As the No. 1 overall pick in 1990, Chipper Jones signed with the Braves for $275,000.
Even in today's dollars, that's about $450,000 -- or about 3 percent of Stephen Strasburg was guaranteed as this year's No. 1 pick.
And Jones agreed to his deal the night before the draft, while Strasburg came within two minutes of missing last Monday's deadline to sign.
"I think the only way that you're going to get kids signed and get them into the various camps is to put some kind of cap on it," Jones said. "I was always of the belief that you make your money at the big-league level."
That's how the teams want it too. When the current collective bargaining agreement is up in two years, Major League Baseball may pursue an NBA-style slotting system -- with signing bonuses locked in depending on how high a player is picked, as opposed to the current non-binding slot recommendations.
Which would lead to an interesting tug-of-war between owners, the players' union and agents.
With the alliances not as clear as it might seem.
"I think it's something we can seriously talk about," Mets right fielder Jeff Francoeur told FanHouse. "I don't think the guys mind [slotting] very much.
"A guy like Strasburg, he deserves it. But something to stop it [escalating bonuses], I agree."
MLB might feel that it can get the players on its side as they see the signing bonuses explode -- especially this year, just a few months after the free-agent market went soft.
As Francoeur, who signed for $2.2 million as the 23rd overall pick in 2002, said, "Now, it's crazy. Guys are wanting $7-8 million and have never stepped on the [big-league] field."
But resistance to strict slotting could come from agents (who stand to lose their commissions) and union leadership (on principle).
"I think it goes against what we've fought for in the past, the free market," said Milwaukee infielder Craig Counsell, a member of the union's executive board.
"I know it sounds like something ownership is going to want. They've wanted it before. All you can go by is the past, and in the past it hasn't happened. ... I know in the past we've decided we're not going to restrict what players are going to make."
Through a spokesman, incoming union head Michael Weiner declined comment.
Another person with ties to the union pointed out that if teams save money on signing bonuses, they may not necessarily use it on payroll instead -- so why should current players go for the strict slotting system?
"I don't want to get into what may or may not be proposals," said Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president for labor relations and human resources. "It's early, but this whole player talent-acquisition area -- by that I mean the draft, international signings, acquiring professional players from other countries -- that whole group of issues, clubs are talking about.
"The draft system is less than optimal from the perspective of the 30 clubs."
It isn't just Strasburg. According to Baseball America, this year's draft set records for highest bonus to a high school player (San Diego's Donovan Tate), biggest bonus to a high school pitcher (Detroit's Jacob Turner) as well as Strasburg's overall marks for biggest bonus and largest guarantee.
"I think the amount of money we spend at the top end of the draft is now too much for what I like to label unproven talent," said Logan White, the Dodgers' assistant general manager for scouting.
"When you draft a player and sign a player -- that's supposed to be when they're a bargain."
|Chart of the Week|
|When San Diego's Kyle Blanks -- listed at 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds -- hit an inside-the-park home run last Tuesday, he tied for the tallest player ever to do so. Players 6-foot-6 to hit inside-the-park homers:|
|Corey Hart (MIL)
|Darryl Strawberry (NYM)
|Darryl Strawberry (NYM)
|Dave Kingman (NYM)
|Dave Winfield (NYY)
|Source: David Vincent, SABR|
"No matter how much money you throw into the draft," he said, "that's not going to make it [produce] 300 major-leaguers and 75 every-day players."
And while the Aug. 15 deadline to sign (Aug. 17 this year because Aug. 15 fell on a weekend) is an improvement on the old deadline of when a player first attended college classes -- imagine a scout trying to intercept a freshman on campus with one final offer before his first class -- there is a whole other set of headaches.
Along with the recommended bonuses, MLB pressures teams that intend to go over slot to hold off on announcing deals so as not to drive up the price for other draft picks. And some agents wait to see what everyone else gets. Which leads to the last-minute deals -- or, last year, two that went past the deadline but were still approved.
Also, teams that ignore the slot recommendations can be rewarded over teams that obey. The classic case in point is Detroit's Rick Porcello, who wanted a $7 million deal out of high school. He should have been a top-10 pick in 2007 but fell to 27th before the Tigers were willing to bust slot.
And their decision paid off. Porcello is a winning pitcher in the majors at age 20 -- exactly what many of the teams that drafted 1-26 could have used.
