Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tigers thumb their nose at Selig again; bestow $3.45 million on top draft pick

    Just because the wheels may have come off the Tigers' bandwagon this season doesn't mean Mike Ilitch is going to change his free-spending ways where the annual amateur draft is concerned -- whether baseball commissioner Bud Selig likes it or not.
    The Tigers realize they are never going to be able to compete, dollar for dollar, with the filthy-rich New York Yankees on the free agent market. They believe they can get more bang for their big bucks in the draft.
    And they have the players, including Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello, to prove it.
    In addition, the Tigers traded Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin, who were both originally signed to contracts that were "over-scale," to the Florida Marlins for Miguel Cabrera.
    They did it again late Monday night, risking the further wrath of the commissioner by bestowing $3.45 million on their top draft pick, infielder Nick Castellanos. It was the richest contract ever given a kid who had not been selected on the first round.
    And it followed the patterned the team set in signing Verlander (2004), Porcello (2007), Jacob Turner (2009) and others.
    In baseball, as in life, you get what you pay for.
    Castellanos was the 44th player selected in the June draft. In an effort to keep rookie spending in check, Selig's office recommends that such a player should only receive $776,700. In other words, according to Selig, the Tigers "overpaid" by about  $2.673 million.
    All of that money, of course, pales in comparison to the $9.9 million bonanza that Bryce Harper, this summer's No. 1 draft pick, reaped from the Washington Nationals. The commissioner's office had recommended that No. 1 pick receive $4 million, and not a penny more.
    But the 18-year-old Castellanos was not the only draft pick who benefitted from the Tigers' contractual largesse.
    The Tigers also signed their second and third picks, pitchers Chance Ruffin and Drew Smyly, for $1.15 million and $1.1 million respectively -- well in excess of the $728,100 and $537,300  suggested by the commissioner for those two slots.
    Although baseball doesn't have an official pay scale for draft picks, it tries to impose an unofficial system. And teams that have flagrantly exceeded the "recommendations" have frequently heard from the commissioner's office.
    But the Tigers, among some others, believe that fury is a small price to pay for acquiring premier players who would otherwise return or go to school and later sign with someone else.
    That opportunity will disappear if, as many believe, baseball adopts a rigid salary structure for draft picks in its next collective bargaining agreement. That would take effect in 2012, locking draft picks to specific bonuses and salaries which are sure to be a whole lot lower than this year's top rookie contracts.
     Meanwhile, the Tigers, to their credit, will continue to play the game in a manner which, they believe, gives them the best chance to be good.   


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