Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Loss of a Draft pick for signing Encarnacion

In the afterglow of the signing of Edwin Encarnacion we should consider the impact of the Indians losing their first round pick from the 2017 draft.

First, realize that their Indians' first round pick (#27) was one of the lowest first round picks the Indians have had in its history, with only Danny Peoples (1996), Tim Drew (1997) and Lonnie Chisenhall (2008) being lower (NOTE: Corey Smith in 2000 was drafted in the 26th slot).   But the Indians, being a small market club, value their first round picks.  In fact, if I read the drafts correctly, this will only be the 3rd draft in the history of the ML draft in which the Indians do not have a pick before the second round of the draft (the other two being in 1987 and 1999)!

The are two things that really bother Indians' draftniks (of which I am one) about the loss of this pick:

1. As the Indians will not have a first round pick, their first selection will roughly be around #65, the second lowest first picks in Indians' history.  The only time the Indians ever picked lower was in 1999 when, against predominant opinion and, to the laughter of most of baseball, selected Wil Hartley at #74.   This is sometimes what happens when a team is reaching for the brass ring in a year they don't have a high pick.   That being said, in 1987 they took a flyer on Albert Belle (at #47) who was clearly talented but had attitude problems at LSU that hurt his draft status.   No matter how it worked out, this was a gamble, again something desperate teams might do when they don't have a first round pick.

2. The way the collective bargaining agreement CURRENTLY reads, the Indians will have a very small bonus pool with which to work.  Why?  Because the way bonus slotting works, the higher the draft pick the more the slot is worth.   Why does that matter?  Well, teams with very high draft picks generally have very big bonus pools.  In the past those teams, including the Indians, have been able to save a little money on their first round picks that they were able to spread around to picks after the first round, maybe being able to sign HS players away from college commitments by giving them more money than other ML teams were willing to give them.  Right now the Indians can't do that and really, in the 2017 draft, basically have two possible strategies; (a) draft a bunch of guys at slot value, meaning the depth of their draft could be good but the star power not good or (b) draft a bunch of college seniors in the first 10 rounds and save most of their bonus pool for 1 or 2 guys who drop out of the first round due to bonus demands that are perceived by the industry as being too high for whatever reason.   Either of these paths are generally seen by draftniks as possible disaster scenarios for the Indians' acquisition of talent to keep their prospect pipeline flowing along.

Now, I don't know what the Indians are thinking about this but, for me, losing a pick so low in the first round is not the end of the world for a few reasons:

1. The slot amount for that pick is so low there really isn't a lot of slack in that pick to save money.

2. Since we only got a competitive balance pick at the end of round 2 instead of last year when we got that pick at the end of round 1, there is a much lower possibility that there will be any impact players left who we can go over slot with meaning we are more likely to use scenario (a) above.   If we do that we will have money to spare compared to last year's draft and will have to find impact talent in a different way, which brings me to...

3. The Indians are normally very frugal spenders in the international free agent market.  They have not paid millions of dollars to the top international amateur free agents nor have they signed professional free agents from Asia or even Cuba due to high price tags.   Instead, they have spread their money around hoping to out-scout the other teams to get more prospects for less money per prospect.  This philosophy has worked to some extent as the Indians have obtained prospects like Danny Salazar going this route.  In 2017, if the Indians take excess scouting dollars and excess bonus dollars they won't have to use to scout a bunch of and pay a first round pick, they will have the ability, and should use it, to not take this volume-over-quality approach and, rather, spend most of their money on a few top international free agents.   They also have 6 months to do the leg work in places like the Dominican Republic and in the professional and amateur leagues in Asia to identify a couple of guys who they want to treat like first round picks in this draft.  If you see the Indians trade guys for international pool spending dollars it will be a good indicator they are going that way.   Even without, that, however, they still should be able to get some star quality prospects if they just sign a few high value prospects rather than a number of lower value prospects.

So, if the Indians take the international approach I suggested above, it is very possible that the 2017 draft plus international signing period combined could yield a very strong influx of talent into the organizationn.    

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