I'll admit it. When I saw that the Cardinals didn't offer arbitration to Braden Looper, I was more than a little bit puzzled. It seems like a win/ win proposition to me; either Looper signs elsewhere on a multi-year deal, and the Cardinals take the draft picks, or Looper accepts and comes back in 2009 to help shore up the backside of the Cards' rotation. Not a bad deal either way.
Well, after further reflection, as well as discussing it with several people, I still kinda just don't get it. Reading over the comments section from yesterday's post here, I see that a lot of people are of the opinion that the economy is beginning to have a real impact on the way teams are approaching player signings and retention this year. I suppose I can see that; when the Yankees don't offer any of their players arbitration either, it's clear that something pretty serious is going on here. Even so, I still think that not offering Looper arbitration is the kind of move that could very well come back and bite the Cardinals in the ass if they don't make some sort of additional moves to shore up the pitching heading into next season.
Anyhow, I think the economics of the thing have been debated pretty thoroughly here; I really don't have a whole lot to add. What I wanted to do today is take a look at the type of draft pick the Cards are passing up here by refusing to offer arbitration to Looper, both from the Cardinals' perspective and in a more general sense.
Someone in the comments yesterday went through the Cards' drafts from the last thirty years or so and came up with how many players they've gotten contributions from out of the first and supplemental rounds. I didn't get nearly that involved, as I was more interested in the recent drafting habits, specifically since the Cardinals overhauled their scouting and drafting wing.
In the 2008 draft, the Cards had one pick in the compensatory round, and they used it to take Lance Lynn, a college righthander out of the University of Mississippi. The actual value of Lynn won't be known for quite a while, so any speculation on how well the Cards did here is essentially useless at this point. However, I will say that two of my very favourite players in the entire draft went in the supplemental round this year. Jake Odorizzi, the high school kid from Highland, Illinois, went to the Brewers with the 32nd overall pick, and Ryan Flaherty, a shortstop out of Vanderbilt, went to the Cubs at 41. Flaherty especially hurt me, because the Cards passed on him to take Lynn, and I think that Flaherty could have been a part of the Cardinal middle infield sooner rather than later.
Of the other players in the supplemental round in '08, the most notable might be Conor Gillaspie, a third baseman out of Wichita State who a lot of analysts are saying may be the closest player to the majors of any 2008 draftee. Still, it's too early to really rate many of these players. Got to give it some time.
Going back to 2007, we've got a little bit better view. The Cardinals had a sandwich pick in '07, and they used it to take Clayton Mortensen, the sinkerballer out of Gonzaga who finished up his first full season in Triple A. Mortensen's ultimate ceiling is certainly debatable, but he's almost guaranteed to contribute in some fashion at the major league level in the next season or two. Not a bad deal.
Other notable players from the '07 sandwich round:
- Josh Smoker, LHP- #31 (Nationals)
- Nick Noonan, SS/2B- #32 (Giants)
- Todd Frazier, SS- #34 (Reds)
- Brett Cecil, LHP- #38 (Blue Jays)
- Sean Doolittle, 1B #41 (Athletics)
- Josh Donaldson, C #48 (Cubs)
- Nick Hagadone, LHP #55 (Red Sox)
That's a pretty good group, to be honest. Smoker is a high school lefty with a big ceiling. Noonan is likely to move to second eventually from his drafted position of shortstop, but his bat is very real. Frazier has pretty much zero chance of playing in the middle infield at the major league level, but is proving to be an absolute monster on the offensive side of the game. Josh Donaldson, the catcher that the Cubs nabbed at 48, was a part of the package that brought them Rich Harden this summer.
Like I said, this is really a solid group. All the players listed above look as if they could very well end up being major league players before all is said and done. Of course, there are also plenty of other guys taken in the supplemental round that haven't done anything to impress yet, but I think it should be clear that there are some very good players available in the 31-50 sort of range that the supplemental round usually covers.
The Cardinals had a sandwich pick in 2006 as well, and they took the Wild Thing himself with said pick, Mr. Christopher Perez. So far, it's looking like a fantastic draft pick, as Perez has put himself into position that one could consider him the favourite to close for the Birds next year in less than three years since his was drafted. He's not perfect, of course, but even if Perez doesn't end up improving his control enough to close, he already has a ton of value in a trade, or as a setup type reliever. Excellent value overall.
The 2006 sandwich round was not, to be honest, a particularly distinguished one. The Dodgers started it out by taking Preston Mattingly at 31, and Mattingly has failed to distinguish himself in pro ball to this point. Unfortunately, that appears to have set the tone for the entire supplemental round that year, as there are only a couple of names that really jump out at you.
