Archive for January 15th, 2011

At the same time the Tampa Bay Rays have been dismantling their major league team, the organization has also been stockpiling draft picks. In addition to the team’s own first round selection (32nd overall), the Rays have amassed eight more early picks. As a result, GM Andrew Friedman and his staff will have the ability to select nine of the first 59 players taken in the draft, or over 15% of the best amateurs in the game.

On the surface, the Rays’ position seems very advantageous, all things considered of course. Although it’s a shame that the team wasn’t able to keep its core of quality players together, at least it has a strategy in place to replenish the organization with talent. However, building through the draft is no longer without its own financial concerns.

Rays’ 2011 Draft Position, Versus 2010 Actual Selections

Pick From For   2010 Selection Team Bonus (mn)
24 Red Sox C. Crawford   G. Brown Giants  $1.450
31 Yankees R. Soriano   J. O’Conner Rays  $1.025
32 Own NA   C. Culver Yankees  $0.954
38 Suppl. C. Crawford   N. Syndergaard Blue Jays  $0.600
41 Suppl. R. Soriano   A. Wojciechowski Blue Jays  $0.815
42 Suppl. G. Balfour   D. Vettleson Rays  $0.845
52 Suppl. J. Benoit   S. Allie  Pirates  $2.250
56 Suppl. R. Choate   J.  Bradley D’backs  $0.643
59 Suppl. B. Hawpe   J. Gyorko Padres  $0.614
          Total  $9.198

Source: perfectgame.org (Bonus data)

Based on last year’s signing bonuses, the nine comparable selections that the Rays have in 2011 would cost approximately $9 million. For a team like Tampa, that’s a significant obligation, especially when you consider that the eventual payoff, if it ever occurs, would not be until years down the road. Based on that reality, it’s much easier to see why the team traded Matt Garza (and his expected $6 million salary), although it does make you scratch your head even more at the signing of Kyle Farnsworth for $3.25 million. In any event, the Rays will likely have to tighten their belt to afford the bill that will come due after the June Rule IV draft.

Because of all the payroll that has already been shed, the Rays should be able to meet a $9 million price tag (as well as any additional cost from their subsequent picks). However, it should be noted that talent doesn’t always dictate the order of draft selections. That’s why, for example, Stetson Allie, who was selected by the Pirates with the 52nd pick, earned a signing bonus that was double that paid by the Yankees to Cito Culver with the 31st selection. In other words, the referenced $9 million price tag wouldn’t cover the best players in the draft, but instead those with the best combination of ability and sign-ability.

The draft is already a crapshoot, so making selections based on economic concerns adds yet another layer of uncertainty to the process. In a perfect world, the Rays would be able to use their nine first round selections on the very best players available, but what would that approach cost?

Bonus Figures for Selected 2010 MLB Draftees

Pick Team Player  Bonus
28 Dodgers Zach Lee  $5,250,000
39 Red Sox Anthony Ranaudo  $2,550,000
44 Tigers Nick Castellanos  $3,450,000
45 Rangers Luke Jackson  $1,557,000
48 Tigers Chance Ruffin  $1,150,000
50 Cardinals Tyrell Jenkins  $1,300,000
116 Nationals A.J. Cole  $2,000,000
145 Yankees Mason Williams  $1,450,000
184 Padres John Barbato  $1,400,000
    Total  $20,107,000

Note: If drafted in order,  all of the players above would have been available to a team with the same draft picks as the Rays will have in 2011.
Source: perfectgame.org

Again using last year’s draft as a proxy, a team with the same draft picks as the Rays will have in 2011 would have spent over $20 million had they chosen the best players available, as defined by signing bonuses. Granted, a higher signing bonus doesn’t necessarily mean a better player, but the illustration is clear: it can be very expensive to have nine first round picks.

According to many in the know, the 2011 draft is expected to be talent laden. That could work in the Rays’ advantage by allowing them to pass over players with higher bonus demands. On the other hand, it could wind up exposing the team to even higher costs (assuming bonuses are paid on precedent and talent instead of supply and demand). If the latter market exists, the Rays may be forced to forfeit some of the value implied by their high draft slots (a problem exacerbated by MLB’s rule against trading Rule IV picks).

Sometimes when we talk about the value of a draft pick, we forget that it also has an associated cost. When you consider the inherent risks involved, both in terms of player development and brand diminishment (i.e., losing for a prolonged period on the major league level), building through the draft is not necessarily a pain-free strategy. It has worked for the Rays in the past, but not before having to endure a decade of awful baseball. Although the payoff from accumulating draft picks was two division titles and an A.L. pennant, it could be argued that the team’s inability to increase revenues and attendance are still the result of its earlier, more lengthy struggles.

The Rays situation in Tampa is defined by many unique economic realities, not the least of which is its isolated location in St. Petersburg, but ultimately the franchise will need a longer period of sustained success before it can truly gain economic viability. If the Rays take a significant step back in their current rebuilding program, the patience of the fan base could eventually run out. The Rays don’t have much margin for error in that regard, so in more ways than one, the future of the franchise could be riding on the impact of the 2011 draft.

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