The St. Louis Cardinals have finally received their Chris Correa hacking scandal punishment from Commissioner Rob Manfred. This resolution comes over one year after Correa originally pleaded guilty to the charges and a few days after previously-unsealed court documents were made public. As you may recall, this entire fiasco started way back when Ben Humphrey was still our site manager, and he had a section of the site devoted solely to tracking the investigation’s updates. That, in itself, helps illustrate just how long the process took before reaching a conclusion.
Well, some say the Cardinals “got off easy.” Others seemingly concur and are currently breathing a “sigh of relief.” While those directly involved with the situation — namely Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe — “don’t think [the Cardinals] got off easy by any stretch.” And Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, after reiterating much of what he has already said over the past two years plus, “respects” the commissioner’s decision.
First and foremost, it must be noted that under the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the Cardinals were charged with the maximum allowable fine of $2 million. Of course, you can say $2 million is nothing to the DeWitt family (and you wouldn’t be incorrect), but the guidelines for punishment were agreed upon, league-wide, when the new CBA was ratified, and the Cardinals received the strictest cash punishment. This is an undeniable (read: not alternative) fact.
Second, the Cardinals lost their top two draft picks. Sure, they may have “lucked out” in not having to forfeit a first round pick, but they already lost that pick when they agreed to a long-term deal with free agent Dexter Fowler, who had previously received a qualifying offer from the Chicago Cubs. What would have really made things interesting would have been if the Cardinals had also signed another qualifying offer-attached free agent (i.e. Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista). What would the draft pick punishment have been then? That being said, I’m not here to discuss the worthiness of the penalty because frankly, a whole lot of people have written about it already.
Instead, I want to shed some light on just how tough scouting director Randy Flores’ job is going to be with the upcoming 2017 MLB Draft. After losing the pick attached to the Fowler signing and the two picks involved in the punishment (along with the pool money assigned to each), the Cardinals retain eight selections in the first ten rounds. For those eight selections, they will have a total bonus pool of $2,072,300 — or ~$1.5 million less than the next closest team (the Cleveland Indians). To put this in perspective, the slot value for just the 30th overall selection of the draft (held by the Cubs: $2,080,100) is more than the Cardinals’ entire bonus pool.
Being able to forfeit a competitive balance pick (along with the team’s second round pick), Flores’ first selection will come in the third round instead of the fourth. At 94th overall, the slot value assigned to the pick is $543,700 — or 26.2% of the Cardinals’ total bonus pool. Last season, the Nationals awarded the 94th overall draft pick — high school pitcher Jesus Luzardo — a $1.4 million bonus. It’s safe to say the Cardinals will not be able to do this in 2017 as such a deal would eat up 67.6% of their bonus pool. But, it must be noted that Luzardo was a special circumstance as most of the picks around him signed at or below their respective slot values.
Thus, how high will Flores and the Cardinals be willing to go with the team’s first selection? If an attractive, high-ceiling guy is available at #94 that they think can sign at, say, no more than $1 million — or roughly half of their bonus pool — will they take that risk? Or will they go the conservative route and target a low-leverage college senior with the selection? This obviously remains to be seen as we do not know who will still be available at the 94th pick, but it is definitely something worth considering (as I’m sure the red baron will do when he hones in on his final draft prospect scouting reports). Historically, the low-leverage, college-senior route would seem most likely for the Cardinals, but Flores took some chances last year, so you never really know.
Fortunately, as updated prospect rankings begin to circulate around the internet, the Cardinals’ farm system appears to be in a pretty good spot (MLB Pipeline, Keith Law), especially at the lower levels. This, too, will have an impact on the route Flores decides to take. Knowing that there are high-upside players at lower levels (Delvin Perez, Dakota Hudson, Sandy Alcantara, Junior Fernandez) accompanied by their large international signing crop (Jonatan Machado, Randy Arozarena, Johan Oviedo, Victor Garcia, Carlos Soler, Franklin Soto), will Flores aim for higher-floor players as more readily-available insurance or will he be comfortable enough to make a splash?
As we are currently witnessing with Harrison Bader (signed for $400,000 — $170,300 below slot) and Paul DeJong (signed for $200,000 — $222,900 below slot), sometimes low-leverage guys can also turn in to fairly high-ceiling guys as well, which would probably be a best case scenario for this year’s draft. Yet, there is no guaranteeing that this level of players will still be available when the Cardinals are on the clock. Regardless of the path he eventually chooses to take, the task ahead is undoubtedly a tough one for Flores. Yet, as I stated above, the Cardinals’ farm system is presently built on a solid foundation, so even if the 2017 draft ends up a complete bust, the organization should be able to rebound without any significant long-term damage.
Personally, I hope to see Flores go after a high-upside guy with the team’s third round selection and then shore up the rest of the draft-pool-associated picks with low-leverage selections. It obviously wouldn’t hurt to hit on a couple later-round selections, either — as they have done in the past with Albert Pujols (13th round), Matt Carpenter (13th round), Trevor Rosenthal (21st round), and Matt Adams (23rd round).
Understanding that much of it depends on the players available at #94 and beyond, how would you prefer Flores to approach the 2017 draft? Conservative? Risky? Something else?