MLB Draft Dollars And The Strategy Of Spending

Why do I get the feeling that with all the talk about clubs spending, spending and spending some more in the MLB Draft, that 2011 will wind up going down as the year that teams overspent and got little return?

We can go up and down, back and forth with the arguments for carting wheelbarrows of cash in the draft and bringing in top-quality talent, but the fact remains that the draft is the ultimate crapshoot.

As opposed to one of the most idiotic assertions in Moneyball that the genius Billy Beane was counting cards in a casino (repeated by Michael Lewis in the afterword/extra chapter of the paperback version as if saying something stupid once wasn’t enough), all you can do with drafted players is hope.

Naturally giving them an opportunity to play in the majors instead of continually bringing in veterans is a key to their development and becoming useful big leaguers, but the truth about the draft is that you don’t know until you know.

Picking a year at random (and I’m actually picking a year at random) with 2004 and the 1st round.

How many “star” players are there? There are two: Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver.

Apart from that, you have useful cogs (Huston Street; Jeff Niemann; Phil Hughes; Neil Walker; J.P. Howell; Gio Gonzalez); the underdeveloped (Bill Bray; Homer Bailey; Blake DeWitt; Philip Humber); and the busts (Matt Bush; Jon Poterson; Greg Golson).

Being a 1st round pick and getting a load of money increases expectations and the amount of time a player is going to get with the organization. The bigger amounts of attention and money they receive, the more a club is going to want to get some kind of return on that investment; that goes a long way in keeping a player employed and moving up the ladder even if he doesn’t deserve it.

The obvious and easy response to any failure or perceived success is to go all in. So if teams are seen to be “winning” with the Moneyball system, that’s what will come en vogue; if teams win by signing veteran players, that will be the new strategy.

It’s the same with the draft and development—others will copy it while it appears to be working; then they’ll move on to something else.

The drafted players have taken advantage of MLB’s complete lack of competence in implementing the bonus slots. The reliance on the draft to find players not to collect and trade, but to use is making them more valuable and the bonuses reflect that. But simply spending isn’t the answer on the big league level nor in the draft; it’s a matter of picking correctly.

This strategy of spending might be a one-and-out, because judging from history, it’s unlikely to succeed as well as the money or public accolades indicate it should.

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  1. #1 by Patrick on August 18, 2011 - 3:41 pm

    You are focusing only on the first round. Historically yes many first round picks don’t amount to much, but sometimes they amount to enough to acquire major league players in a year or two while they are still at A or AA ball.

    But moreover, spending in the draft has more to do than the first round. The Mets for example picked up about 7-8 guys who likely were headed to college to elevate their draft status to go higher and get a bigger signing bonus in 2 years.

    Its a risky proposition but the more risks you take the more rewards you will reap.

    • #2 by admin on August 18, 2011 - 3:50 pm

      The failures and successes of the 1st round were just an example. The point being that this focus on teams spending so much money in this year’s draft is going to boomerang into another bout of extreme thinking that this is the way to do it with little deviation from that strategy.
      Of course the draft is important as is finding players in latter rounds, but it’s not the final arbiter in building up the organization; nor is it as important as it’s being made out to be with this incessant attention paid to it by a large segment of people who don’t know much of anything to start with.

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