- Joba Chamberlain, RHP #41 (Yankees)
- Emanuel Burriss, SS #33 (Giants)
- Adrian Cardenas, SS/2B #37 (Phillies)
- Pedro Beato, RHP #32 (Orioles)
Like I said, not a whole lot of players here that just absolutely jump out at you, but there is one pretty serious name on that list. Chamberlain was seen as a risky pick at the time, a heavy kid with a good fastball but work ethic and injury issues. We all know how things have gone since then. Burriss is looking like the Giants' second baseman of the very near future, and projects to be a solid top of the order type hitter with good speed and a glove that most consider to be a bit better than average. Cardenas' name has been tossed around a lot in trade rumours, and he has very good value.
Going back to 2005, the Cardinals had two, count 'em, two sandwich picks. They used the first one, at 43, to take Mark McCormick, the fireballer out of Baylor that hasn't been able to stay healthy (or throw many strikes), as a pro. At 46, they took Tyler Herron, a RHP out of high school in Florida. Herron has moved slowly in pro ball, ending this season in High A after gettting knocked around in his first taste of Double A, but he still has a good amount of promise. He's not going to wow you with his stuff, but his walk numbers have been consistently solid and he could end up in the middle of a big league rotation someday. McCormick probably needs to be tried in the bullpen. I don't have a whole lot of hope for him, but I do think the Cards will probably get some contribution from at least one of these two.
Other notable 2005 sandwichers:
- Chaz Roe, RHP #31 (Rockies)
- Travis Buck, OF #36 (Athletics)
- Luke Hochevar, RHP #40 (Dodgers)
- Clay Buchholz, RHP #42 (Red Sox)
- Jed Lowrie, SS #45 (Red Sox)
- Garrett Olson, LHP #48 (Orioles)
The Red Sox certainly did alright for themselves in the '05 draft, didn't they? Lowrie will likely be their starting shortstop in 2009, and looks to be a solid regular, while Buchholz has already thrown one no hitter and has a sky-high ceiling, even after fighting injuries in 2008.
Travis Buck is looking like a solid, valuable pickup for the A's. He's had injury issues (seems like pretty much every Oakland player does anymore, doesn't it?), but the guy can hit, and he plays a competent outfield. Hochevar, of course, didn't sign with the Dodgers, as he and Boras established a new paradigm with the whole indy-league-for-a-year-then-reenter-the-draft thing that a couple of other Boras clients have followed since. Still a pretty good talent in the supplemental round. Olson is another name that gets bandied about in trade talks; he's not what you would consider an impact player, but at league minimum, he could very well be pretty valuable.
2004 is as far back as I went. That was the first year that Jeff Luhnow was a part of the Cards' drafting department, and I'm really interested mostly in what the Cards (and other teams), have done recently with these types of picks.
In '04, there were only eleven players taken in the supplemental round, but the compensation rules were different then, too. Anyhow, the Cardinals didn't have a sandwich pick that year, so not much to talk about there. The notable picks from '04:
- Gio Gonzalez, LHP #38 (White Sox)
- Jay Rainville, RHP #39 (Twins)
- Huston Street, RHP #40 (Athletics)
The 2004 supplemental round was all about the Athletics, as they snagged Huston Street, who closed for them and then helped to acquire Matt Holliday from the Rockies. A lot of people are down on Street, but I'm still a fan of his. I think he's probably better as a setup man than a closer, but at the very least, he's been plenty valuable while he's been cheap. The A's also ended up with Gio Gonzalez (who has been traded fifteen or sixteen times already, I believe), and the young lefty has blossomed into one of the top prospects in all of baseball. he's got great stuff, especially for a lefty, and should step right in to the Oakland rotation in 2009. Rainville has been kind of all over the map for the Twins, but could still end up contributing something at the ML level.
All in all, there's some very good talent that's been picked up in the supplemental round over the past several years. Of course, the percentages on these guys is still quite low, but that's true of the draft process pretty much as a whole. The point is, when (or if), any of these players manages to make even a minimal contribution at the major league level, it ends up saving the team a big hit on payroll in free agency. I know, we've all heard it before, but I think it bears repeating.
I know the value of a sandwich pick has been approximated somewhere in the range of $3.5 million by Baseball Prospectus, and that seems about right to me. The question, of course, is whether or not that $3.5 mil payoff was worth the gamble that the Cardinals would have been laying down on Looper accepting arbitration and coming back next season. I can't really answer that question definitively, to be perfectly honest, but my personal opinion? I think letting him walk without at least trying to get the picks was at least a minor misstep.