Jim Callis of MLB.com reports that the Blue Jays have signed their first round draft pick, shortstop Arjun Nimmala, the 20th overall pick just over a week ago. While this is unsurprising given that almost every player taken on the first day will sign, the signing bonus is quite surprising:
1st-rder Arjun Nimmala signs w/@BlueJays for $3 million (pick 20 value = $3,746,000). Florida HS SS, more power potential than most at his position, good actions & solid arm at shortstop. Could become first player of Indian descent to reach big lgs. Florida St recruit. @MLBDraft pic.twitter.com/pMtoAfTpK3— Jim Callis (@jimcallisMLB) July 17, 2023
Given the perception on draft night that Nimmala had already slipped down the draft board into the Blue Jays lap as a player multiple evaluators had in the top 10, having him available to them 20th overall was seen as fortuitous. Nevermind signing him at the roughly the slot value for the 27th overall pick, freeing up money to land additional talent down the board. In doing some figuring last week, in my head I had $3.5-million as an absolute floor.
The only similarly large discount to the slot value the Jays have realized in the era of hard slotting since 2012 is when they selected Jordan Groshans 12th overall in 2018 (signing him for $3.4-million compared to slot value ~$4.2-million). The difference there of course was taking a player expected to go in the late first round to allow them to go well overslot for his high school teammate Adam Kloffenstein in the 3rd round, whereas here they’re getting a consensus top-15 talent 20th overall and bonus pool savings to boot.
Of course, if concerns about the hit tool materialize, in five years will be of little consolation: in the end, an unsuccessful is an unsuccessful pick (and one should recall, the odds skew heavily in this direction). But process-wise, it’s really hard to dislike the gamble on the upside with the cost even further attenuated.
It is not unprecedent for high school players to slide down draft boards in favour of “safer” college options, and that would especially apply to a draft class that was considered historically deep in that regard. That explained Nimmala making to the Jays’ pick in the first place, but it would appear there was immediate interest from the teams immediately beyond the Jays, and hence a significant cut relative to slot was still the best alternative.
And of course, it’s worth noting that regardless of its relation to the slot value, in absolute terms, $3-million is still an enormously consequential chunk of change that should set things up nicely for Nimmala even if his baseball career doesn’t pan out. In fact, it underlines how much better a deal the MLBPA struck for non-union amateurs in 2011 than it has for its members in recent cycles.
In the 2011 collective agreement when it agreed to MLB’s demands for hard draft slots and bonus pools, critically those totals were tied to industry revenues in terms of their future growth. Thus, while in 2012 the slot for the 20th overall pick was $1,850,000 it’s now almost double. Even well-underslot, Nimmala still ends up with two-thirds more from the Jays than Marcus Stroman got 21st overall that first year.
By contrast, even with modest gains in the most recent collective agreement, the MLB minimum has only increased from $480,000 to just over $700,000 (about 46% increase), and the lowest competitive balance tax threshold from $178-million to $230-million (~30%). Had those been likewise been pegged to industry revenues, it’s unlikely average players salaries would have stagnated as they did for several years.
Getting back to the implications to the 2023 Blue Jays draft class, saving $746,000 (and likely $748,500 since the reported bonuses are often rounded up where the actual bonuses are reduced by the $2,500 that can be made up via a pro forma first year roster bonus permitted in the uniform minor league player contract) in addition to the $326,485 they can exceed their pool staying within 5% gives them about $1.07-million of slot room to work with.
They’ve already spent some of that in signing 9th rounder Sam Shaw, reducing the available pool room just under $1-million. A good chunk will be ticked for 4th-round pick Landen Maroudis, who will likely come upwards of $1-million. Third rounder Juaron Watts-Brown could likewise end up overslot, especially if the Jays, knowing they had wiggle room, cut a deal to engineer him falling to them (it’s also plausible he just fell to them naturally).
This does significantly clarify how the Jays were able to take Arkansas outfielder Jace Bohrofen in the 6th round, despite being a consensus top-100 talent who could have expected to go in the second round (and accordingly with a bonus closer to $1-million), compared to the slot of $300,000. He was clearly going to come in above that slot, but given their other picks was hard to see how it would be more than 4th or 5th round money.
If he just slid on the first day and two rounds, or had a signing bonus number that caused teams to shy away, the Jays would have been able to circle back on the day with a significant offer that caused him to re-evaluate. It will be interesting to see where that bonus lands. In effect, the Nimmala savings may effectively give the Jays back the second round they forfeited for signing Chris Bassitt.