Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo considers draft choices the most valuable currency in baseball, but with a week until the deadline to sign players taken this year, the Nationals have more heavy lifting to sign their top choices remaining than any team in the majors.
The Nationals have signed neither first-rounder Erick Fedde, a right-handed pitcher from UNLV, nor second-round pick Andrew Suarez, a left-handed pitcher from Miami. As July 18 looms, they are the only team in baseball yet to sign either of their first two picks. Just two other teams haven’t agreed with their first-rounders, and just one other has failed to sign its second-round pick.
The Nationals have exuded silence in regard to their negotiations. Rizzo declined to comment. The most important player for them to sign is Fedde, a prized starter who underwent Tommy John surgery two days before the draft.
Prior to the draft, Fedde and his family heard from teams choosing late in the first round that were prepared to give him a $3 million bonus, according to people familiar with the situation. Frequently, draft picks alert teams picking earlier in the draft of such information. The insinuation from the player’s perspective: If one team is not willing to commit what another is offering, it should pass.
The Nationals selected Fedde, who is advised by high-profile agent Scott Boras, with the 18th overall pick. It is not known how much the Nationals have offered Fedde. The MLB-prescribed value for the No. 18 pick is $2,145,600.
If he hopes for a bonus in the neighborhood of $3 million, Fedde can cite several recent comparable pitchers. In 2012, the Nationals signed Lucas Giolito, the No. 16 pick, for $2.925 million. The Nationals knew he likely would require Tommy John surgery after they drafted him, and he did. Giolito has since become one of the best pitching prospects in baseball.
This season, the Blue Jays drafted right-hander Jeff Hoffman out of East Carolina with the ninth pick days after he underwent Tommy John surgery and signed him with a $3.08 million bonus, precisely the slot value for that pick.
The Nationals could argue that Hoffman signed for slot value. Boras could counter with another client of his: Before the 2013 draft, left-hander Sean Manaea needed hip surgery and fell from a likely top-five pick to the Kansas City Royals at No. 34 overall. The Royals signed him with a $3.55 million bonus, second-most ever for a player taken outside the first round.
Fedde underwent Tommy John surgery two days prior to the draft, which caused him to fall. It may now actually help his leverage. Fedde cannot pitch in a game until next June, anyway, so he would lose no experience by spurning the Nationals and re-entering the 2015 draft. He would take on the risk of a setback during rehab. But most Tommy John rehabs end in success, and if Fedde’s rehab goes smoothly, it would remove that risk.
In trying to sign Fedde and Suarez, the Nationals, like every team, face financial limitations.
The Nationals have signed seven of their top 10 draft picks, exhausting $1.638 million of their $5,275,700 bonus pool, according to MLB.com’s data base. But they have yet to sign Fedde, Suarez and ninth-rounder Austin Byler, a first baseman from the University of Nevada.
There exists doubt the Nationals will sign Byler, a person familiar with the situation said. If they do not, they also will lose the value of the 274th pick with it. That would decrease their bonus pool to $5,101,700.
Teams incur financial penalties for exceeding their bonus pool by zero to five percent. If they spend past five percent, they lose a first-round pick in the following year’s draft. In 2012, the Nationals proved willing to pay the fine – but not lose the draft pick – in order to sign Giolito. It’s not known if they are willing to exceed their bonus pool this season.
This year, the Nationals can spend up to $5,356,785 without forfeiting a draft pick, assuming they do not sign Byler, the ninth-round pick. If they signed Fedde with a $3 million bonus, their current expenditure would increase to $4.638 million.
That would leave them $718,785 to sign Suarez without losing a draft pick – about $200,000 below the value of the 57th overall pick, which they used to take him. So, the Nationals could sign Suarez for slot if Fedde agreed to a $2.8 million bonus.
Suarez is a control left-hander being advised by Legacy Agency. His demands are not known.
Before he tore his ulnar collateral ligament, scouts expected Fedde to be taken in the first 10 picks. Bryce Harper played with Fedde at Las Vegas High and said he has, “the best slider I’ve ever seen.” Before his injury, Fedde threw his fastball 96 miles per hour. Nationals scouting director Kris Kline watched Fedde’s first start at UNLV this season back in the spring.
“I walked out there thinking we have no shot at getting this player, because he was a top-five type guy,” Kline said after the Nationals chose Fedde.
But because of his injury, Fedde fell to the Nationals. Now they have one week to sign him. Odds are the impasse will end. Since Rizzo became general manager, the Nationals have signed all of their high-profile draft choices. The Nationals last failed to sign a first-round pick in 2008, when Rizzo was the Nationals’ scouting director, Jim Bowden was the GM and Aaron Crow, now a Kansas City reliever, refused to sign.