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The 2017 MLB Draft: How It All Works

Draft maker, draft maker, make me a draft.

MLB: Houston Astros at Seattle Mariners
Jerry Dipoto, on his shoulders rest the hopes and dreams of a good draft.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s almost draft day. The Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft may not be as exciting as the drafts in other sports, but it’s an important day. As Mariners fans know, a barren farm system is a sad farm system.

Some of you are all over the draft and know all the nuances. Some of you may be a little confused with how it all works. Bonus pools? Compensatory picks? The draft has certainly become more complicated over the years, so here’s a breakdown of how it all works and what it all means for your Seattle Mariners.

Draft Order

Teams are assigned a draft order based on their record the previous season. The team with the worst record goes first and the team with the best record goes last. If there is a tie, the previously year’s standings determine who goes first. There’s a little more to it, as you’ll read below. Teams can lose and gain picks based on free agent signings.

The Mariners will be picking 17th.

Free Agent Compensation and Supplemental Picks

The first 10 picks in the draft are set, no matter what happens with free agents. Everyone else is subject to losing or gaining a pick based on their offseason free agency activity. For a team to be eligible for a compensation pick, they must offer their free agent a qualifying offer and the free agent must have spent the entire season on their roster. A qualifying offer is the average of the top 125 salaries in MLB. If the free agent rejects the offer and signs with another team, that team must give up their highest unprotected pick in the next draft.

The teams that lost free agents will be given those picks at the end of the first round based on last year’s standings. Players can reject qualifying offers, and still resign with their team. In that case, the team does not give up their draft pick or get a supplemental pick.

The Mariners did not lose a pick or gain a pick for free agency activity this year.

Competitive Balance Rounds

Put into place to ease some of the gap between the baseball haves and the baseball have-nots, the competitive balance rounds give teams with less revenue and market size the chance to grab extra picks. There are two rounds: A and B, which follow the 1st and 2nd rounds respectively.

To be eligible or this round, teams must fall into the bottom 10 in revenue and market size. MLB uses a formula that takes revenue and winning percentage into account. This year six teams will pick in Round A and eight teams will pick in Round B.

The Mariners do not have a pick in either of these rounds this year.

Slot Values and Bonus Pools

The purpose of slot values and bonus pools is to limit the amount of the signing bonuses that drafted players can receive. Every draft pick in the first 10 rounds, plus the supplemental rounds, is assigned a slot value. The higher a player is drafted, the higher the slot value. The slot value is more of a suggestion than a hard number, and teams do have flexibility in determining how much to give to each drafted player as a bonus.

The total slot values for each team amounts to its bonus pool. A team’s pool is based on the positions of its picks as well as the amount spent in last year’s draft. In addition, any amount paid to players drafted in rounds 11-40 above $125,000 are subject to the bonus pool.

If a team exceeds its bonus pool, MLB assess a luxury tax on the excess. For 5% or less, the tax is 75% of the amount above the bonus pool. 5-10% over result in a 100% tax and the loss of next year’s first round pick.

If a team does not sign a player in the first 10 rounds, the slot value for that player is deducted from the bonus pool. So, a team can’t draft a really great prospect and pay him all the money, while ignoring the other picks. If a team signs a player for less than their slot value, the extra money can be used on another pick.

The Mariners have a bonus pool of $6,737,300. The first round pick has a slot value of $3,333,200, the second round pick is $1,206,900. The third round pick is slotted at a paltry $579,800. I know, what’s the point of being drafted in the third round?

Trading Picks

In general, draft picks are not tradeable. A team cannot move up or down in the draft, which is probably why Pete Carroll and John Schneider work in football instead of baseball (there might be other reasons too). The only picks that can be traded are the Competitive Balance Round picks. The picks can only be traded during the season, and only for a player. So, no offseason selling of those picks for cold hard cash.

How Many Rounds?

There are up to 40 rounds in the draft. Teams do not need to make a selection in every round, but if they pass on a round, they are out for the rest of the draft. The draft kicks off on Monday with Rounds 1 and 2, and Competitive Balance Rounds A and B. Rounds 3-10 will be held on Tuesday and 11-40 will happen on Wednesday.

Who Is Eligible To Be Drafted?

Amateur players in the United States, Canada, and US Territories, namely Puerto Rico. Players from outside the United States and Canada are not subject to the draft, unless they attend school in the United States or Canada. Once a player has signed a major or minor league contract, they are ineligible for the draft.

High school players must graduate from high school. They lose their eligibility once they begin attending college. Junior and community college players can be drafted at any point. Players who enroll at four-year colleges must wait three years after enrollment, or until they turn 21, whichever happens first. (Here, have a beer and a bunch of signing money!)

Players who have been drafted in previous years, but who did not sign with the drafting team are eligible to reenter the draft. This happens frequently with high school players who decided to play in college rather than sign. It has also happened when the player and team are unable to come to terms on a contract, or a player really doesn’t want to play for that team. (Ah, JD Drew flashbacks). A team may not redraft the same player, unless the player agrees to it.

Club Rights

Once drafted, the drafting team has the rights to a selected player until July 15th, unless the player enters or returns to school full time prior to that date.

Players can only be signed to minor league contracts, unless the drafted player has a scholarship in another sport.

What If A Player Isn’t Drafted?

If a player isn’t drafted (but still meets the draft criteria), they become a free agent and are eligible to sign with any team on that basis. The player is not able to sign as a free agent if they return to school full time. So, those of you still dreaming Major League dreams, get out there and convince Jerry that you’re a speedy outfielder.

Now, you’re up to speed on the MLB draft. You can throw around words like qualifying offer and bonus pool and sound smart to your friends who aren’t in the know.