A lot of Braves’ fans are in mourning right now at the loss of top overall draft choice Carter Stewart. An apparent issue with Carter’s physical involving his wrist led the Braves to only offer him the minimum required to get a compensation pick in the event he did not sign...which is exactly what happened.
We will not get to see Carter spinning that beautiful curve ball of his in a Braves uniform and that very likely makes the Braves sad. Carter will have to wait longer to begin his professional career despite being talented enough to be a top 5 pick in most drafts and that is sad. While there are certainly some conspiracies floating around out there that the Braves never planned to sign Stewart because of next year’s draft/ownership being cheap/wanting to manipulate the bonus pool/etc., those are silly. It was clear the Braves loved Carter and it was clear that Carter wanted to play professional baseball. Unfortunately, each party has to act in their own best self-interests and the Braves made it for better or for worse.
However, what we must now sort out is what this means for the Braves going forward and there are a couple of tidbits that must be considered. Before you go any further here, read Matt’s write-up of the Carter Stewart news as it is a good quick primer of a bunch of what I am going to talk about here.
The impact on next offseason
This is arguably the most fascinating part of this whole thing because the Braves (presumably) will have some money to spend and could be in the running to sign players that had turned down qualifying offers.
This is important because to sign such players, there is another cost beyond money as teams that sign players who have been extended qualifying offer have to also forfeit a draft pick. Which pick is forfeited is now a convoluted system involving whether competitive balance tax was paid by a given team, etc. If you want to look into the details of that system, here is a pretty good summation.
If the Braves are classified the same way they were previously and if the Braves were to sign a free agent that turned down a qualifying offer, they would have to forfeit their third highest pick in the draft. In that case, the Braves would still have two first round picks EVEN IF they signed one or more such free agents. This certainly would make potential signings sting far less for the Braves’ draft class and bonus pool and could make them more willing to sign such players.
The likely worst case scenario is if the Braves are classified slightly higher, in which case they would lose their 2nd highest draft choice by signing a qualified free agent. In no world will a signing result in them losing the 9th overall pick. That pick is protected no matter what and pretty much guarantees that the Braves will have a healthy bonus bonus in the 2019 draft.
The 2019 MLB Draft
Because the Braves reportedly offered at least 40% of the slot value to Stewart and he turned it down, the Braves will be compensated with the 9th overall pick in the 2019 draft (one pick later than the pick that didn’t sign is the general rule here). That pick in the 2018 draft came with a slot value of $4.761,500 towards that team’s bonus pool.
The Braves bonus pool, with a conservative estimate (in terms of lower dollar figures) and not factoring any potential acquired picks and going strictly by what the 2018 bonus pool slot figures were, will have a bonus pool a bit over $10 million as it stands right now (again, we are guesstimating here).
That would represent a significant jump in what the Braves were looking at for the 2019 draft. Instead of a draft bonus pool that was likely headed for bottom third in the league, the Braves will likely have at least one of the top 7-8 bonus pools in the draft class assuming they don’t sign any qualified free agents and/or acquire any comp picks between now and then (I know, that is a lot of ifs).
That type of bonus pool would give the Braves a ton of flexibility. If they identify a top talent in the draft, they could choose to throw a big (unofficial) offer at him to get them to drop to them in the draft. Or, more likely, they could make big offers to multiple players they like which would not be dissimilar to how the 2016 draft went down. Again, this gives the Braves more options than they would have likely had next year.
This sucks, but it will be ok
There is no spinning that Carter Stewart not signing sucks. He was supremely talented, deserves to be a professional baseball player, will likely be a very good one if he stays healthy, and the Braves’ farm system is lesser for this. The Braves wanted him and he isn’t going to be a Brave and that sucks...a lot.
However, this isn’t anything like the penalties that were imposed this past offseason nor is this a huge setback even. The Braves’ 2018 draft class still has players to be excited about like Greyson Jenista and Trey Riley plus who knows will emerge as a player of value. Moreover, as the events unfolded, it has become clear that while this wasn’t the preferred outcome, that does not mean that this outcome doesn’t have its own advantages. As seen above, this lets the Braves be big players in next year’s draft AND gives them some interesting options for this coming offseason during free agency. That is hardly a bad thing, even if it isn’t what all parties involved wanted to happen.