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Mets do not sign Kumar Rocker

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The worst possible outcome has arrived.

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Baseball Championship Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

In what can only be regarded as a disaster, the Mets were unable to come to an agreement with their first round pick, Kumar Rocker. Though the two sides initially agreed to a deal quickly, medical issues arose that caused the Mets to seek a lower signing bonus. The team expressed concern about Rocker’s pitching elbow after a physical evaluation last week. Rocker and agent Scott Boras - who issued a statement denying the Mets’ health allegations - did not back down, however, and the deadline passed at 5 PM today with both sides locked in a stalemate.

Landing Rocker with the tenth overall pick set the Mets up for one of the biggest draft coups in recent memory. One of the most dominant pitchers in college baseball history, Rocker was often in the conversation for the first overall pick leading up to the draft. Inconsistent velocity ultimately pushed him down the board a little bit, but he was still far better than the tenth prospect on the draft board on talent alone. Clearly, the Mets agreed; they structured their entire draft around Rocker, staying at or below slot with the remainder of their picks in order to promise Rocker a $6 million signing bonus, roughly $1.3M over the slot value of the tenth overall pick.

This isn’t an uncommon practice under the current draft system. Typically, a team will use one of their first three picks on a player demanding well above the slot value, then use the remainder of their picks on underslot picks, essentially reaching for lesser talent to save money and add it to the signing bonus for the main target. The Mets themselves pulled this off in 2019 to land Matthew Allan in the third round for well above slot.

Critically, most teams will also draft a backup option or two, picking a couple of expensive prep players in the later rounds (which don’t contribute to signing bonus pools) that they can pivot to should something go wrong with their main target. For some reason, the Mets neglected this crucial step, giving them nowhere else to spend the money they had allocated to Rocker once medical concerns had cropped up.

Because of this, failing to sign Rocker is particularly egregious. The money saved on other picks that was supposed to go to him cannot be reallocated in any meaningful way. It’s an inconsequential amount in free agency, and international free agents - the primary alternative avenue to the draft for adding amateur talent - has it’s own pool restrictions. Put simply, unless Rocker’s arm needs to be amputated, there’s almost no way burning this pool money is worthwhile, even if the Mets do recoup the 11th pick in next years’ draft as compensation.

With the richest owner in baseball, the Mets can afford the financial risk of signing a draft pick that may not work out. This is especially true because the draft is always such a crap shoot, and because there’s no guarantee that the arm issue will prevent him from being a productive pitcher for the Mets.

So, to recap; the Mets selected lesser talent through the draft in order to save money and give it to Rocker. They drafted no potential insurance players who they could pay as an alternative should things go wrong. They then got scared over Rocker’s medicals and backed out of the deal, burning $1.3M in slot savings in the process. Unless the eleventh pick in next year’s draft is worth more than Rocker (it almost certainly will not be), this is a disaster that accomplished nothing aside from saving the team what should be an inconsequential amount of money to a baseball team.