The ability to manage the signing bonus pool appears to be the new avenue to attaining a competitive advantage in MLB. The Cardinals have done a very good job the past 2 seasons with managing their signing pool. It seems they do a very good job of scouting 'signability,' not just whether a player will sign but dollar amounts. This has allowed them to put their pool jigsaw puzzle together and be just under the 5% limit.
The draconian escalation of punishment for overspending the draft bonus pool having been (as I understand it) a response to the Red Sox essentially taking an approach of reaping a haul from the draft by being willing to throw money at all their picks. The Cardinals with a $7.1 million bonus pool this year can spend up to $7.455 Mill with a meer fine of $266,250; spend slightly more and forfeit next year's first round pick in addition to the fine. So not much margin for error.
As a side note it will be interesting to see MLB's response if the Yankees actually make a mockery of their July 1st signing cap as has been rumored (reports are they will ink 6 or 7 players to a total around $15 million with a cap of around $2 mill and a fine of around $13 mill).
I had a chance a couple months back to talk with a MLB team's director of scouting. We chatted mostly about the process rather than specific players. He brought up a couple of factors that I was unaware of and found interesting.
First, the Professional Baseball Scholarship Program. Every player who signs a pro contract has, as a part of this deal, a guarantee from MLB to pay for their college education should they choose to pursue it. This is a full ride up to 4 years and a total of $250 K. This effectively adds an additional signing 'bonus' for each player that for most is potentially larger than their actual bonus.
As of the last info he had, a couple years back, only 7 active major leaguers were taking advantage of the program. This doesn't mean the program is insignificant since most players would be likely to start the program once they stop playing basball (they have up to 2 years to enroll after their last game) and the players who would truly benefit the most from this are not the ones who make the show, but the ones who toil in the minors for a few years before washing out. This program offers players a chance to take their best shot (by turning pro) and still have college as a fall back option. And its probably a better financial deal than playing college ball on a scholarship because
Two, most baseball scholarships are not full rides. I just kind of assumed if a player is described as on a scholarship to play at XYZ U that it would be a full scholarship, but in baseball this is not the case. A division 1 program has a maximum of 11.7 scholarships (9 for division 2) and a maximum roster size of 35. So alot of players are on partials -- 1/2, 1/4 etc.
As for draft strategy, there was some debate in Chicago about whether, if the two teams were flip-flopped in the draft order, the Cubs would have taken Rodon. The sense is that despite their organizational need for pitching and their strength in position player prospects, they would have drafted Schwarber anyhow. The Cubs 'strategy' is believed to include a decision not to draft pitchers in the top 5 picks in the draft because of the risk of injury or failure to develop is too high. The approach then is to take the best hitter in round 1 then load up on pitching afterwards.
It was mentioned that for at least one more year (when ken Griffey Jr becomes eligible) no #1 overall pick has ever made the hall of fame. The list of high first round picks that have is heavily tilted toward position players:
#2 overall Reggie Jackson,
#3 overall Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, and Kirby Puckett
#4 overall Carlton Fisk, Dave Winfield, Barry Larkin
#7 overall Frank Thomas, #15 Jim Rice, #29 George Brett, #30 Mike Schmidt
It looks like Greg Maddux at #31 is the highest drafted pitcher in the Hall