To punctuate the absurdity of the attention paid to the MLB Draft as if it’s on a level with the NBA/NFL versions in terms of relevance, I thought it’d be interesting—for context purposes only—to look at each team, their best player(s) and the circumstances under which they drafted, signed and acquired by their current clubs.
I can say this stuff because I’m not attached to a corporate entity with advertising dollars as a circular end like ESPN; not beholden to anyone but myself; do not pledge fealty to anything but the truth as I see it.
Let’s take a look. First the teams, then the “best” player(s) as I see them, then a brief background.
Tampa Bay Rays—Evan Longoria
Longoria was the 3rd pick in the 2006 draft after the Stuart Sternberg operation took full control of running the then-Devil Rays. The Royals took Luke Hochevar with the first overall pick; the Rockies took Greg Reynolds next.
Of the top ten that year, the notable names are Brandon Morrow and Tim Lincecum—forever linked because the Mariners bypassed the local product Lincecum in favor of the more aesthetically pleasing Morrow (and I’d have done the same thing). Brad Lincoln went 4th to the Pirates; Clayton Kershaw was taken at 7 by the Dodgers.
You can make an argument for either being the Yankees “best” player.
The Yankees paid Sabathia a lot of money to sign with them.
Cano was signed as an amateur free agent in 2001; the Yankees had no clue what he was in the minors because if they did, they wouldn’t have offered him as part of the package for Alex Rodriguez; apparently the Rangers didn’t know either.
No one knew.
In fact, none other than that noted baseball expert Mike Francesa, along with then-partner Chris Russo, took joy in ridiculing the Yankees decision to bench Tony Womack in favor of Cano in 2005 when the move was initially made.
Boston Red Sox—Adrian Gonzalez
A couple of other Red Sox players like Kevin Youkilis could be considered the “best”; Youkilis was drafted in the 8th round of the 2001 draft by Dan Duquette’s unfairly criticized regime.
In an under-reported and swept-under-the-rug fact from Moneyball, Youkilis was going to be the compensation for the Athletics letting Billy Beane out of his contract to take over the Red Sox after 2002.
That wouldn’t have gone well.
Gonzalez was traded by the Marlins to the Rangers in 2003 for Ugueth Urbina and won a World Series they probably wouldn’t have won without Urbina.
The Rangers made one of the worst trades in major league history dealing Gonzalez and Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka; Rangers GM Jon Daniels has since said that the Rangers had a first baseman in Mark Teixeira and didn’t know how good Gonzalez was.
The Red Sox traded a package of prospects to the Padres for Gonzalez and signed him to a long-term contract for $154 million.
Toronto Blue Jays—Jose Bautista
Bautista is a case study of the ridiculousness of the draft.
He was a 20th round pick of the Pirates in 2000. He went to the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft in 2003; was selected off waivers by the Devil Rays in 2004; was purchased by the Royals three weeks later; was then traded to the Mets for Justin Huber; was spun off immediately back to the Pirates for Kris Benson. This all happened within a few weeks.
He was traded to the Blue Jays for a player to be named later in 2008.
Now he’s a wrecking machine and he didn’t establish himself until he was 29-years-old.
Baltimore Orioles—Adam Jones
Jones was the 37th pick in the 1st round by the Mariners in 2003. He was traded by then-Mariners GM Bill Bavasi to the Orioles in a package for Erik Bedard in what’s turned out to be a horrific trade for the Mariners.
Cleveland Indians—Shin-Soo Choo
If he was 100%, Grady Sizemore might be the Indians “best” player, but he’s not. The Indians took advantage of the fact that Expos GM Omar Minaya was under the impression that there would no longer be an Expos franchise after the 2002 season and got Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Lee Stevens for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew.
As for Choo, he was an undrafted free agent signee by the Mariners in 2000 and was traded to the Indians for Ben Broussard in 2006.
Detroit Tigers—Miguel Cabrera
Cabrera was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Marlins in 1999 out of Venezuela. The Marlins won a World Series with him as a blossoming and fearless young star in 2003, then traded him and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers in a salary dump for a package of youngsters after 2007.
Kansas City Royals—Billy Butler
Chicago White Sox—Paul Konerko
Minnesota Twins—Joe Mauer
It was a pick based on sentiment; it was a mistake.
Or so it was said.
Um. No. It wasn’t a mistake.
Oakland Athletics—Trevor Cahill
Cahill was plucked in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft and he was a dreaded….high school pitcher; the exact type of prospect the Athletics and Billy Beane (according to the twisted fantasies of Michael Lewis) were supposed to avoid.
Texas Rangers—Josh Hamilton
I think we all know the story of Josh Hamilton by now as a cautionary tale. The first pick in the 1999 draft by the Devil Rays, addiction nearly destroyed his entire life. Now he’s the reigning AL MVP.
