Mark Prior

Redoing the 2001 MLB draft


It’s arguable whether even 10 years is long enough to properly evaluate a baseball draft, but it’s good enough for these purposes. I’m going to hit the reset button on the 2001 draft and redo all of the first-round picks based on what we know now. I am excluding 2001 draftees who didn’t sign after getting picked. That group includes such talents as Andre Ethier, Ian Kinsler, Nick Markakis and Stephen Drew.

Here’s the first 10. I’ll be posting part two Thursday and finishing the first round on Friday.

1. Minnesota Twins
Actual: Joe Mauer
Redo: Joe Mauer

The belief at the time was that the Twins were being thrifty. Scouts tended to agree that Mauer would have been a legitimate No. 1 pick most years, but the 2001 draft had two outstanding, near-MLB-ready talents in Mark Prior and Mark Teixeira, the kind of guys who typically come around once every five or 10 years. Mauer, on the other hand, was a high school catcher, and high school catchers had pretty much the worst track record of any position selected high in drafts.

Of course, Mauer delivered on all of his promise and the Twins got to issue a big “I told you so.” Whether Mauer has actually been more valuable than Teixeira through 10 years is arguable — Teixeira has played in 440 more games — but there’s no doubt the Twins are sticking with their selection.

2. Chicago Cubs
Actual: Mark Prior
Redo: Dan Haren (72nd pick, Cardinals)

Prior was the pretty obvious choice for the Cubs at the time. He was the best pitcher to come out of the college ranks in at least 10 years, and it looked like he’d contend for multiple Cy Young Awards after he arrived in the majors in 2002. Of course, we all know what happened after that. Injuries struck following a terrific 2003 season, and he hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2006, his age-25 season.

So, I’m giving Haren to the Cubs, over Teixeira. Obviously, Teixeira was the No. 2 player in this draft. However, the Cubs pulled off terrific swindles of Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee in 2003, and having Haren in the rotation would have made a bigger difference for the team during its 2007 and ’08 player off runs than Teixeira would have.

That said, if the Cubs had won the World Series in 2003, I would have left them with Prior. Without him, there would have been no NLCS appearance and no Steve Bartman.

3. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Actual: Dewon Brazelton
Redo: Mark Teixeira (5th pick, Rangers)

The Rays spent big in the first couple years of their history, signing Fred McGriff, Wilson Alvarez, Greg Vaughn and Vinny Castilla to sizeable free agent deals, but it wasn’t resulting in much of the way of wins or attendance. Becoming tighter with their money, they passed over Teixeira to select Brazelton in the 2001 draft. It was a huge mistake. Brazelton ended up going 8-25 with a 6.38 ERA in parts of five big-league seasons.

So, I’ll give Teixeira to the Rays. However, I was tempted to look elsewhere. If the Rays had Teixeira, I doubt they would have been in position to draft Evan Longoria third overall in 2006 and David Price first in 2007. Perhaps they’re better off today because they got so little out of the third pick in the 2001 draft and the first overall pick in 1999 (Josh Hamilton).

4. Philadelphia Phillies
Actual: Gavin Floyd
Redo: Ryan Howard (140th pick, Phillies)

With the redo, the Phillies are going to have to take their fifth-round pick first. I wonder if Howard would have had to wait so long to reach the majors had he been drafted fourth overall, rather than 140th. The Phillies probably wouldn’t have given Jim Thome a six-year, $85 million contract prior to the 2003 season had they been looking at Howard as a future star at the time. However, there wasn’t much hype surrounding Howard. He had just finished his first full pro season hitting .280/.367/.460 with 19 homers in low-A ball. Those are solid enough numbers, but they didn’t suggest stardom, not when Howard was already 22 years old.

5. Texas Rangers
Actual: Mark Teixeira
Redo: David Wright (38th pick, Mets)

Not a bad consolation prize for Texas. Actually, this could have worked out extraordinarily well. Since the Rangers already had Hank Blalock at third base, they decided to move Teixeira to first upon his arrival to the majors, and that left them with no place for Adrian Gonzalez With no Teixeira, perhaps they would have kept Gonzalez instead of trading him to San Diego, giving them the best corner-infield situation in the majors for the last half-dozen years.

6. Montreal Expos
Actual: Josh Karp
Redo: Kevin Youkilis (243rd pick, Red Sox)

Five of the next seven picks in the 2001 draft were pitchers who never reached the majors. Karp stayed healthy, but simply never developed, going 20-31 with a 5.07 ERA in three seasons between Double- and Triple-A. The Expos’ redo nets them Youkilis, who lasted all of the way to the eighth round before the Red Sox snatched him up. Had Youkilis been able to entrench himself at third base, perhaps the Nationals would have gone with Troy Tulowitzki over Ryan Zimmerman in the 2005 draft.

7. Baltimore Orioles
Actual: Chris Smith
Redo: C.J. Wilson (141st pick, Rangers)

Smith looked like the reach of the top 10 anyway, and he got hurt immediately after signing. The Orioles were hoping Teixeira fell to them here or, if not him, then fellow Marylander Gavin Floyd. I thought about giving them Floyd, but even though Floyd still holds the edge on career value, Wilson is the much more dynamic pitcher now. Of course, things could have turned out much differently for Wilson and maybe they would have had he pitched for the Orioles instead of the Rangers. The Orioles may well have had him in the rotation all along, and perhaps he would have experienced additional arm problems due to all of the innings he was throwing.

8. Pittsburgh Pirates
Actual: John Van Benschoten
Redo: Dan Uggla (338th pick, Diamondbacks)

What I’d really like to do here is give Van Benschoten to the Pirates as an outfielder instead. Most teams liked him better as a hitter, but the Pirates thought he had terrific upside on the mound. We’ll never know whether they were right, since Van Benschoten tore up his shoulder in 2004 and failed to regain his stuff. Instead, the Pirates get Uggla, though I’m not sure they would have known any better than the Diamondbacks did what they had in him. Arizona lost Uggla to the Marlins in the Dec. 2005 Rule 5 draft, and since Freddy Sanchez had just come up and turned in a successful rookie season in 2005, perhaps the Pirates would have failed to protect him, too.

9. Kansas City Royals
Actual: Colt Griffin
Redo: J.J. Hardy (56th pick, Brewers)

The Royals took the draft’s hardest thrower and hoped he’d become a pitcher; as with pretty much everything else the team tried in the early part of the decade, it didn’t work out. Griffin peaked in Double-A and finished out his career in 2005, posting a 36/43 K/BB ratio in 56 innings as a reliever in the Texas League. Hardy hasn’t been spectacular — well, not until this year anyway — but he gives the Royals the steady shortstop they’ve badly needed for, oh, about 35 years now.

10. Houston Astros
Actual: Chris Burke
Redo: Mark Prior (2nd pick, Cubs)

Though most expected that he’d need to move from short to second base, Burke looked like one of the draft’s sure things coming out of Tennessee. Unfortunately, he didn’t prove to be much of a second baseman either, and he didn’t have the bat to make it as an outfielder. In his place, I’m sending Prior to Houston. Of course, Prior has done nothing since 2006, but neither have the Astros, and a healthy Prior in 2003 and 2005 could have made a big difference. In 2003, Prior’s near-Cy Young season, the Astros finished one game back of the Cubs for first place in the NL Central (of course, in this alternate history, the Cubs don’t have Prior and don’t finish 88-74 anyway). In 2005, when Prior went 11-7 with a 3.67 ERA, the Astros lost the World Series to the White Sox.

Tigers in discussions with Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.

Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.

Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero

Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.