Tuesday, February 8, 2011

MiLB LIFE: Being a Senior Sign

Getting drafted is a day you never forget. It's the moment when your childhood dream seems most tangible - it marks the beginning of your professional career and welcomes you into the company of baseball's elite. I remember thinking back on all the memorable games I had played over almost twenty years on the diamond - all the uniforms I'd worn, the friends I'd made. Baseball had been the mainstay of my Springs and Summers for as long as I could remember, and luckily the upcoming Summer would be no different.

That day changed my life in a lot of ways - but not financially. Afterall, I was a senior.

The experience of getting selected in the MLB Draft is drastically different for seniors than it is for juniors - or even High School seniors, for that matter. The reason? Leverage.

If you're listening to a discussion on a certain prospect's draft stock or potential signing bonus, you will hear the word Leverage at least 47 times per square hour (*calculations estimated).

Leverage is a junior draftee's best friend - it's the money maker. When negotiating a signing bonus, the organization must throw enough money at a junior to make it worth his while to leave school - forgoing his senior season, not to mention a college degree - and sign a professional contract.

The negotiation process can take weeks, even months if either side is stubborn, but rarely do you see a top junior prospect go unsigned. Leverage can only go so far - as insulted as he may be by the team's offer, he knows it's likely far more than he'll get the following year as a senior.

That's where I come in. Most prospects don't make it to senior year - I did, but that's probably because I wasn't considered a prospect. I was a role player for three years and finally got my chance at a starting position in my final college season - and I made the most of it. But when it came time to get drafted, I knew what to expect.

Unless you're a top pick, seniors don't get rich on Draft Day - they get an opportunity to get rich.

Teams don't negotiate signing bonuses with seniors, they tell them. "Hey, we're gonna draft you in the 32nd round. You're gonna get $1000 and a plane ticket. Sound good? Welcome to the organization."

They offer you a chance to play baseball at the next level, and if you're not interested, that's ok - they'll find someone who is.

I was looking at the same signing bonus whether I got drafted in the 20th round or the 50th round, or even if I signed as a free agent. I had no other baseball option, why would they give me more than they wanted to? In their mind, they were offering me a shot at my dream - any money I got in addition was gravy. And well, I just wanted to play baseball.

The leash is tight for a senior sign. The organization has close to literally nothing invested in you, and so if you're not getting the job done, there's nothing lost by getting rid of you. The higher picks will get opportunity after opportunity - it's almost as if the team is just begging them not to fail: "Come on, prove us right! We paid you a lot of money, please be good..."

If there comes a time to pick between releasing two guys of equal talent - one of whom was a senior sign and one of whom the club has half a million bucks invested in - it's a no brainer. The same goes with promotions.

It's a tough job, and it's not always fair, but hey, I'm getting my opportunity. Stats don't lie. Hard work doesn't go unnoticed. If the other guy of equal talent gets promoted instead of me, then next time I just have to be better than him.

The pressure motivates me and the lack of expectations sets the table for some classic "Where did this guy come from?" moments.

When all is said and done, I just want to be considered a bargain.

MiLB LIFE Series
Universal Big League Dreams
Explaining My Profession to Non-Baseball Minds
Bus Rides
Wasted Hat Collection
Draft Day
Dealing with Heckling Fans
Clubhouse Rules
Drug Testing
Being the New Guy
Fat Camp
My First Call-Up
A Typical Game Day [Part One]
A Typical Game Day [Part Two]
Being the 'K-Man'
A Taste of the Minor League Off-Season
New Helmets Issued, Players Respond: "Are You Joking?"
The Fines of Kangaroo Court
Kangaroo Court


  1. I understand that teams want to get the most out of their biggest investments, but at the same time, there is some pretty compelling evidence for the other side of the argument.

    If you consider the pricy player to be a sunk cost, it's easier to give the playing time/promotion to the senior (or non-prospect) player.

    Just like any other company, teams make mistakes. The best ones will find the most efficient way to resolve them. Sometimes, the answer can be found with that player. Other times, it's a better long-term solution to go with someone else, no matter how much it may hurt PR-wise to admit a mistake. It's not like teams have to hold a press conference at their Major League ballpark saying they're not going to play a guy in Single-A anymore.

    I'm not expecting a revolution in the way players are treated or evaluated, but I think some franchises will start to stray away from money-only decisions, especially if you give them the choice between fixing a $1 million signing bonus player and a $10 million over-valued free agent who under-performs.

    As we all know, spending more doesn't always mean getting more in Major League Baseball. Once teams realize that money spent in the past is already gone, they'll get even more out of the money they spend in the future.

  2. If a guy is offered 25,000 or $50,000 as college junior does that translate into significantly more opportunities than the $1,0000 bonus guy? Where is the break point for most organizations in terms of what kind of money is a drop in the bucket? A few years ago someone told me that if a guy gets less than a $200,000 bonus he's at high risk of being released in the first couple of years. Is this accurate?