Extreme Drafting


I’m both fascinated and disturbed by extreme couponing.

I’ve never tried it myself and other than one woman in my office and people on TV, I don’t know anybody who really does it either, but it still blows my mind how people will pile up case after case of canned and boiled tripe because they have a double coupon that will actually pay them fifty cents to purchase.

It’s a very savvy way to take advantage of the constraints of the system.  The store will allow a coupon on top of a sale? Make it happen! Preparation and savvy allow them to push cart after cart out of the store at a steep discount from what most anybody else would pay.

And it’s exactly the same in baseball in the way teams will construct their franchises.

Wait, what?

Last night, the Royals awarded prep superstar Bubba Starling with a $7.5 million signing bonus to pry him away from a football scholarship to Nebraska.

If things work out, they’ll have gotten a bargain.

Here’s why:

If Bubba performs at the level that scouts and the Royals think he can, they’ll have a five tool athlete with plus power potential, great speed and defense and most importantly, youth.  He’s got the upside to be an All-Star multiple times and may end up being the perfect right-handed hitting complement to Eric Hosmer.  Maybe it’s a lot of hype, but Bubba could be an MVP candidate at some point in his young career.

That’s the lure of tools the general managers and scouts – unlimited potential in the person of a 19-year-old.

Once he makes his way up the ladder, Starling will be under the Royals control for six years at least (unless the collective bargaining agreement changes the free agency structure or he’s traded in there somehow – or busts).  For six years of MVP-caliber performance, the Royals spent $7.5 million dollars.  Granted, with his actual salary and whatever arbitration contracts he receives, that will climb north of $10 million, but still, for six years, that’s in the neighborhood of $2 million a season.

Like I said, a bargain.

It’s an investment not without its risks.  Starling played in eastern Kansas, not exactly a hotbed of baseball competition.  He’s played in national tournaments and such over the years, so he’s not isolated from the top prep talent out there, but his lack of exposure to regular star competition that a kid in Florida or California may see became a concern of some scouts.

Also it’s hard enough to make the big leagues, much less become a superstar.  The odds are against Bubba (as they are against any other first-rounder).  Most draft picks never even get close to the majors, and that includes many first round selections.

But assuming he makes it and reaches the lofty hopes that the Royals front office and Royals fans have for him, All-Star level production for $2 million a year is a steal.

That’s the way the Royals have to do it.  Consider how much it might take to sign a free agent with similar potential.  Jayson Werth signed a seven year $126 million contract this past offseason and has routinely been booed for his lack of production for the Nationals.  At almost $18 million a season, he’s going to have to turn things around to avoid being known as one of the biggest bust signings since free agency began.

So it’s not as if going after free agents is risk-free.  Look at what the Red Sox have gotten out of Carl Crawford.  Or how about what Andruw Jones got from Los Angeles in 2007.  There’s no guarantee of success just because the price tag is high.

To be fair, Crawford, Werth and Jones had a track record of great play in the big leagues when they signed.  Bubba has high school numbers.  The risk is greater when investing in the draft heavily and using resources on highly touted draft prospects, but the Royals will spend about as much on the draft and international signings as the Nationals will have on Werth.

It’s an investment.  With the draft, the Royals invest a healthy sum of money, but they do so on the idea that in the future, they’ll have a group of players who’ll be strong major leaguers at a steep discount from any free agent available.  It’s a strategy they’ve been employing since Dayton Moore took over, with a focus on creating a stream of minor league talent to eventually bubble up to the surface and break into the big leagues.

To do so, they’ve had to be creative.

While many other teams would pass up players with the fear that they’d either not sign or ask for more than they’d want to spend, Moore convinced David Glass to open up the pocket book and pour it into the minor leagues and international signings.

Since they’ve given big first-round bonuses to Mike Moustakas and Hosmer as well as making big impact signings in Latin America, bringing Noel Arguelles, Adalberto Mondesi, Cheslor Cuthbert and Elier Hernandez into the system recently and going up against the big market teams for their services.

All this money into a bunch of players who haven’t seen a pitch of professional baseball.  Yes, it’s scary.  It seems wasteful, and there will be some players who never approach their potential and skip away, signing bonus in tow. That’s part of the game as it is now.

But that aggressive approach pays off.  Wil Myers would  likely be about to start his junior year of college classes if the Royals weren’t willing to pay more than five times the recommended bonus to him in 2009.  They’ve also signed Chris Dwyer to a deal well above the slot amount, gave Brett Eibner twice the slot amount to have hm give up his last year of college, and got a top high school arm at the time in Tim Melville by paying up when other teams wouldn’t.

The Royals current payroll is just over $38 million.  This draft class earned bonuses totaling around $13 million and international signings worked out to about an additional $5-6 million.  They’ve spent nearly the equivalent of half of the current big league payroll on a bunch of kids.

The approach has allowed them to snag players who otherwise would have taken off for college.  Myers and Melville have been mentioned, but Jason Adam is another good pitching prospect who had a strong commitment to Missouri until the Royals signed him for nearly a million dollars last year.

This year, they’ve done similar magic, adding Bryan Brickhouse and Kyle Smith to the system, despite their commitments to college.  Later, they got Jack Lopez, a shortstop, with their biggest surprise signing of the draft.  All told, they signed seven players to deals that included money that would have been first-round type of money (Clint Scoles has a nice comparison to some signees and what draft position they’d be in based on slot recommendations).

Many experts agree that the Royals were big winners in the draft now that the signings have been announced.  They signed all of their top five picks and added some late picks that should have went much higher but slid due to signability questions (Lopez and Jake Junis come to mind).

With the group that’s in Kansas City now, the Royals still have Myers, Arguelles, Cuthbert, Jake Odorizzi, Christian Colon, Adam and others making their way up towards the majors.  You may have seen the term “second wave” used somewhere.  That’s the second wave.  You could say that this group of signees constitutes the third wave, but really, it’s more  like a group that will populate the minor leagues so as to create a stream of talent available for the big league club.

Successful teams create that pipeline.  The Twins seemed to have some big name player go down every year over the past few years, but there’s almost always been someone they had ready to call up to fill in.  That’s the Royals goal.

There’s no point to paying full retail when you can get similar production for a much better value.  There’s a lot of work yet to develop that talent, but hey, clipping coupons takes some work too.  If you look at those extreme coupon folks, they have stockpiles of food at the ready and honestly, they may never use most of it.  Similarly, a lot of the guys the Royals have signed in the last few years may never break out in the big leagues or even in Double A.

That’s the hard part.  Getting from a good signing to a good ballplayer.  The Royals have done their homework and worked out a plan.  The next step is to put it to action and get the cart rolling.

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