Orioles’ top pick Gausman leaning toward returning to LSU?

July 10, 2012 | Luke Jones

With Friday’s deadline looming to sign first-round pick Kevin Gausman, the Orioles apparently will have to sweat out the negotiations to the bitter end.

The Times-Picayune reported Monday night the No. 4 pick in June’s draft is “seriously considering” returning to college and leaving roughly $4 million on the table from the Orioles. The club has until 4:59 p.m. on Friday to complete a deal or Gausman would stay at Louisiana State and the Orioles would receive the fifth overall pick in next year’s amateur draft as compensation. The club would not be allowed to use the slotted bonus money to sign other picks, however.

“This is turning out to be a tough decision, but as of now my heart is still with LSU,” Gausman told the Louisiana newspaper. “There are still things for me to accomplish as a Tiger. I still want to play in and win the College World Series, and with a lot of guys coming back next year I believe we can do it.”

The Orioles and scouting director Gary Rajsich have signed eight of their first 10 selections in the 2012 draft. The suggested value of the No. 4 pick for 2012 is $4.2 million, meaning the Orioles would have to pay a tax and potentially forfeit future picks if they chose to offer more.

Should the Orioles fail to sign Gausman, it would mark the first time since 2004 a first-round pick would not sign with the club. Rice pitcher Wade Townsend elected to pass on the Orioles after being drafted with the eighth overall pick and never reached the major leagues after an injury-plagued career in the minors.

Of course, most would view this as simple posturing in the final week of negotiations as the new collective bargaining agreement doesn’t allow clubs to offer major league contracts to draft picks as the Orioles did to sign top prospect Dylan Bundy in 2011. Gausman’s comments to the media outlet suggest as much if you choose to read between the lines.

“I also believe I’ll only continue to improve and become a more complete pitcher working with (LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn),” Gausman said. “I have no problem at all going back to LSU. We’ll see what happens.”

We’ll see what happens, indeed.

Gausman can express his love for LSU and for playing in the SEC all he wants, but he would be taking a major risk returning to college and leaving that much money on the table. Though he has two years of college eligibility remaining, the risk involved of an injury or ineffectiveness outweighs the benefit of only moving up three spots at best in next year’s draft.

Stranger scenarios have played out, but it’d be very surprising to see Gausman walk away from guaranteed money and roll the dice for another year at the collegiate level.