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Sun, Oct. 20

Column: Draft rules upset agent Scott Boras

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->MLB agent Scott Boras talks on the phone.

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->MLB agent Scott Boras talks on the phone.

Super agent Scott Boras is in a tither over MLB's new draft rules and the reason is simple: He may no longer be able to game the system and negotiate huge bonuses for his clients.

The new collective bargaining agreement that went into effect this year included a number of revisions to the annual June draft. One change established a slotting system with recommended signing bonuses for each draft pick. A second change would impose penalties on teams that exceed their allocated bonus figure. This year, team allotments range from a low of $1.7 million for the Los Angeles Angels to a high of $12.4 million for the Minnesota Twins. The figures are determined by a complicated formula that includes a team's total number of picks, where those picks fall in each round of the draft, and last year's record.

Under the new draft rules, teams are allowed to exceed slot figures for individual players as well as their total bonus allotment, as long as they're willing to live with the consequences. However, the penalties are so onerous - ranging from a tax on the overage to a loss of revenue sharing proceeds and draft picks in succeeding years - it's unlikely many clubs will be willing to spend beyond their limit.

In the past, players who had significant leverage - for example, a high school player who had a scholarship to college - could game the system with the help of their friendly "advisor" (a legal fiction designed to avoid the word "agent," which would invoke the wrath of the NCAA). A player could simply tell teams they wouldn't sign a professional contract, code for "I want a huge bonus." Teams that didn't want to shell out significant dollars to sign such players would simply avoid them. Those players would slide in the draft until a deep pocket club drafted them in later rounds. Because money usually talked, many of those players would sign a contract if they were offered early round money.

Which brings us to Boras, who represents Stanford pitcher Mark Appel, once considered the No. 1 pick in the entire draft. But on draft day, Appel slid to the Pirates at No. 8.

Slot for the No. 1 pick is $7.2 million; for No. 8, $2.9 million. That's a cool $4.3 million difference, more than enough reason for Boras to refer to the new draft system as a "mockery." The Pirates are unlikely to offer Appel more than slot money considering they were only allocated $6.6 million for their total of 11 picks, after spending $18 million last year.

It should be noted that the new draft rules wouldn't exist if the players' union hadn't signed off on the format, as they should have. According to Baseball America, MLB teams spent $238 million on bonuses to draft picks last year, up more than $35 million from the previous year. All that money went to players who were not members of the union, and if they never make a major league roster, they never will be. The union is charged with protecting its own, and as smart and successful as the MLBPA has been over the years, surely a significant amount of the money teams will save in the draft - a projected $50 million this year over last - will be allocated in some fashion to major league players, either in the form of salary or benefits under the new CBA.

As for Boras and his clients, if a player has the talent to get to the big leagues, the real money isn't in the signing bonus but in their MLB salary. Average MLB salaries are north of $3 million per year and superstars, especially those eligible for free agency after six years in the big leagues, earn $15-20 million - or more. If a draft pick elects to delay signing a professional contract and loses even one year off their major league career, it could cost them millions - if not tens of millions - of dollars. So which is more attractive: Haggling over an additional few hundred thousand, or even a million, or earning millions in salary in the big leagues?

Boras - and his clients - should stop complaining about the new rules. For anyone with talent, the money will be there, for them and their agent.

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