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Major League Baseball and the Players Association aren’t close to hammering out a new collective bargaining agreement under the acrimony of a lockout, partially because both sides think time can allow them to flex leverage, and partially because there are so many areas in need of significant consideration.
One of them is the draft, where the traditional order of rewarding the worst team with the top pick is one of the elements that makes tanking so appealing to so many teams. The MLBPA — and the sport in general — would be better served by more teams trying harder, so perhaps the approach shouldn’t be quite so simple anymore.
The idea of a draft lottery appears to have some pull for both sides, although there’s a discrepancy between how many of the top spots should be subject to chance. No matter the number, one can look at the NBA and say that introducing a lottery element doesn’t stop teams from losing their hardest.
That’s why Jayson Stark examined an idea for overhauling the draft that would completely remove any reward for piling up losses. It’s an equally simple idea as the current structure, except reversed. In this scenario, the team that picks first is the first team on the outside of the postseason looking in.
So here’s the idea for this plan, which we’ll call (for now) the Tanks But No Tanks plan: Let’s not award the top picks in the amateur draft to the teams that lose 112, 104 and 101 games in the previous season. Let’s award those picks to teams that just miss the playoffs, not teams that lose hope by Mother’s Day. […]
So why do this? It’s simple.
You’re not getting that No. 1 pick — the next Harper/Cole/Strasburg, plus all the draft-pool money that goes with it — by tanking. There’s only one way you can get that pick — by trying. How ’bout that for a revolutionary concept.
Later in the piece, Stark identifies why it hasn’t been floated at meaningful levels. The big one is that in a system where the worst team gets the 20th pick, it makes it harder to climb out of a downward cycle, especially in a hard-slot system where teams can’t throw all the resources they want into their farm system. It’d probably solve tanking in the short term, but it could see a situation where it cements the have-nots in the cellar, unless teams are given the ability to trade/hoard draft picks. When assessing the impact of the draft alone, it’s understandable why a lottery or limit of top-three or top-five picks is easier to accept.
Still, given that the White Sox have finished in the middle third of the draft after failed attempts at contending numerous times last decade, it made me wonder what kind of reward they would’ve reaped from winning 78 games instead of settling for 68. And since there is no other baseball news to discuss, we have the time to plot it out.
It doesn’t make much sense to retrace the history before 2012, when slot values were merely a suggestion. The White Sox typically allocated minimal resources to amateur talent in the days before codified draft pools, and while they’d occasionally pony up for a Gordon Beckham ($2.6 million) when they had the opportunity to select him eighth, they seldom spent disproportionately, whether relative to the assigned slot or the status of the round, or the order of later rounds.
For instance, If the White Sox had the opportunity to draft Buster Posey in 2008, I’m skeptical they would’ve ponied up the $6.2 million the Giants ended up spending. They probably would’ve adhered more closely to Baltimore’s approach, as the Orioles settled for Brian Matusz for $3 million cheaper one pick earlier, even though they ended up getting what they paid for.
The hard slot values introduced in 2012 dragged down the spending of teams to the White Sox’s level, and made every player theoretically affordable, even if the White Sox would’ve allocated resources differently.
MOVING ON UP
- Original pick: 13th
- Revised pick: Ninth
- Originally selected: Courtney Hawkins, $2.475M
- Could’ve selected: Andrew Heaney, David Dahl, Addison Russell, Gavin Cecchini
Hawkins registers as one of the bigger draft busts in White Sox history. It’s not so much that he fell short of the majors, but it’s arguable that he never even earned a shot at Double-A. Hawkins had pitch-recognition issues, but the White Sox mangled his development by letting him drown in Winston-Salem at age 19. Bad job all around.
The solace is that getting bumped up a few spots wouldn’t have changed much, in terms of who teams thought was worth an investment in that slot range. Sure, everybody reached the majors, but Russell turned out to be the only difference-maker, and it turns out that he wasn’t a human worth investing in.
All of the bigger regrets show up after the White Sox’s original position. The Nationals met Lucas Giolito‘s $2.925 million demands at No. 16, but the Dodgers landed Corey Seager with the 18th pick for less than Hawkins ($2.35 million), and Marcus Stroman went from Duke University to the Blue Jays for $1.8 million at No. 22.
- Original pick: 17th
- Revised pick: Fourth
- Originally selected: Tim Anderson, $2.164M
- Could’ve selected: Clint Frazier, Colin Moran, Austin Meadows, Dom Smith, D.J. Peterson, Hunter Renfroe
Sometimes limitations inspire creativity, and here’s a case where the White Sox were better off with more meager mid-round resources, because after Kris Bryant went second and Jon Gray third, the correlation between money and production tailed off dramatically.
Even when including Gray, Anderson is the third-most productive player of the 2013 draft. He’s posted 17 WAR so far, which is only behind Bryant (28.7) and Aaron Judge (26.4), who was taken by the Yankees at pick No. 32. Cody Bellinger is the only other guy in the neighborhood, having accrued 16.7 WAR after the Dodgers picked him up in the fourth round for $700,000. It’s always good to be the Dodgers, but the White Sox fared just fine here.
- Original pick: 11th
- Revised pick: 10th
- Originally selected: Jake Burger, $3.7M
- Could’ve selected: Jo Adell
While Jake Burger lost three whole seasons to a pair of Achilles ruptures, related injuries and the pandemic, nobody else in the first round has really taken advantage of the head start. Miami’s Trevor Rogers leads all first-round picks with 3.2 WAR so far, with Boston’s Tanner Houck behind him at 2.9. Shane Baz might be competing for the first spot next year, and prospects like Hunter Greene, Alex Faedo and Nick Pratto are all in good shape developmentally, but Burger has battled back to a position where he might end up holding his own.
