NEW YORK — Major league teams increased their spending on amateur draft picks 1.5 percent this year from a similar point last summer, yet the total dollars remained below the record set in 2011 before restraints were put in place
Fifteen teams went over their bonus pool allotments, up from 11 last year and 10 in 2011, and will pay $2.68 million in tax. But for the third straight year, none exceeded their pools by more than 5 percent — the level where a club would forfeit its first-round selection next year.
Teams committed $223.2 million in signing bonuses through the July 18 deadline, which applied picks who had not exhausted college baseball eligibility, up from $219.9 million at the deadline last year and $207.8 million at a similar point in 2012. The record of $233.6 million spent on amateur draft picks was set three years ago.
"I did not anticipate it going down. I thought that it would still follow the trends, said Toronto pitcher R.A. Dickey, who has participated in past labor negotiations. "I'm not saying that it's unhealthy or it's healthy. I don't think that I envisioned it doing what it's done."
This year's total would have been higher if the Houston Astros had signed No. 1 selection Brady Aiken, a San Diego high school left-hander. While the Astros first offered a $6.5 million signing bonus, they lowered their proposal after he had a medical exam and they expressed concern about a ligament in his left elbow. The Astros also didn't sign fifth-round pick Jacob Nix, another high school pitcher, and the players' association believes the two deals were tied to each other by the team and is considering its options.
In addition, teams spent $94.8 million on 822 international free agents in the 12 months ending July 1, up from $78.7 million for 748 players in the previous year and down slightly from $95.6 million for 2011-12. The amount tends to fluctuate depending on what top-level Cuban players agree to deals.
Major League Baseball has been pleased with the impact of the restraints and says it hopes to obtain agreement with the players' association for an international draft in the next collective bargaining agreement, which will replace the deal expiring after the 2016 season.
"We understand that when there are negotiated changes to the structure within any segment of the player membership (draftees, players in the early part of their careers, those in the middle and those who have earned their free agency rights), there are indeed expectations as to what affect those adjustments may have in the short term and the longer term," new union head Tony Clark said in an email. "Please know that we will continue to monitor all facets of the CBA over the next couple years in preparation for bargaining."
Baseball's labor contract assigns a slot value to all picks in the first 10 rounds, with the amount starting at $7,922,100 this year for the first pick and decreasing to $137,600 for the final selections of the 10th round.
The highest bonus, $6,582,000, went to North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon, selected by the Chicago White Sox with the No. 3 pick.
"It's not that you don't care about the draft, it's just for me personally, it's not as high on the totem pole as some of the other player issues," Dickey said. "When guys are being offered $6 million in the first round, you still think to yourself, well, that's a substantial amount of money."
If a team fails to sign a player, the amount of that slot is deducted from its pool. Just five players in the first 10 rounds facing the deadline failed to sign.
For the 11th through 40th rounds, the amounts of bonuses exceeding $100,000 per pick are added to a team's total for calculating the tax.
A club exceeding its pool total faces escalating penalties, starting with a 75 percent tax on the overage, graduating to a 100 percent tax and the loss of its next two first-round picks.
Exceeding their thresholds were the Chicago White Sox ($356,175 tax), Chicago Cubs ($308,850), Pittsburgh ($261,525), St. Louis ($239,250), Seattle ($237,825), Tampa Bay ($217,439), San Francisco ($216,450), Texas ($169,875), Boston ($139,500), Washington ($155,325), the Los Angeles Dodgers ($150,675), Cleveland ($90,900), the New York Yankees ($65,925), Baltimore ($51,525) and Houston (15,675).
While many players reached agreement on the deadline day before the rules changes in 2012, the only first-round pick to reach an agreement Friday was Hartford left-hander Sean Newcomb, who got a $2,518,400 bonus from the Los Angeles Angels.