The Nationals signed first-round pick Lucas Giolito moments before the 5 p.m. Friday deadline, securing the high school right-handed pitcher from Southern California with a $2.925 million signing bonus. Signing Giolitio, the 16th overall pick, gave the Nationals deals with all of their top 10 picks and added a flame-throwing starter to the very top of their farm system.
Under the draft rules of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Nationals exceeded their bonus pool by roughly $100,000, enough to incur a fine of roughly $84,000 but not enough to forfeit a future draft choice.
The Nationals and Giolito had been inching toward an agreement for weeks, and both sides agreed they wanted Giolito to become part of the Nationals’ organization. But haggling over the final dollar figure nearly prevented a deal.
“It was dangerously close to the deadline,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “There was a time there that we thought it was a possibility that it wouldn’t get done. Right there at the end, it got a little hairy. For the first time, I thought we might not get it done. Cooler heads prevailed.”
Many experts consider Giolito the top prospect in the Nationals’ system already. He had been considered the possible first overall pick before he strained a ligament in his right elbow ligament during his senior season at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, Calif. Giolito has thrown his fastball 100 mph, and he pairs that with a wicked, hard curve and a workable changeup. Nationals Assistant General Manager Roy Clark compared his potential to Roy Halladay.
Under the new rules, teams that exceed their draft pool by more than five percent are subject to harsh penalties, including the loss of a future first-round draft pick. The recommended bonus for the 16th overall pick was $2.125 million, but the Nationals had created flexibility to sign Giolito with their other signings.
By the time Friday arrived, the Nationals had exhausted all but $2,812,700 of their bonus pool by signing their other nine top ten picks. They could even pay Giolito a $3,034,510 million bonus and suffer a financial penalty but not forfeit a draft pick.
It is not hard to see where the $2.925 million bonus came from, then: It is the virtual midpoint between the bonus that would have cost the Nationals no penalty at all and the bonus that would have cost them a future draft pick.
“We thought the amount of money we spent on this pick was a value to us,” Rizzo said. “We felt that we wanted this player in the system. We felt his value and his upside, this was a good, fair number for both sides.”
In order to make their draft strategy pay off, the Nationals needed to sign Giolito. They signed their other nine choices in the top 10 to deals equal to or less than the money allocated by the bonus pool. In other words, they drafted a caliber of player with several top selections that would be willing to sign for less money – a sacrifice that would pay off only if they also signed Giolito.
“Giolito was the coup of our draft,” Rizzo said. “We thought he was a big-time prospect that fell to us at 16. To get a guy that we had so far up the board and then get him signed, we feel really good about it. Giolito was kind of the culmination of a very successful draft.”
Giolito, who turns 18 on Saturday, will report to the Nationals’ complex in Viera, Fla., to continue his rehabilitation from the strained ligament injury. The Nationals will monitor Giolito and have not planned whether or not he will pitch at one of their minor league affiliates this season. Giolito has been playing long toss, but has yet to pitch off a mound.