The Pros and Cons of Trading Draft Picks

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Thumbnail image for stephen strasburg jersey.jpgDay two of’s “Fixing the Draft” series deals with something for which just about everybody has advocated in some fashion in recent years: trading draft picks.

While the article is set up as a pro-con piece, the pros get about 90% of the space, with the only real cons cited being that (a) a team may just decide to punt the draft over time out of cheapness, thus depriving it of the one tool it has at its disposal to replenish its talent base; and (b) the rich teams will consistently trade for the top picks, allowing them to monopolize the amateur draft.

But these aren’t real dangers. For starters, as Keith Law pointed out in his comprehensive analysis of trading picks last summer (sorry, Insider only), teams are contractually obligated to field short-season clubs and they need bodies to fill roster spots in the low minors, so it’s not like anyone is going to punt their whole draft. As for trading away early round picks: teams can already do that via free-agent signings and do so all the time. The smart teams will keep early picks when it makes sense and trade them when they’re being overwhelmed with good offers from other teams. It’s a self-policing process for all but the truly moronic teams out there, and they were beyond help anyway.

And no, those overwhelming offers from the Yankees of the world won’t begin to dominate the draft. Why? There always has been and always will be a huge number of draft busts. That’s just how baseball works: the talent is so far from the majors when it’s selected, the odds of even the highest picks turning into major league studs is pretty damn low.

If the Yankees trade stuff to pick high in the draft enough times, they’re going to
experience diminishing returns, taking two or three guys like Matt Bush for every Stephen Strasburg (and Strasburg could be a bust too — we don’t know yet).  When this happens, eventually the Yankees are going to stop
trading so much and so often for these picks. Indeed, because the Yankees are smart, they’ll realize this from the beginning and won’t have to learn the hard way.

Ultimately I can see very little downside to the trading of picks. It gives teams flexibility. It would stir up more excitement in the draft itself. Moreover, it would likely have some depressive effects on draft bonuses due to the fact that top players may not demand huge bonuses to scare away the undesirable franchises from selecting them.

Upshot: I can see the players agreeing to this change in the 2011 CBA, and I think it will happen.

Braves and Jim Johnson reunite on a one-year contract

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 17: Jim Johnson #53 of the Atlanta Braves throws a ninth inning pitch against the Chicago Cubs at Turner Field on July 17, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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Jim Johnson enjoyed some success out of the Braves’ bullpen this season until a midseason trade to the Dodgers and Mark Bowman of reports that he has returned to Atlanta on a one-year contract. No word yet on the terms involved.

After an awful 2014 between the Athletics and Tigers, Johnson signed a one-year deal with the Braves last winter and bounced back to the tune of a 2.25 ERA and 33/14 K/BB ratio over 48 innings. He also saved nine games. However, things went south for him after a trade to the Dodgers in Los Angeles, as he put up an ugly 10.13 ERA in 23 appearances. He was left off the team’s roster for the NLDS against the Mets.

It’s unclear what role the Braves have in mind for Johnson, as Arodys Vizcaino finished the season as the closer, but they have made upgrading their bullpen a priority this winter.

Report: Barry Bonds under consideration to be the Marlins hitting coach

Barry Bonds

This shouldn’t cause any controversy, lead to a lot of people saying dumb things or provide fodder for jokes at all. Nope, none whatsoever:

In what promises to be a bombshell move, if executed, all-time great slugger Barry Bonds is under consideration to become Marlins hitting coach.

Team higherups have quietly been discussing this possibility for weeks.

That’s Jon Heyman, who reminds us that Bonds has worked with the Giants in the spring in recent years. And who, no matter what else you can say about him, was one of the greatest hitters the game has ever seen. Also worth remembering that despite his controversial past, that greatness came not just from physical gifts, naturally or artificially bestowed. It came from his approach, preparation and strategy at the plate. No one can teach a hitter to hit like Barry Bonds, but you’d think that hitters could be taught to try to approach an at bat the way Barry Bonds would. And who better to do it than Barry Bonds?

That is, if Bonds is willing to drop his seemingly ideal retired life in San Francisco, move to Miami and work for Jeff Loria for nine months a year. Which, eh, who knows? But the possibility of it is pretty fascinating to think about.

Yadier Molina’s new backup: Cardinals sign Brayan Pena to two-year deal

Brayan Pena Reds
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Veteran catcher Brayan Pena has agreed to a two-year, $5 million contract with the Cardinals, who’re investing much more than usual in their backup for Yadier Molina.

After bouncing around for a decade without getting even 250 plate appearances in a season Pena signed with the Reds and topped 350 plate appearances in both 2014 and 2015. His production didn’t improve any, as Pena hit .263 with five homers and a .652 OPS in 223 games as a regular.

Pena’s best skill is rarely striking out, which enables him to hit for a decent batting average, but he has very little power and swings at everything. He struggled to control the running game this season at age 33, but has a decent throw-out rate for his career.

Making a multi-year commitment to Pena suggests the Cardinals are no longer counting on Molina being the same type of workhorse behind the plate, which certainly makes sense given his age and injury history. Pena will replace Tony Cruz, who’s been Molina’s understudy since 2011 while hitting just .220 with five homers and a .572 OPS in 259 games.

While we wait for free agent signings: Andrew McCutchen stars in a one-act play

Andrew McCutchen
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It’s a pretty slow offseason so far. We’ve had a couple of minor signings. I guess Jordan Zimmermann is sort of a big deal. But it’s a lot more quiet so far this year than it was this time last year. I suppose there’s no real rhyme nor reason for it. Baseball offseason is long, there is no salary cap and thus there’s no rush to do things too quickly.

So, while we wait, here’s Andrew McCutchen doing his best to kill time until spring training starts: