The Washington Nationals still have several of their highest draft picks yet unsigned. They have until the Aug. 15 deadline to bring these players under contract and, like in years past, these signings will probably come cascading down on deadline day. Last year, the names were Ray, Solis, Cole and Harper. This year the names read Rendon, Meyer, Goodwin and Purke.
For 3B Anthony Rendon, RHP Alex Meyer and CF Brian Goodwin, it's a matter of time. The Nats have MLB's guidelines (slot) for each of these players, and once other dominoes fall into place these players will most likely sign at or near what their slot should call for. None were a reach with the pick they were chosen, and none seemed like they had signability issues on draft day.
Third round pick LHP Matt Purke, however, is a different story.
Purke, 21 (6'3", 175), just completed his sophomore year at TCU. A bout of bursitis limited Purke to just 11 starts in 2011, and he took a month off to allow the shoulder to calm down. But he was excellent when he did pitch, going 5-1 with a 1.71 ERA, posting a .187 batting average against with 61 strikeouts in 52 2/3 innings. He pitched most recently June 4 in the NCAA Regionals, going five innings and allowing two runs.
In his freshman year, however, Purke was nothing short of dominant. He went 16-0 with a 3.02 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. He had 142 strikeouts against just 34 walks in 116 1/3 innings, earning NCAA College Freshman of the Year, and was named second team All-America starting pitcher. Scouts drooled and proclaimed him one of the top three players for the 2011 draft.
Purke was sophomore eligible for this draft since he's already 21. The injury, combined with the fact that he retains his college eligibility should he not sign, caused him to fall in the draft and subsequently be available for the Nats to select with the 96th overall pick.
But therein lies the rub. Purke holds most of the cards. If he doesn't get what his agent thinks in an appropriate deal, he can simply go back to TCU, prove his health, and most likely be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft, according to at least one prominent draft expert.
My colleague at Federal Baseball, Patrick Reddington, does an excellent job recapping Purke's previous draft history and the shenanigans that happened when the Texas Rangers drafted him, thought they had a deal, and Major League Baseball nuked it.
So not only does the player have leverage, but he also has history as a rationale for signing an over-slot deal.
But here's the thing: it's not going to take the original $6 million deal to get Purke under contract. The situation has changed. He's been injured. He's two years older, already 21 year old. He's already behind where other 21-year olds are developmentally in the minor leagues. The Nats knew when they drafted him that he was going to take over-slot money to sign him. The best thing for the player is also the best thing for the team: Get him signed and get him started on his pro career.
So how much will it take? My thought is that the player and his agent would be foolish to walk away from $3 million. That amount isn't insignificant, but it's a drop in the bucket to the Lerner family and this organization. And to put it in perspective, it's the same amount they've given Chien-Ming Wang the last two years to rehab from his devastating shoulder capsule injury, with zero guarantees on his services past the last day of this season. It's also the same amount they've given Pudge Rodriguez each of the last two seasons to hit .254/.289/.342.
It's funny how teams throw money around during the off-season on free agents like it's monopoly money on "established veterans" but fail to invest in their future by not signing their draft picks. Sure, there are special situations, which Purke certainly qualifies. But ever since the Aaron Crow debacle the Nationals have been very good about coming up with the money to sign their draft picks, especially the ones they took anticipating signing for over-slot, as evidenced last year with A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray especially.
Purke, returned to health and under contract, would be the steal of the 2011 draft and could potentially give the Nats the shutdown left-hander in the starting rotation they thought they had when they drafted Ross Detwiler No. 6 overall in 2007. This needs to get done.