Moving up one spot might’ve afforded the White Sox the opportunity to draft Adell, who instead went to the Angels. Adell’s been the hotter prospect, peaking at top-three consideration before the 2020 season, but he hasn’t been able to solve MLB pitching in his first two tries at it. Time’s on his side since he only turns 23 next April, but for the time being, Burger can say he’s done a little more with his playing time.
- Original pick: 11th
- Revised pick: 10th
- Originally selected: Garrett Crochet, $4.5475M
- Could’ve selected: Reid Detmers
Even if the pandemic didn’t throw the entire 2020 draft process into chaos, it would be relatively useless to try to rewrite history for this year simply due to the recency.
At least for most teams. Here, I have some confidence of what might’ve happened, because the Angels selected Detmers one pick ahead of the White Sox, and just try to imagine the Sox passing on a Louisville Cardinal.
SLIDING ON DOWN
- Original pick: Third
- Revised pick: 18th
- Originally selected: Carlos Rodón, $6.582M
- Slot value says: Brandon Finnegan or Casey Gillaspie
- Best-case scenario: Matt Chapman
The White Sox’s 99-loss season in 2013 wasn’t enough to get the first overall pick in 2014, but they did get their first choice in Carlos Rodón, who has proven to be a far wiser pick than the two prep arms picked before him (Brady Aiken and Tyler Kolek). Injuries prevented the White Sox from seeing a fully realized career, but a fifth-place finish in Cy Young voting accomplishes the proof of concept.
The Sox would’ve had the 18th pick under Stark’s model, which would’ve been a bitter pill to swallow with its assigned value of $2.1456M. That kind of money would’ve netted a Finnegan (17th pick) or Gillaspie (20th), and this winter the former joined the latter in coming to the Sox on a minor-league contract. Matt Chapman ended up going to Oakland with the 25th pick, so all wouldn’t have been lost. At 23.2 bWAR, he’s been the first round’s third-most productive player behind Trea Turner (24.7) and Aaron Nola (24.2).
- Original pick: Eighth
- Revised pick: 12th to 14th
- Originally selected: Carson Fulmer, $3.4706M
- Slot value says: James Kaprielian or Phil Bickford
- Best-case scenario: Walker Buehler
The White Sox finished with the same record as the Cubs and Phillies in 2014. They won the tiebreaker in the real draft because they had the worst record of the three teams the year before, but in a system where winning is incentivized, perhaps they would’ve finished at the bottom of the procedure this time, hence the three-pick range.
The middle of the first round featured a lot of prep talent, as Tyler Stephenson, Josh Naylor, Niskayuna’s Garrett Whitley, Kolby Allard and Trent Grisham went 11th through 15th. If you believe the White Sox would’ve picked a college arm over any prep player of note, then they probably would’ve landed Kaprielian, who went to the Yankees at No. 16 and was tied to the White Sox throughout the process. The hope would be that they would’ve fallen in love with Buehler while scouting Fulmer during Vanderbilt’s glorious 2014-15 run.
- Original pick: Fourth
- Revised pick: 17th
- Originally selected: Nick Madrigal, $6.4114M
- Slot value says: Brice Turang or Nolan Gorman
- Others: Brady Singer, Nico Hoerner, Trevor Larnach, Seth Beer, Shane McClanahan
If the White Sox were willing to trade Madrigal for Craig Kimbrel, then it’s hard to say the White Sox would’ve been more attached to a lower first-round pick. That said, if they were picking 17th instead of fourth, they might’ve gotten the chance to draft Singer where they Royals ended up selecting him (18th for slightly over slot), as they were said to have considered the Florida righty at No. 4.
Or perhaps the Sox would’ve scouted Larnach just as heavily as they did Madrigal, as the Twins selected the other Oregon State Beaver at No. 20. Kenny Williams would’ve had the opportunity to tap Stanford for Hoerner (Cubs, No. 22), or maybe everybody gets their favorite jersey thanks to Beer, who went to Houston at No. 28. Gorman, who went to the Cardinals for slot at No. 19, looks like he would’ve been the best outcome at this point.
- Original pick: Third
- Revised pick: 18th
- Originally selected: Andrew Vaughn, $7.2212M
- Slot value says: Quinn Priester
- Others: Zack Thompson, Ethan Small
The White Sox’s highest draft pick in forever left relatively little mystery as to who they wanted to pick. That makes second-guessing a lot harder 15 spots away, especially since there isn’t a whole lot of performance to separate players taken in the back half of the round. That section of the draft was heavy on college arms and shortstops, so maybe they end up with somebody like Texas A&M shortstop Braden Shewmake (21st, Braves) or UNC-Wilmington infielder Greg Jones (22nd, Rays).
Thompson, who went 19th to the Cardinals for a little under slot, is the closest college arm. But perhaps the original 18th pick ends up going to the White Sox. I’d normally rule out a prep arm like Priester, who ended up going to the Pirates, but since he’s a product of Cary-Grove High School in the Northwest Suburbs, perhaps the White Sox couldn’t have resisted the local pull. Priester’s doing what he can so far to live up to the billing.
STAYING THE SAME
- Original pick: 10th
- Revised pick: 10th or 11th
- Originally selected: Zack Collins
Maybe the White Sox flip spot with the Mariners, but the Mariners selected Kyle Lewis a pick after the White Sox, and based on the early returns, I imagine they’d like him just as much one spot earlier. Basically, no matter which way you flip it, there’s no universe where the White Sox don’t draft Collins.
(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)