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