Baseball – Red Sox and Jason Groome Nearing Deal, As Well They Should
On the baseball field, Jason Groome showed this past year he has a pretty good poker face.
As 17-year-old with a mid-90's fastball and one of the best breaking balls of any amateur player in the country, there was plenty of opportunity for bravado and braggadocio. He rarely showed it.
On the other hand, Groome finished his senior season with a 1-3 record, fell victim to scant run support combined with poor defense on two occasions, and even got knocked around by one of the area's best offenses - including a home run - in his other loss.
At some point, while the game fell apart at the seams, most teenagers would reveal their disappointment on the field. Groome did not.
Off the field, however, he has been a bit more of an open book. Groome's message through his words and his actions over the last two months have sent a clear message to paying close attention: If it's up to him, he is going to turn pro by late Friday night.
According to Boston Globe baseball writer Alex Speier, the Red Sox and Groome are getting close to a deal ahead of the Friday deadline for teams to sign their 2016 draft picks. Speier wrote in a post on Twitter that the sides are "getting closer" and "should get a deal done" citing an unnamed source.
Jon Heyman of MLB Network and FanRagSports.com reported Monday night that the Red Sox offer to Groome was $3.5 million. The suggested signing bonus allotment for the No. 12 pick, according to MLB, is $3,192,800, so the Red Sox first reported offer comes in a little more than $300,000 over slot value.
Based on several reports, however, Groome's agent Jeff Randazzo was seeking a signing bonus north of $4 million for the left-hander and according to several more media sources, the Padres and Randazzo had a deal in place that would have netted Groome close to $5 million if Groome had slipped down to the Padres at pick No. 24.
Boston, however, threw a wrench in those plans by calling Groome's name at No. 12 with little warning. Although there were rumblings as the draft approached that the Red Sox were interested, there have been no reports of any pre-draft negotiation between the Boston front office and Groome's representation and Groome himself said he did not know the Red Sox were taking him until he heard his name on the MLB Network broadcast of the Draft.
Since speaking to a group of sportswriters over the phone on draft night, Groome and his camp have chosen to stay quiet with respect to negotiations but his words and actions that night and throughout the season should be enough to tell everyone in Red Sox Nation and beyond what to expect over the next 48 hours.
Why Groome Will Sign With the Red Sox
When he was ruled ineligible by the NJSIAA on April 14, Groome did not speak to any media until he returned to action. When he did, he chose not to speak about the NJSIAA ruling, offering a response that came off more rehearsed than what Groome normally has to offer.
"It's something I'm not really going to discuss right now. Sorry," Groome said at the time.
That response is the only time Groome has sounded at all rehearsed, not because he was told not to talk about it, but likely because he actually did not want to talk about it but did not know what to say. In those cases, he has people to help him with that.
In just about every other instance, Groome has come across as mostly genuine - a 17-year-old who listens to a question, gives it some thought, and says what is on his mind. One of those responses included this answer to the question of whether or not being selected first overall - and, in turn, being paid as such - was important to him.
"I just want to go somewhere where I'm going to be protected and feel comfortable," Groome told a group of reporters following his final high school game on May 27. It would be awesome if I was in the top 10. To even get drafted in the first round would be awesome. It would mean a lot."
Along the same lines, on the night of the draft, following his selection at No. 12, he did not sound like someone getting ready to walk away from the table if a specific dollar figure was not offered.
"I'm going to get together with my adviser and that’s what we’re going to discuss," Groome said of the timetable to reach a deal following the draft. "Money doesn’t matter to me. I'm just excited for the next chapter in my life and I can't wait to get started. I have a chance to play for my favorite team. I can’t ask for anything more than that."
All of those, however, were words and words - no matter the source - can be misleading. Does this long holdout over somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million suggest Groome might actually prefer to go to Chipola College in the fall rather than report to the Gulf Coast League in August?
The evidence suggests that is not the case. First and foremost, Groome's reaction on draft night, his comments after and his documented affinity for the Red Sox, Dustin Pedroia and David Price while growing up makes it hard to believe he'd prefer to re-enter the draft in 2017 to play for another organization - even if there is a chance (and it's only a chance; not a guarantee) to make $2 million extra.