"We do have [a situation] whereby economics ... undermines the purpose of the draft," Manfred said.
Manfred said such scenarios are on the decline.
"We have really worked with the clubs and, I think, convinced them letting players slip is bad for everybody," he said.
Agent Scott Boras, who represents Strasburg and Porcello, agreed.
"In prior drafts the No. 1 draft pick was not always the best player," Boras said. "Now, because of revenue-sharing, in the draft the best player is No. 1. For maybe 15 years, the best players in the draft were rarely No. 1 because of signability issues."
White said he thinks the current slotting system works in "90 percent of the cases, probably.
"... it's usually fair for whenever we pick the player."
According to Manfred, 75 percent of the drafted players signed, and 75 percent of those signed for within 5 percent of the slot recommendation.
"We spend nearly $200 million on players, a very, very small percentage of whom make it to the major leagues," Manfred said.
But from the union point of view, that the teams are willing to make such investments proves they shouldn't cry poverty.
As Counsell put it, "It's easy to say when you see a kid sign for $16 million that's never played a day in the big leagues, 'Oh, that's not fair. There's some guys that have 10-year careers that don't make that much.' But there's market for his services, that's why he's getting that much."
When a new CBA is negotiated, as one high-ranking union person said, "It always comes down to tradeoffs." If the players want something else more, they may give in on a slot system.
One team official theorized that the top agents, such as Boras, would go for a strict slotting system, because it would result in fewer high school players passing up college scholarships to turn pro, and it's easier for the agents to identify and pursue potential clients once they're in college.
But the general perception is that Major League Baseball's pursuit of drastic signing-bonus reform would be determined by whether players or the agents call the shots.
"I would be open to listening to something," Jones said, "but the fact of the matter is, there were people here before me that allowed me to do the things that I've done. Who am I to say that there needs to be a cap or some kind of different system that regulates what kids make out of college or high school?"
Overheard and Understood
• Before next Saturday's game in Seattle, Jim Bouton will throw out the ceremonial first pitch to catcher Gerry McNertney to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 1969 Seattle Pilots, an expansion team that lasted one season before moving to Milwaukee and becoming the Brewers.
• Matt Holliday is batting .404 since the All-Star break. According to STATS LLC, since expansion in 1961, only five players have batted .400 or better after the break (200 or more plate appearances): Ichiro Suzuki in 2004, George Brett in 1980, Barry Bonds in 2002, Larry Walker in 1998 and Tony Gwynn in 1993.
• Pick your poison in the Cubs bullpen -- if you're manager Lou Piniella, that is. Kevin Gregg is second among NL relievers for most home runs allowed per nine innings, while Carlos Marmol has given up the fourth-fewest. But Marmol has averaged the most bases on balls per nine innings (8.2), while Gregg averages 3.6. So you want the guy who gives up walks or the one who surrenders home runs?
• Kenshin Kawakami opened the season as the Braves' No. 4 starter, but he has faced a Cy Young Award winner five times (Barry Zito, Roy Halladay, Randy Johnson and Johan Santana twice); Opening-Day starters John Lannan and Brett Myers; aces Cole Hamels and Jonathan Johnson; and Clayton Kershaw, eighth in the NL in ERA. No wonder Kawakami is 6-9.
• San Francisco's Jeremy Affeldt has induced 16 groundball double plays, most among big-league relievers, and has a chance to be the first reliever since Doug Sisk in 1988 to get 21 DP balls.
• Since opening the season by winning their first 13 home games, the Dodgers are 27-24 at Chavez Ravine.
• Baltimore's Brian Roberts (46) and Nick Markakis (39) have combined for 85 doubles and could threaten the teammate record of 116, set by George Burns and Tris Speaker of the 1926 Indians.
• When Ivan Rodriguez rejoined the Rangers, it meant three teams had their all-time franchise hits leader on the current roster, along with Colorado's Todd Helton and Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford.
• Rockies manager Jim Tracy also ranks fifth all-time in managerial wins against Colorado, with 60.
• In the Little League World Series 15 years ago, Maracaibo, Venezuela, defeated Northridge, Calif., in the championship game. Current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel played for Northridge, while Maracaibo featured Diamondbacks pitcher Yusmeiro Petit and Mariners catcher Guillermo Quiroz.