After picking Bubba Starling fifth overall Monday, Royals GM Dayton Moore said there was “no external pressure” to draft the local star. The Royals may have ignored that pressure, but it was certainly there. Kansas City-area sports fans have been hearing about Bubba Starling’s exploits on the diamond and the gridiron for a couple of years now. The Kansas City Star has written a handful of feature stories on him already. So, of course, he was the people’s choice and, in part because of the raid on pitching in the first four picks, Starling was the choice that made the most sense for the Royals.
I have no doubt the Royals will spend the money necessary to entice Starling to sign. It will take the biggest signing bonus in club history to get it done, in the neighborhood of $7 million-$9 million, and I don’t think the Royals pick Starling if they aren’t prepared to pay. It also helps that Starling is a two-sport athlete and baseball rules allow the signing bonus for such athletes to be paid over five years, easing the financial blow for the Royals.
Starling’s being advised by agent Scott Boras, whose negotiating skills and tactics are legendary – and, in some cases, reviled – in baseball circles. It’s typical for high-profile draft picks represented by Boras not to sign until right before the August 15th deadline. That’s when Boras clients, and previous Royals first-round picks, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer got their deals done. And, Starling has even more leverage than those two, since he also has the option to play quarterback at Nebraska.
Boras advises his high school clients to enroll in college and to start taking classes until a deal is done, thus increasing their leverage and letting teams know his clients are prepared to walk away from the negotiating table if need be. But will Starling have that same leverage? The reporting date for Nebraska football players is July 10th. Will Cornhuskers head coach Bo Pellini want Starling working out with his team if Starling still doesn’t know for sure if he will sign with the Royals? Could Nebraska put pressure on Starling to make up his mind by July 10th rather than August 15th? I think that’s a possibility and, if it happens, Starling’s leverage decreases significantly.
Everyone talks about the pressure on the Royals to get Starling signed, but I think more pressure is on Starling. The Royals picked him and are prepared to pay what it takes, just like they’ve been prepared to pay what it takes to sign all of their high-profile draft picks under Dayton Moore, including Boras clients. If Starling doesn’t sign, the Royals won’t look bad, plus they’ll get the sixth overall pick in next year’s draft if they lose him.
The Royals will do their part. Will Bubba Starling, provided he wants to play professional baseball right now, do his?