So why the delay to sign? The simple answer is it is the best way for Groome to have his cake and eat it too and it's likely Randazzo explained as much to him in the conversations they had following the draft. While Groome would like to get started on his Red Sox career, it's worth waiting the extra few weeks if it means he can make an extra $1 million-plus - which is the goal of this negotiation.
Why the Red Sox Will Sign Groome
The flip side to that argument is that by holding out on behalf of his client, Randazzo risks the Red Sox walking away from the bargaining table and missing a chance to land his client a multi-million-dollar deal with a team that not only was Groome's favorite while growing up, but has also shown a penchant for player development.
That concern is also somewhat unfounded because the fact is, as it stands, the money is there and the Red Sox have every reason to part with it in order to bring Groome aboard. Randazzo is not asking for $4-plus million because it is some benchmark number or in order to hold anyone's feet to the fire. He is asking for that because it's what the Red Sox can afford.
As of Wednesday, the Red Sox had signed seven of their 10 picks in the first 10 rounds and had used up $2,280,000 of their $6,997,400 MLB-assigned bonus pool. The club has not signed either its fourth or fifth round picks to this point and should those two players go unsigned, Boston would lose the $876,800 combined spending between those two slots rather than be able to re-allocate that money toward Groome. If, however, the Red Sox agree to below-slot deals with the two players, that would leave them more money to pay Groome. If the deals come in above slot, that would leave them less money.
Red Sox Draft Picks and Signing Bonuses (Based on figures from MLB.com)
If the Red Sox sign either or both Bobby Dalbec and N.J. native Mike Shawaryn - the two picks in question - to slot value or let both walk, that would leave the team with $3,840,600 to sign Groome without exceeding the bonus ceiling. By rule, however, a team can exceed its bonus pool by up to five percent and pay a 75 percent tax on the amount over the limit they go. If, however, the team exceeds the five-percent threshold, they face forfeiture of future first-round draft picks.
Factoring in the extra five percent, the Red Sox could then pay Groome up to $4,190,470 without facing any draft pick penalties, assuming they could either reach slot deals with Dalbec and Shawaryn or passed on one or both if they held out for more money. Randazzo's reported asking price has been rumored by some at $4.2 million, which comes in right around the number that the Red Sox would actually have if they did not sign the other two players.
The next question then is, do the Red Sox have any reason to give Randazzo the asking price? After all, the cost for them would not just be the $6,997,400 plus the five percent hike to accommodate Groome. They would also have to pay the 75 percent tax to the league, which would bring their total money spent on the draft to $7,588,672.50. If Boston were willing to spend that money, it's also possible they are considering giving some of it to Dalbec and Shawaryn, which would likely account for the team's initial reported offer of $3.5 million.
The answer the the original question is a resounding yes: Boston has every reason to get a deal done with Groome, even if it means pushing the limits of the signing bonus or even losing Dalbec and Shawaryn - both of whom are college juniors who have less negotiating leverage than Groome. The Red Sox were recently reprimanded for illegal practices in international free agency and are banned from signing international talent during the 2016-17 signing period. With their ability to bring in new talent handcuffed for the next year, doing so through this draft and next year's draft is essential.
The Red Sox could opt to pass on Groome and collect compensation in the form of the No. 13 pick in next year's draft. That could also be a hindrance of a different kind, however, because if Boston - which is currently in the thick of the American League East and the A.L. Wild Card race - would liked to sign a free agent in the upcoming offseason that was offered the qualifying offer by his 2016 employer, they would then have to forfeit that No. 13 pick.
The Red Sox have, arguably, the most talent-rich farm system in baseball and Groome has the kind of pitching arsenal that will still be coveted in 2017, when he will still only be 18 years-old. Both have plenty to fall back on if either would like to take a hard-line stance.
In the end though, both are staring at a golden opportunity to make things better for themselves. For the Red Sox, it's adding a blue-chip arm to an already enviable system that is about to face a year-long freeze on incoming international talent. For Groome, it's putting an end to the questions about his makeup, getting back to baseball and securing himself a small fortune in the process.
At some point in the next 48 hours, either the Red Sox or Groome's camp will blink and both sides will be better for it. If no one blinks, perhaps it's because a stare-down this long causes blindness.