Los Angeles Angels—Jered Weaver
Weaver was taken with the 12th pick of the 1st round in the 2004 draft.
Seattle Mariners—Felix Hernandez
The Venezuelan Hernandez was signed as an amateur free agent in 2002 at the age of 16.
Philadelphia Phillies—Roy Halladay
Those who try to manipulate you by not disclosing full details can use Halladay’s status as a 1st round pick in 1995 of the Blue Jays as an example of the value of 1st round picks.
But Halladay was a failure mentally and physically until coach Mel Queen lit into him, broke down his entire being and rebuilt him into the monster he’s become. The pitcher he is now is not the pitcher whom the Blue Jays drafted, 1st round or no 1st round.
Florida Marlins—Josh Johnson
Johnson was a 4th round pick in 2002 and is now one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.
Atlanta Braves—Jason Heyward
Heyward was drafted in the 1st round by the Braves in 2007 with the 14th pick; he’s an MVP candidate if he can stay healthy.
Washington Nationals—Ryan Zimmerman
Zimmerman was taken in the 1st round of the 2005 draft with the 4th pick.
New York Mets—Jose Reyes
Reyes was signed as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 1999 at age 16.
Cincinnati Reds—Joey Votto
St. Louis Cardinals—Albert Pujols
Pretty much the only issue I had with Jonah Keri’s book, The Extra 2% detailing the rise of the Rays, was the chapter that discussed how they missed on Pujols as an example of the Chuck LaMar regime’s cluelessness concerning the draft.
Everyone missed on Pujols.
Nobody thinks a 13th round pick is even going to make it, let alone become this era’s version of Joe DiMaggio, but that’s what Pujols is.
Would Keith Law or Jonathan Mayo even have known who Pujols was had they been focusing on the draft to the degree that they do today?
Milwaukee Brewers—Ryan Braun
Braun’s selection was discussed in the bit about Zimmerman.
You could make the argument that Prince Fielder, Zack Greinke or Yovani Gallardo are the Brewers “best” players. Fielder was said in Moneyball to be “too fat” for the A’s to draft in a draft in which they were intent on drafting players who weren’t would-be jeans models.
Fielder turned out pretty well I’d say.
Pittsburgh Pirates—Andrew McCutchen
I’m biased because I think McCutchen is going to be a MEGA-star. He too was in the Braun/Zimmerman draft.
Chicago Cubs—Starlin Castro
The Dominican Castro was signed as an amateur free agent at the age of 16 in 2006.
Houston Astros—Brett Wallace
It’s hard to pinpoint a “best” player on a team like the Astros, but Wallace qualifies I suppose.
Wallace was taken in the 1st round of the 2008 draft by the Cardinals and Ike Davis was taken a few picks later. Wallace was traded by the Cardinals to the A’s for Matt Holliday; traded by the A’s to the Blue Jays for Michael Taylor in the complicated series of deals involving Halladay and Lee; then was traded by the Blue Jays to the Astros for Anthony Gose.
Colorado Rockies—Troy Tulowitzki
Tulowitzki was taken in the 2005 draft detailed earlier.
San Francisco Giants—Tim Lincecum
The 10th pick in the 2006 draft, teams were scared off by his diminutive size (listed at 5’11″—YAH!! RIGHT!!!); his unique motion and training regimen that his stage father demanded not be altered in any way.
Back then, I would’ve drafted Kershaw and Morrow before Lincecum myself.
Los Angeles Dodgers—Matt Kemp
Kemp was taken in the 6th round of the 2003 draft. His attitude has long been a question, but his talent hasn’t.
Arizona Diamondbacks—Justin Upton
Upton was the first pick in the oft-mentioned 2005 draft. You can make a lukewarm argument against him, but he’s an excellent player.
San Diego Padres—Heath Bell
You can argue that Mat Latos is their best player, but right now it’s Bell.
Bell was picked by the Devil Rays in the 69th round of the 1997 draft but didn’t sign; he signed with the Mets as an amateur free agent in 1998. Much has been made of the Mets “failure” to give Bell a real opportunity and his clashes with then-pitching coach Rick Peterson.
Despite his frequent travel time on the Norfolk shuttle between the big leagues and Triple A, Bell did get a chance for the Mets and pitched poorly. The trade the Mets made of Bell and Royce Ring for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson was awful, but I’m sick of Bell complaining about how he was treated by the Mets.
If he’d pitched the way he is now, the Mets wouldn’t have traded him.
Are you starting to get my point?
Watching the draft to the degree that MLB and ESPN are trying to sell it is a waste of time, energy and sometimes money for the observers.
You never know which players are going to make it and from where they’re going to come.
Accept it or not, it’s the truth.
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