Nationals Decision on Matt Purke Looming

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, August 09, 2011 | , , , | 6 comments »

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.



  1. Steven J. Berke // August 9, 2011 at 1:22 PM  

    One thing to keep in mind about this year's signings: the draft will be a part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that is being hashed out right now between MLB and the Players Association. It is possible--not likely but possible--that a hard-slot draft system might be part of the new CBA. If so, someone like Purke who decides to pass up signing this year in the hope of a bigger deal next year is screwed (as of course are all those who will come into the draft next year and afterward, but at least Purke has a choice).

  2. kevin rusch, section 406 // August 9, 2011 at 2:48 PM  

    the thing I find intriguing about this is that Rendon should have been #1 this year, and Purke should be #1 next year. And we have a chance to get them both -- for Pete's sake, do it. The notion of having 4 consecutive years' top picks is pretty alluring.

    I wonder if anyone's tried to get Wandy Rodriguez through waiviers..

  3. Dave Nichols // August 9, 2011 at 3:39 PM  

    Steven: excellent point. That completely slipped my mind when writing this piece.

    Kevin: yeah, the Nats could arguably end up with the top rated player in four drafts running. i haven't heard anyone in the org mention Wandy, but with the team on the road news gets a little quieter.

  4. Anonymous // August 9, 2011 at 6:02 PM  

    I hope they sign Purke - even over slot. Purke would be an exclamation point on the last several drafts - especially if they sign Rendon. Purke's signing would take the pressure off the draft the next few years so they can take some risks and go nuts in free agency.

  5. Wally // August 9, 2011 at 7:07 PM  

    I think the Nats are prepared to go to $3-4m. FWIW, I think that there is a psychological barrier for the player/agent at $4m, the amount they turned down from Texas. I think they will find it hard to accept less, especially with the option to return to school.

    But I think the Nats are prepared to go there. First, they cleared about $3m in salary for the rest of this year, and have no international FAs of note. Second, and this is the tea leaf that I put most weight in, the Nats are saying publicly that Purke is healthy. That is horrrible PR if they don't sign him, right? Purke is a No. #1 starter if healthy, and you sign that guy almost no matter what. If they didn't think they would sign him, wouldn't we be reading that they were still evaluating his injury or disappointed that he didn't play in the Cape league?

    I am probably just talking myself into this, but I am optimistic.

  6. Slappy Jones // August 10, 2011 at 1:14 AM  

    He signs.It's economics 101 the best way to make money is time.He has wasted one year and this will be 2.He may pitch if healthy 8-12 years ? He's wasting money and mlb service time.Also maybe not hard slotting but something may be in place for rookies similar to the nfl's new rookie cap.If he doesn"t sign his agent is an idiot.It's a huge gamble to add these thing with the fact that he needs to come in top 6-7 overall next year to get what the Nats will offer him right now.He should sign.