With Final Overslot Signing, Cardinals Turn Page on 2013 Draft

Bob Levey

Baseball America reports that the Cardinals have signed 36 of their 41 draftees within three weeks of the 2013 draft, including every player drafted in the first 28 rounds.

With the overslot signing of Steven Farinaro, the Cardinals' 11th round pick, St. Louis has virtually swept its signings of its 2013 draftees. The signing period is effectively over, not least because signing Farinaro left the Cardinals over their bonus pool allotment and within $20,000 or so of forfeiting a draft pick. The Cardinals had a target of $6.93M to spend in the ornately-regulated draft pool, and they walked off having spent $7.23M.

Farinaro was widely thought to be the last, hardest sign. Considered a second- or third-round talent, he eventually went for second round money, taking a $750,000 bonus home.

Love or hate the talent the Cardinals are drafting, they have had extraordinary success, not just with talent in prior drafts (which they have had), but with managing money under the new regime. Looking around the division, none of our competition have had nearly the same sweeping success in signing their picks quickly. Both the Cubs and the Pirates still have not settled with their first round picks. The Reds still have not signed their sixth round pick. The Brewers have done better, but still have 6 players unsigned among their top 20 rounds.

Those teams still have three weeks left to do so, and one assumes they probably will. However, in the newly deterministic draft rules, a team really should not have a lot left to negotiate post-draft. Even though teams still have three weeks left to sign players, there are not many good reasons to have lots of draftees, especially high-round ones, still unsigned. As recently as yesterday, the Cubs' first-round draftee Kris Bryant was reportedly "nowhere near" a deal with the Cubs, even though the Cubs essentially have a set amount of money to spend on that slot, having used up any financial slack in signing other players. The Pirates have four of their top ten picks and eight of their top 21 picks still unsigned.

Last year, of the five teams currently in the NL Central, only the Cardinals and the Brewers signed all of their picks from the first ten rounds (although some might argue that the Pittsburgh draft of Mark Appel in the first round might not be a misfire, but rather a calculated choice). There is certainly a real possibility that the 2013 draftees unsigned today will remain unsigned.

Contrast the continuing efforts of division competitors to sign high-ranking talent with a team that has not only signed the vast majority of its draftees, but managed its pool money down to a margin of $20,000 out of what was effectively $7.2M to work with. That's about three-tenths of a percent. That's like me guessing your weight to within a few ounces or parking my car perfectly in a parking spot only a half-inch longer than my car.*

The draft is not an easy thing to manage well. Just walking in and drafting the best available talent in every round would quickly leave a team out of money, based on the limited monetary pool available. Once you start to run low on pool money, you run the risk of not being able to sign other players you've drafted, which would further ebb away at your pool, and further diminish your ability to sign players. Instead, to be truly successful, teams need to make difficult big-picture choices analyzing a player's talent, the money available, the other talent on the table, and anticipating the moves of other clubs. That's a large and complex system of interrelated factors to manage well, in a scenario quickly unfolding across three days.

Whatever the Cardinals are doing, I think their success in signing players strongly indicates that they are doing their homework on the financial side as well as the talent side well in advance of the draft. It is hard to know exactly what is happening behind the scenes, but all signs point to very shrewd money management within the draft.

The other strong upside to a quick-moving, orderly draft is that all our draftees have started or will soon start their professional baseball careers, allowing the club to have a better sense of where they fit in the organization before the offseason.

While we pick up the odd talent in late rounds, I am not particularly concerned that 29th and later rounders are unsigned. Some of them may sign yet, but generally such picks tend to be organizational filler rather than true prospects. We have three weeks to sign them, but I don't expect anything exciting out of the handful of unsigned draftees remaining on the board.

*Yeah, there are problems with that analogy, especially in that Farinaro knew he could push for up to $750,000 given where the Cardinals other contracts were postured. The analogy is mostly there for a sense of scale. Criticize it in the comments if you like, but remember nobody likes a smart-ass.

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