12.02.08

MLB Draft Picks – Who Needs ‘Em?

Posted in Baseball, Greedy Motherfuckers at 4:48 am by

A few years back, the Phillies signed Tom “Flash” Gordon, giving the Yankees, who had offered the reliever arbitration, picks that brought them Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain. The Phillies could afford it, as they had their own picks coming back for Billy Wagner, which turned into P Kyle Drabek (still a promising young prospect) and 2B Adrian Cardenas (traded for Joe Blanton).

This year, neither team is interested in stocking youth – at least, not so much that they want to risk getting saddled with fat one-year deals for Andy Pettite, Jamie Moyer, Bobby Abreu or Pat Burrell (above, left) – coincidentally, a pair of old-guy pitchers and a pair of OPS machines.

Optimistically, I’ll guess the Phillies still have a shot at Moyer, and for less than he would get in arbitration. He recently moved his family from Seattle to Bradenton, FL (so his kids can pursue baseball at the IMG Academy), so the Mariners are probably off the table (and spring training would be pretty close – what, he’s gonna be a Pirate?)

But Burrell’s a puzzler. I can understand Ruben Amaro Jr. simply deciding that the Phillies, for the money, can become a better team without him. They were a better team without Abreu, and a better team without the help of Aaron Rowand. Pitching, pitching, pitching.

But is Pat Burrell plus two picks not worth the money? Especially when you might not even have to pay it? If you could just buy two first round picks for cash (as in the NBA), how much would they be worth? I genuinely wonder – since those picks are never traded, it is hard to get a read on market value.

To me, two picks are worth the extra millions Burrell might take were he to opt for arbitration. And on a one-year deal, with little risk of future injury or drop-off, Burrell himself is worth the $14 million he already made. Not to mention, you could trade him.

It seems Amaro thinks more like the hot stove/trade talk specialist Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated, who described Burrell thusly:

Streaky and sullen, he still can still hit 30 home runs (at least in Citizens Bank Joke Yard). Not my type, but someone will probably give him a three-year deal.

Please. Paul O’Neill was sullen. Pat Burrell is mellow. And of course, as I noted the last time Heyman used his clever euphemism for the Philly park, Burrell enjoys no particular edge there: not this year, and not, as the more factually oriented Jerry Crasnick of ESPN notes, ever.

Burrell isn’t as big a beneficiary of Citizens Bank Park’s cozy dimensions as you might think; since the park opened five years ago, Burrell has 74 home runs in Philadelphia and 74 on the road.

“He’s like a Troy Glaus,” said an American League executive. “When he hits ‘em, he hits ‘em. It doesn’t matter where he’s playing.”

What’s more, how much does the “hitter’s home park” effect really matter if you’re also playing road games at Wrigley, Minute Maid and GABP (all of which, along with Coors and Shea, ranked higher than the CBP this year in Home Run Park Factor). Perhaps the guy should join an NL Central team (two of Burrell’s three postseason home runs came in Milwaukee, too).

Of course, it’s been an article of faith that Burrell ought to get his years and money from an AL team, but if the Phillies aren’t simply really really dumb and really really cheap, then they must be really really scared he won’t. Or, as Julio at Philliesphans.com observes, something else is going on:

An awful lot of clubs declined to offer arbitration to any free agents. Dare I say, a suspiciously large number of clubs?

Yes, he stops short of using the “C” word, by which I mean, “collective wisdom in responding to the shit economy.” I doubt we’ll see an MLBPA grievance, but after all the CC/Manny hype, it could well be an interesting, perhaps surprising month of market-correction signings.

Who knows, the Phillies may yet bring back Pat if his dream deal isn’t out there. Or they could take a run at Adam Dunn under the same circumstances. Or maybe all this money will be offered to Sabathia, in which case Amaro’s a genius.

But if cheap is the name of the game, surely there is still no better bargain than a panned-out draft pick playing for $355,000 as a second-year major leaguer. If you don’t have such a player at, say 3B, you end up paying someone like Pedro Feliz $3 million to fill the spot. So perhaps an early pair of draft picks can be worth at least $3 million.

What’s even crazier to contemplate (my Sabathia comment aside) is the thought that the Phillies brass might go after a Type A free agent themselves. Certainly the Yankees have. Meanwhile, the Dodgers offered Derek Lowe and Manny, and the Brewers offered Sheets and CC. Let’s see if we’re talking about their good young players (or the all-stars they got traded for) in 2011.

