Reports are that the North Carolina star is looking for a deal like the one Mark Teixeira got from Texas in 2001. That one was worth $9.5 million. The Mariners aren't talking, but it's safe to assume the two sides are fairly far apart.

3. Donavan Tate, San Diego Padres: Not just a Boras client, but one who'll have to be lured away from being a two-sport star at the University of North Carolina. The Padres may feel confident they can keep Tate on the diamond and off the gridiron, but it'll likely come down to the wire.

6. Zack Wheeler, San Francisco Giants: The Giants are used to this last-minute stuff, having gone through it with Buster Posey a year ago. They knew going in Wheeler wouldn't be a slam dunk. Whether the fact that high school righty Matt Hobgood, drafted one spot ahead of Wheeler, signed for slot helps San Francisco remains to be seen.

7. Mike Minor, Atlanta Braves: This is one most thought would happen more quickly. Not that the Vanderbilt lefty would've pitched much this summer, but he didn't appear to be a tough sign. Him agreeing to terms would likely open the door for several college arms below to also sign.

8. Mike Leake, Cincinnati Reds: Leake is the first of those college arms likely waiting to see what Minor does. This might be one of those 2009 vs. 2008 suggested slot deals, where neither college pitcher wants to be the one who takes the 2009-level bonus.

9. Jacob Turner, Detroit Tigers: Boras client No. 4 on this list, this high school right-hander and the one taken No. 6 are in some ways linked. It's possible one doesn't want to sign for less than the other and that holds things up. That being said, Turner is his own entity, and as is often the case with Boras clients and the teams that take them, the two sides haven't had a real discussion about terms since the Draft.

11. Tyler Matzek, Colorado Rockies: All signs are pointing to this one perhaps not getting done. The two sides are far apart and it doesn't seem like Matzek is one of the high school arms who's paying attention to what the other pitchers of his ilk are doing. He's had his number from the get-go -- believed to be in the $7 million range -- and hasn't budged from it. He's been assigned a dorm room at the University of Oregon, for whatever that's worth. If an agreement is reached, it will be last-second and it sounds like the Rockies are prepared for the possibility of not signing their top pick.

12. Aaron Crow, Kansas City Royals: Hometown discount? It doesn't appear so. Those who felt Crow would be an easier sign since he's a year removed from college might be mistaken. The buzz surrounding this one is that the Royals offered him $3 million and that the Crow camp turned it down. There isn't the same rush to get this one done as it was recently ruled that Crow (and Tanner Scheppers) do not have to adhere to the Aug. 17 deadline and instead can wait until just before next year's Draft. Not saying it'll take that long, but it can.

13. Grant Green, Oakland A's: Boras client No. 5, so the expectation is he's seeking an above-slot deal. He and Ackley might be tied together as the top college bats in the top half of the round (the argument could be made that Tony Sanchez was a signability pick). There haven't been any financial discussions between the Grant camp and Oakland to date.

14. Matt Purke, Texas Rangers: There hasn't been much in the way of concrete discussions between the two sides and it's generally believed he's looking for an above-slot deal. Initially thought to want money similar to what Matzek was seeking, there was some talk that the number had been dropped to $5 million. He's committed to TCU and the fact that he'll be a draft-eligible sophomore -- and thus would only need to wait two years to be re-drafted -- might give him some added leverage.

15. Alex White, Cleveland Indians: He's another one waiting to see what Minor and then Leake are going to do. Some believe that when all is said and done, all three guys will get 2008 slot bonus money and the three teams are waiting to announce it.

16. Bobby Borchering, Arizona Diamondbacks: The D-backs are hopeful something will get done, but things seem to have stalled between the two sides. Tate's the only other high school position player above Borchering and it's hard to imagine those two are linked.

18. Chad James, Florida Marlins: There's been little to nothing reported on this front for some time, but it might come down to that suggested 10 percent slot cut. His father, Duane, told the Daily Oklahoman in mid-July, "What he's asking is within 10 percent of what was paid to that pick last year. His is in line with what's there."

19. Shelby Miller, St. Louis Cardinals: Miller has the same agent as Matt Purke. There's been an open line of communication, but nothing concrete has been discussed. The bonus figures that were initially exchanged from before the Draft haven't changed or been altered. He's got a commitment to Texas A&M and the general thinking is that he and Purke slid solely because of signability issues. This means that it's unlikely Miller will sign for slot money here.

20. Chad Jenkins, Toronto Blue Jays: Another college arm, likely waiting for those above him to set the market.

22. Kyle Gibson, Minnesota Twins: This one is a little different because Gibson, a right-handed pitcher, slid due to injury, not signability. He's reportedly rehabbing from a stress fracture in his right forearm. The Twins feel they have all the medical information they need and hope to be able to move forward. "We're talking," Twins vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff said. "He wants to sign, we want to sign him. There isn't any less belief we'll get it done. Some are headed for that last day stare-down. I don't know if we're in that mode yet."

27. Nick Franklin, Seattle Mariners: Not much to report here as the Mariners are as tight-lipped about Franklin as they are with Ackley up above.

29. Slade Heathcott, New York Yankees: It will come down to LSU or the Yankees for the Texas high school outfielder. The Yankees, obviously, have the resources to lure Heathcott away from the College World Series champions if they so choose.

30. LeVon Washington, Tampa Bay Rays: The Florida high school infielder is the final Scott Boras client in the first round. This might be an interesting negotiation, as the Rays haven't gone down the Boras route too often. They have gone above slot in the past, but that's been with the No. 1 overall pick, not the No. 30 selection.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.