Top Five Picks, Team at Odds Over Bonuses

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 14, 2008

To sign last year's draft picks, the Washington Nationals used a mix of creativity and money. In some cases -- most notably with sixth-round pick Jack McGeary -- the team awarded signing bonuses far exceeding those recommended by Major League Baseball, which uses a pick-by-pick scale to guide teams' payments.

This year, with just more than a month until the Aug. 15 deadline for signing first-round picks, the Nationals have been unable to sign any of their top five draft choices. And that's partly because the team has yet to indicate a similar willingness to again award its draftees with money beyond the industry standard. Calling the bonus demands of several top-five picks "ridiculous," Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner said yesterday that meeting those demands would form deficiencies elsewhere.

"You have to look at the global thing," Lerner said. "This is the budget for signing these guys, and you if sign them for this much, you won't be able to sign somebody else down the ladder."

In June, the Nationals signed picks Nos. 6 through 10. All earlier picks, though -- including first-rounder Aaron Crow, a pitcher from the University of Missouri, and second-round outfielder Destin Hood, a high-schooler from Mobile, Ala. -- are still unsigned. According to one source, Hood, selected 55th overall, is seeking money comparable with somebody chosen in the first round. If Hood is not signed, he will enroll at the University of Alabama, where he has been offered a football scholarship.

"We're just working out numbers right now, trying to make a decision, trying to play all of our options," Hood said.

Last year, the Nationals signed each of their top 20 choices -- just one of two teams with such a success rate. But even the most uniquely handled selection, McGeary, didn't come to an agreement until less than 30 minutes before the deadline.

"Jim and the guys are negotiating, and a lot of them will be right up to the deadline, Aug. 14, Aug. 15 -- they might be midnight signings," Lerner said.

González Signing Probed

According to a report from, the FBI investigation into Latin American scouting practices, as it relates to the Nationals, will focus on the team's 2006 signing of shortstop Esmailyn González. The $1.4 million bonus Washington issued to the then 16-year-old has drawn attention, reported, citing sources close to the investigation, because the total doubled the amount offered by the next-highest bidder.

Federal investigators have interviewed General Manager Jim Bowden and plan to interview front-office assistant José Rijo as part of the league-wide inquiry examining, in part, the skimming of signing bonuses. Both Bowden and Rijo have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing

© 2008 The Washington Post Company