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Teams wilt under the wait

Top major league prospects, including three players with local ties, are able to cash in just before the signing deadline.

August 16, 2007|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

A standoff over signing bonuses between major league teams and top draft picks went down to the final minutes Wednesday night when several top selections agreed to terms before the signing deadline.

Mike Moustakas, the No. 2 pick out of Chatsworth High, and Josh Vitters, the No. 3 pick out of Cypress High, agreed to terms with the Kansas City Royals and Chicago Cubs, respectively, moments before the deadline passed at 9 p.m. Pacific.

Also signing were Matt Dominguez, the 12th pick by the Florida Marlins, and No. 1 pick David Price, a pitcher from Vanderbilt who is headed to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization.

In all, 10 of the 30 first-round picks, including eight of the top 12, agreed to terms with teams in the final hours before the deadline. Had they failed to reach terms, they would have had to re-enter the draft next year.

"It's nice to get this done," said Dominguez, who got a $1.8 million signing bonus -- $200,000 more than the 12th pick in 2006 received. "It's been kind of a long summer and I'm just happy it's over."

In an effort to control escalating signing bonuses, baseball has annually issued guidelines for signing bonuses based on draft position of players -- known as "slot money."

This year, the commissioner's office urged teams to cut back 10% on last year's slot money. Many players thought that practice unfair and held out for 2006 slot money or more. What resulted was what one source termed a "game of chicken" that lasted to the deadline.

Those that waited were rewarded.

Of the 30 first-round picks, 13 signed in the last four days. All of them received a bonus that exceeded their slot. In contrast, 13 players signed within 20 days of the June 8 draft and none received a bonus greater than their slot.

"In the last few days, the teams were breaking ranks with the slot money," Dominguez said. "Things dragged on a little bit, but I'm more than happy with the way things turned out."

Price got a $5.6 million bonus -- the third largest in draft history. Georgia Tech pitcher Matt Weiters, the No. 5 pick, reportedly got $6 million, the second most ever.

Moustakas reportedly signed for a $4 million bonus -- $850,000 more than the slot for the No. 2 pick -- and Vitters reportedly received $3.2 million, $500,000 more than the No. 3 pick's slot.

Devil Rays vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman acknowledged that there were hiccups in negotiations with Price because of the slot, but added that his club had to relent or risk losing a top-quality pitcher.

"It's never as easy as you'd like it to be," Friedman said. "This is a situation with the best player in the country, and in our estimation one of the best amateur pitchers in some time. We were prepared to do whatever it took to get him in our organization."

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

peter.yoon@latimes.com

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