5 Responses to “MLB Draft Picks – Who Needs ‘Em?”

  1. glenzo says:

    I’d never thought about this before- are MLB clubs literally prohibited from trading their draft picks? It happens in every other league, and you’d think some enterprising club would have taken a shot at it by now. On the other hand, when said picks are subject to forfeiture it gets a little tricky….

  2. Chuck Meehan says:

    Jason,

    Burrell completely tanked over the last 40-50 games in 2008 and I noticed that for the first time in his career, he was making a lot of outs via pop-ups/harmless flys to RF. Burrell has always been a righty pull hitter and all those opposite field outs may signify that he just isnt able to get around on pitches. I think Amaro and Co are leery of having to pay him the $15+ mil that he would get in arb *and* arent too stoked about the thought spending the bonus money it takes to sign 2 extra 1st round draft choices, esp considering the hefty pay raises that will be coming to Howard, Hamels, Victorino, Werth and Madson this off-season.

  3. glenzo says:

    Oh, and the notion that not offering arbitration is a sign of collusion makes zero sense- why would a team make it *easier* for a competitor to sign its players, and waive its compensation in the process? This would only hold together if the teams somehow agreed not to touch each others’ FAs, and if all these guys were left with out offers until May 1 and came crawling back to their former clubs, I suspect it’d be a tad obvious.

    The other possibility would be that teams signed a blood pact to offer no more than 2-3 year deals, and wanted to nix the escape hatch that players, finding an inhospitable market over the next month, would flock to the security of big one-year deals. Even then, wouldn’t it be more likely that teams independently sensed the market would fall short of many players’ liking, and couldn’t stomach the one-year budget busters?

  4. Jason Cohen says:

    Clenzo: the answer to your first question is yes. Also, the May 1 deadline (which was actually May 15 I think) no longer exists. Which makes this a whole lot easier for the teams, they can still re-sign any of these players. The others have to accept or reject arbitration by this Sunday.

    But the collusion as you describe it is, well, exactly as you describe it (except for the May 1 part). It’s not about protecting individual players, it’s about establishing a lower baseline market for every player. Hard to distinguish between collusion and regular market forces though. Hard to distinguish between collusion and gossip even.

    Buster Olney today speculates that Abreu might not rate more than $8 million a year (as opposed to $16 million in arbitration). If every agent sees that writing on the wall and every GM understands it (collusively or not) than yeah, teams have reason to worry these guys might accept their deals. Of course if things really are that bad, the arbitrators ought to be making their decisions in that context, but the system doesn’t allow for that. If it really is gonna be a new economic world this year, this won’t look bad after all. The Red Sox chose to risk paying Jason Varitek ($10 million currently) and Paul Byrd (7.5 million currently) so we’ll see who’s smarter.

    And Chuck, yeah, of course the Phillies don’t want to pay early round draft bonuses. That’s not supposed to make me feel better is it? As for Burrell, it’s still hard to know for sure, fly ball trend aside, he’s streaky, and he was just as easy to write off (more so even) two years ago. That’s why I’m fine with not giving him three or four years – more than fine. But I would still risk the one year. You either get an above average (so long as you value OBP over average) player or you get the picks.

    But then, it also doesn’t bother me when players in their 30s are overpaid, especially if they are still with their original team, because it’s more than balanced out by the production the team got from them when they were vastly underpaid. That turned out to be very true of even Burrell’s current contract, taken as a whole (and given he would have gotten an even bigger one had he become a FA sooner).

  5. Chuck Meehan says:

    Jason,

    The Burrell situation is pretty flummoxing as there are good arguments both for and against retaining him. For all the howling that was done about his contract, it was heavily backloaded and when you compared what he got paid in a particular season and reference it with his production that season, it was actually a pretty good deal. As a layman, I would be fine with throwing the dice and getting another year from him, especially when you consider that as far as OF prospects, the Phillies have zilch. I had a far-fetched wish that the Phillies sign Orlando Hudson for 2nd base and the 2-hole in the lineup and convert Utley to LF, but that probably wasnt going to happen and with Utleys injury, coming back and learning a new position surely isnt going to happen (in 2009 anyway).

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