Largest Contracts In Draft History

It's been 20 years since the Oakland A's sent shockwaves through baseball by signing high school righthander Todd Van Poppel to a Major League contract worth more than $1.2MM as the 14th overall pick in the 1990 draft. At the time, the going rate for the first overall draft pick was a minor league deal worth $350K or so, but Van Poppel and his agent leveraged his scholarship to the University of Texas into more than three times that amount.

Contracts given to draftees have since ballooned, and now rival the packages given to established big leaguers in terms of total value. Over the next several weeks, we're going to hear a lot about Scott Boras and Bryce Harper and their purported contract demands as he's expected to be the first overall pick. The 17-year-old catcher from Las Vegas is almost guaranteed to sign one of, if not the most lucrative contract in the history of the MLB draft.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the richest contracts ever given to drafted players.

Major League Contracts

  1. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (2009, 1st round, 1st pick): Four years, $15.1MM. $7.5MM of that makes up the largest signing bonus in draft history, and his salary is set through the 2012 season.
  2. Mark Prior, Cubs (2001, 1/2): Five years, $10.5MM. Prior's contract allowed him to void the final two years of the deal and instead file for salary arbitration, which he did in 2006. Instead being paid the $2MM his contract called for that season, Prior earned $3.575MM when the two sides settled before a hearing.
  3. Mark Teixeira, Rangers (2001, 1/5): Four years, $9.5MM. Teixeira's $4.5MM signing bonus was the largest ever given to a player as part of a big league deal at the time, and it stood as the record until the next player on our list was drafted.
  4. David Price, Rays (2007, 1/1): Six years, $8.5MM. Price has a clause similar to Prior in his deal, allowing him to void the $1.5MM he's scheduled to make in 2012 and instead file for arbitration. The early guess is that he will indeed go that route.
  5. Pat Burrell, Phillies (1998, 1/1): Five years, $8MM. Pat the Bat's deal marked the beginning of the big money era for draft picks.
  6. Dustin Ackley, Mariners (2009, 1/2): Five years, $7.5MM. Ackley can also earn another $2.5MM in salary based on how quickly he reaches the big leagues.
  7. Rick Porcello, Tigers (2007, 1/27): Four years, $7.285MM. Club options for the 2012 and 2013 seasons could put another $2.88MM in his pocket.
  8. J.D. Drew, Cardinals (1998, 1/5): Four years, $7MM. Drew famously refused to sign with the Phillies as the second overall pick in the 1997 draft, as he and Boras stuck to their guarantee that he would not sign for less than $10MM.
  9. Josh Beckett, Marlins (1999, 1/2): Four years, $7MM. Beckett was the first high school player to receive a Major League deal since Alex Rodriguez in 1993, and the first high school pitcher to get one since Van Poppel.
  10. Eric Munson, Tigers (1999, 1/3): Four years, $6.75MM. The $3.5MM signing bonus was a club record until Porcello showed up.

Porcello joins Beckett as the only other prep player on the list, and oddly enough, both Strasburg and Ackley went undrafted out of high school. Everyone else was drafted multiple times. It's worth noting that the Yankees gave Andrew Brackman a four year, $4.55MM Major League contract as the 30th overall pick in 2007 ($3.35MM signing bonus), but club options and escalator clauses could push the total value of the deal to $13MM, second only to Strasburg's.

Minor League Contracts

  1. Donavan Tate, Padres (2009, 1/3): $6.25MM
  2. Buster Posey, Giants (2008, 1/5): $6.2MM
  3. Tim Beckham, Rays (2008, 1/1): $6.15MM
  4. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks (2005, 1/1): $6.1MM
  5. Matt Wieters, Orioles (2007, 1/5): $6MM
  6. Eric Hosmer, Royals (2008, 1/3): $6MM
  7. Joe Borchard, White Sox (2000, 1/12): $5.3MM
  8. Joe Mauer, Twins (2001, 1/1): $5.15MM
  9. B.J. Upton, Rays (2002, 1/2): $4.6MM

Tate, Beckham, Borchard, Mauer, and both Upton brothers had their bonuses spread out over five years under baseball's provision for two-sport athletes. You can see that Borchard's deal held the record for half a decade before the younger Upton broke it. It's hard to believe that two extremely high profile college players like Wieters and Posey were unable to secure Major League deals out of the draft, but the fringe benefit is that they received all of their money up front.

