The Nationals have an off-day on the schedule today, but for nearly everyone in the organization with the exception of the players, today is no day off.
The First-Year Player Draft is tonight, making today Nats general manager Mike Rizzo’s favorite day of the year. He calls it his Super Bowl Sunday.
This draft is very different for the Nationals than ones in seasons past, largely because, due to their improved record last season, they will no longer be picking within the top 10. It will also be different because of adjusted draft rules within the new collective bargaining agreement.
Under this CBA, each team has a cap on how much money it can spend, a set number which is equal to the total of the values of that club’s selections in the first 10 rounds of the draft. The more picks a club has, and the higher those picks are, the more money they’ll have at their disposal.
The Nationals know entering this draft that they have slightly over $4.4 million to spend on their first 10 picks. That set number won’t change the way the Nats draft, Rizzo claims, but it will make things slightly tougher because of the hard budget that they must operate under.
“It hasn’t impacted us one bit,” Rizzo said. “We are going to take it as we always have. We are going to put the board together, ability-based, and we will do our due diligence on the health, makeup, signability on all the players. We are going to pull the trigger and pick the best player available.”
In recent years, having a feeling this CBA would force changes in the draft system and looking to advance the talent pool in their minor league ranks before the new rules, the Nationals invested heavily in the draft, giving hefty deals and major league contracts to top picks.
That won’t be allowed this year. Not only is there a limit on how much teams can spend, there are penalties for working above that limit.
Teams that exceed the cap by 5 percent will be hit with a 75 percent tax on the overage. Overspending by 5-10 percent will result in a 75-percent tax and the loss of a future first-round pick; 10-15 percent overspending results in a 100 percent penalty and the loss of future first- and second-round picks; and teams that exceed the limit by more than 15 percent are penalized with a 100 percent tax and the loss of two first-round picks.
In addition, teams can no longer give major league contracts to drafted players, which the Nats have done in past years with Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Matt Purke.
Because of the financial restrictions, teams will need to make decisions on how to handle their selections. Do they take higher-profile players that are interested in getting big-money deals and use up a larger portion of their budget to get those players signed? Or do they avoid the guys who will ask for big bucks and instead focus on filing their class out by distributing money more evenly among the picks?
Teams have dealt with budgetary issues within the draft in previous years, but certainly not to this extent.
“The constrictions that you have on the amount of money that you can spend will certainly change the way we have done business in the near past,” Rizzo said. “Again, it comes down to getting the right player in each of the right slots. I think now it’s more important to have a great scouting staff rather than being less important.”