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What the Indians didn't do

With the 2007 draft season concluded as of last night's signing deadline, here are two scenarios the Indians didn't put themselves into:

  1. Give up first-round pick to sign Carlos Lee for $100 million.
  2. Give up second-round pick to sign Woody Williams for $12.5 million.
  3. Use third-round pick, now the team's top pick, on a guy they weren't sure they could sign.
  4. Fail to sign him.
  5. While you're at it, don't sign your fourth-round pick either.
The Astros, already with a thin system and thin major league team, continue to dig their hole deeper and deeper still.  What was that Carlos Lee signing for, exactly?  To play-act at contending while giving Biggio his send-off?
  1. Give an 18-year-old a major league contract.
  2. Or anyone else for that matter.
Coverage of draft signings tends to focus on the dollars -- it's easy to write headlines that way -- but giving a drafted player a major league contract, rather than the standard minor league deal, is a gigantic concession for a team and often a very foolish one.  Three players got such a contract this week, among them David Price, the number-one overall pick in the draft.  Price will turn 22 next week.  Another is Andrew Brackman, a 21-year-old pitcher who got silly Yankee money.

The other one, however, is just 18 years old:  Rick Porcello, now a RHP for the Detroit Tigers.  Yes, yes, he'll make millions.  Here's what else will happen, however, because he already has a major league contract.

  • They're required to be added to the 40-man roster immediately, rather than at the end of 2011.  This will prevent the Tigers from using that spot on a player to help them for the stretch run, or, on another emerging prospect in the upcoming offseason.  They likely will lose a prospect in the Rule 5 draft as a direct result.
  • Porcello will be out of options before he turns 22.  Since he's added to the 40-man immediately, he then must be sent down to the minors immediately, which burns an option.  Players in this situation do get four option years rather than three, but if he doesn't adapt quickly to very advanced competition, that fourth option will be used in 2010.
  • If he does make it as a major leaguer, the Tigers will then take a bath in arbitration.  Several of these contracts, incredibly, allow the players to opt out of the stipulated salaries in later years and go to arbitration instead -- and that is, of course, exactly what they'll do.  Arbitrated salaries are based not just on the salaries of comparable players, but also on what each particular player has been paid in the past.  So instead of a track record of $400,000 salaries, each of these players will enter arbitration with average annual salaries of up to $2 million.
The Indians ran out of time with Jeremy Guthrie at age 28.  If Porcello has to be put on waivers as Guthrie was, it will be at age 22.  A player who hasn't made it by age 28 is probably not going to get very far at any point.  But a top high school draft pick may well struggle for a few years and develop late.  The stupidity of the Porcello deal is just unfathomable.  The Tigers may have lots of money to throw around, but they don't have roster spots to spare.

One could argue that it was, ultimately, a good day for Indians fans.  The Indians drafted Beau Mills, arguably the best college hitter in the draft, and signed him to a minor league deal for $1.6 million.  He's been playing for almost two months now, as have several other top picks.  The only late-ish signing was fourth-rounder T.J. McFarland, who got third-round money a few days ago.

The Indians seem to have adapted to the new signing deadline by adopting a two-month draft-and-follow approach.  They devoted several picks in medium-high rounds to players avoided by other teams for signability reasons, then watched those players in summer leagues for two months.  At that point, the Indians decided either to go over-slot to sign the player, or to let him go.  It's a shrewd strategy that one could see being emulated by other teams in the future.  In any event, McFarland made the cut, while 7th rounder Cole St. Clair and 11th rounder Matt Hague did not.  The Indians signed all four of their picks from the first six rounds, and 11 of 13 from the first 15 rounds.

Mills turned 21 just last week, an age that combines with an already-advanced bat to make a delightful combination of projectability and maturity.  The Indians had already scouted him heavily playing with wood bats a year ago, in the Alaska League.  Mills doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster until the end of 2010.  In the event he doesn't develop quickly, he should not face an option crunch until Spring 2014, at age 27.

McFarland, several months younger than the trio discussed above, is on a roster track on year behind Mills.  He won't have to be added to the 40-man roster until the end of 2011, which pushes any potential roster crunch for him until Spring 2015, at age 25.  Of course he doesn't have the same kind of upside as the first-rounders above.  But whatever potential he does have, the Indians should have plenty of time to realize it.