Bonus draft picks give Blue Jays room for creativity in 2022 draft

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Although the Toronto Blue Jays’ offseason is far from complete, it’s already included a lengthy extension, a splashy addition, and two significant subtractions.

It’s not surprising, then, that there hasn’t been much fanfare around the quiet addition of two other players, or soon-to-be players, in the form of the compensation draft picks for Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray. While compensation picks won’t fill the void left by those two all-stars, they are assets this front office is undoubtedly excited about.

Even though the Blue Jays are in win-now mode, enriching the farm system — whether that results in producing affordable MLB reinforcements or trade chips — is a yearly priority. Adding two quality picks, and the bonus room that comes with them, to their 2022 draft haul will have a significant impact. The magnitude of that impact is impossible to determine with precision considering all the uncertainty that surrounds the draft, but history can be a handy guide.

Before we dive into what the Blue Jays can expect from their incoming picks, it’s worth noting that a new CBA could shake up the current system. That said, although there’s debate about how comp picks depress free agent salaries, there is very little resistance to teams receiving these selections for players that depart. If there is a change, it’s more likely to be one that prevents teams who sign big free agents from losing anything.

In order to figure out just what the Blue Jays have in these compensation picks, we have to answer three questions.

How high up in the draft are these picks?

Answering this question seems like it should be simple. It isn’t. MLB’s draft compensation rules are esoteric, and applied differently, depending on whether teams receive revenue sharing money or spend above the luxury tax.

Neither description applies to the Blue Jays, which means that they’ll receive picks directly before the third round. The exact number of those picks can vary significantly by draft, depending on a number of factors ranging from whether teams that lost free agents who declined qualifying offers receive revenue sharing to how many players selected in the previous year’s top two rounds did not sign.

Since the current compensation rules were implemented, 11 picks have been awarded in the same category the Blue Jays will receive. Those picks have been as high as 67th overall and as low as 78th. In the 2021 draft, there were no selections of this type, but they would’ve started at 71st overall.

The average pick awarded rounds up to 73rd overall, so something in the 70-75 range seems like a reasonable expectation.

How do players in that range perform at the MLB level?

While it’s too early to evaluate the 11 compensation picks we’ve seen since 2018, there’s plenty of historical precedent on players drafted from 70-75 since 1965:

There are multiple ways to interpret these numbers. You might say that out of 342 players, only 43 (12.6%) had five or more MLB WAR — an admittedly arbitrary cutoff line for having had an impact in the majors. Significantly less than half of these picks even reached the big leagues, let alone had success there. The chances of nabbing a Nettles, David Cone, or Grady Sizemore seem slim.

If you focus on average results as opposed to frequency of “hits,” it paints a prettier picture of the picks. The aforementioned 342 player cohort produced 808 WAR, or 2.4 per player. A pair of these picks gets you to 4.8 WAR, and potentially 12 years of control, at the relatively low cost from a signing bonus perspective. The value proposition is enticing, even if you think your ability to identify and draft players is precisely average – and most front offices have higher opinions of themselves than that.

What about the bonus pool?

There’s an argument to be made that the biggest advantage of adding picks is racking up bonus pool money that increases the avenues available on draft day.

Teams with large bonus pools have more players available to them, as they’re able to select players with above-slot bonus demands and find savings elsewhere. If the Blue Jays use that tactic, it’s possible the value of these comp picks won’t be in who they select with them, but rather who they’re able to select with a higher pick that wouldn’t have been a feasible target without the comp picks.

Once again, figuring out particulars requires a little guesstimation. Let’s say, for sake of argument, the Blue Jays get the 73rd and 74th picks — the average selection and the one right behind it. In 2021, those two picks came with $1.702 million in bonus allocations, a number that’s been stable since 2019. In the context of the major leagues, that doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but at the draft it is.

In 2022, the Blue Jays hold the 23rd pick. The team with the 23rd pick last year (the Cleveland Guardians) possessed a draft pool of $7.4 million, but they had a competitive balance selection worth $930,000 — meaning the pool from their standard picks was worth about $6.47 million. That’s about what the Blue Jays would be working with if they didn’t have these comp picks. Instead, they should have a war chest closer to $8.17 million — an increase of 26.3 percent.

While none of these figures are written in stone, a bonus pool that could be boosted 25 percent or more will be an enormous advantage for the Blue Jays. For reference, last year’s biggest over-slot payment went to outfielder Bubba Chandler, who the Pittsburgh Pirates signed for $2.13 million overslot. The second biggest discrepancy was the $1.5 million 62nd overall pick James Wood earned above his $1.1 million slot value. If Toronto wants to take a swing at these kinds of players who fall due to their bonus demands, their comp picks will give them the ammunition to do so.

If they just want to select players who will sign for approximately the slot rate with each pick, that’d also be a perfectly reasonable strategy. The new compensation selections just give them the option to get creative.

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