Thanks to Jim Callis of Baseball America, Keith Law of ESPN, and Cot's Baseball Contracts for providing information used in this post.

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16 Comments on "Largest Contracts In Draft History"

5 years 4 months ago

50% of those players are boras clients. if you count a-rod( he wasn’t a boras client at the time), its 60%. that man is just crazy good.

5 years 4 months ago

Or maybe every other agent sucks.

Sometimes I wonder if a player is just better off negotiating his own contract (That is, if he doesn’t have Mr. Boras representing him).

5 years 4 months ago

I’m not sure if you are completely serious, but I think that makes more sense for veterans because there are more comparables. Setting the market for draftees, particularly if there is a need to negotiate an overslot contract, is probably pretty difficult.

5 years 4 months ago

It also has to do with the players Boras gets to sign on with his agency. He’s very prepared, he knows who the top draft prospects are and goes after team well in advance. Guys like Strasburg and Tex were geting paid regardless. Boras just got them paid a little more.

5 years 4 months ago

Boras also leveraged Brien Taylor’s bad grades (and a damn serious fastball) into $1.55MM from a struggling Yankees team, threatening that Taylor would go JuCo rather than sign for less. Love him or hate him, Boras is fearless and that’s why he’s successful.

5 years 4 months ago

People try to point to Jarrod Washburn or Hank Blalock this offsesaon to show that Boras is slipping, when in-reality those players just aren’t good. He’s going to win more than he loses, like you said by taking chances. He has a track record, us fans can say whatever we want about him, but a lot of us would probably have him as our agent if we were players.

5 years 4 months ago

There has been a lot of buzz about the NFL having a wage scale for draftees in the next CBA. I wonder if/when that becomes a priority for MLB.

5 years 4 months ago

That is so much money. Nobody deserves that much to play baseball. Especially players who haven’t faced pro competition yet.

5 years 4 months ago

Why? Most veteran free agents end up getting more money than they earn in free agent contracts. Most of these guys have been worth far, far more than they signed for. The amount of money wasted on someone like Munson or Borchard is dwarfed by the amount of money Mauer or Teixeira earned but weren’t paid before they were arb-eligible. And even arbitration didn’t pay them nearly their market value.

5 years 4 months ago

thats because arbitration isn’t suppose to pay a player their market value……

5 years 4 months ago

I understand that. My point is if you think players only deserve huge payouts when they’ve faced pro competition, but players don’t get market value until they’ve faced pro competition for anywhere from six to ten years, then why not let players get a payday? Joe Borchard had to be bought away from football. That should cost something. Most of these guys had to be bought away from college or other sports. All of them would have made much more on the open market. And everyone was certain Strasburg would perform at the pro level, and so far he’s dominating. Why shouldn’t top amateur players get paid like this? Are they any more of a gamble than signing free agent relief pitchers?

5 years 4 months ago

I think he means there are better uses in the world for the money these players get for playing a game.

5 years 4 months ago

I don’t think that’s his point, but if it is, get off mlbtraderumors, because you’re shouting at the rain. The players, at most, make a fair share of the huge amount of revenue the sport generates. You don’t like it? Don’t follow it.

5 years 4 months ago

Van Poppel was a stud coming out of high school. However, he was not going to go to U of Miami. He was headed to University of Texas where Coach Gustafson was churning out products. I think he was friends with one of Nolan Ryan’s boys who was going to school there at the same time. If I remember correctly, Coach Gus really felt like he had a chance to get him signed but he used UT as leverage. Big time.

5 years 4 months ago

You’re right, my bad. Fixed.

5 years 3 months ago

It’s not quite as horrible as football but still, sports should have like a max amount a player from the draft can earn for the first few years.