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October 30, 2012
Three Giant Draft Picks
Brian Sabean doesn't always get the credit he deserves. The Giants GM has been lampooned for his tendency to sign players who are past their prime (outgoing skipper Felipe Alou complained upon being dismissed after the 2006 season that, “I don't believe one manager enjoys having players die in their hands”) and for being out of touch with the hippest trends. Early in his tenure, Sabean went on record as saying “I am not an idiot” in defense of a trade that sent popular third baseman Matt Williams to Cleveland for four players, the most notable of which was future MVP/“Survivor” contestant Jeff Kent.
All of which I'm sure is fine with Sabean, who gets results while those that would criticize him must settle for dismissing his success as a fluke or some such. The man and his team have played in three World Series in the past 11 years and won two of the last three. Clearly he is doing something right.
One of the things Sabean and his staff have done well is draft players. While his counterparts in the National League West have been collecting talent of varying utility, Sabean has been tabbing stars. Pitchers Matt Cain (2002), Tim Lincecum (2006), and Madison Bumgarner (2007) all were taken in the first round. All played key roles in 2010 and now again in 2012. Same with Buster Posey (2008).
As a thought exercise, while the Giants wait for their rings, let's consider what the NL West might look like had Sabean's counterparts been better at procuring amateur talent. We'll skip 2008 and Posey because the Giants picked fifth overall that year, giving them an advantage over the competition. Focusing on 2002, 2006 (which I've examined briefly in the past), and 2007, what actually happened and what—given the benefit of hindsight—should have happened?
In rewriting history for the purpose of this exercise, we'll make a few assumptions:
To the drafts...
For the Rockies, this is their good pick. Francis reached the big leagues and, although he never developed into a star, has had a solid big-league career. The same cannot be said of their picks in 2006 and 2007. Still, it's hard not to fantasize what might have been had Granderson played half his games at Coors Field.
This repick has additional repercussions. Granderson never ends up with the Yankees, Austin Jackson and Max Scherzer never get to Detroit, and Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy don't go to Arizona. (Kennedy, as we'll see, has another reason for not joining the Diamondbacks in this scenario.) Do the Tigers face Sabean's Giants in this year's World Series without Jackson and Scherzer? That is a whole other level of butterfly effect, but I'm thinking no.
The Padres have their choice of “catchers” in Votto and McCann (or pitchers in Cain, Johnson, and local product Cole Hamels). With the benefit of hindsight, they take McCann because he doesn't move off the position after seven games in Rookie League. Votto has provided more value as measured by WARP but would have been blocked by Adrian Gonzalez, which is a nice problem to have but which ruins my next joke.
A secondary effect is that, without Greene, the Padres never acquire Luke Gregerson. This is a small price to pay for landing McCann.
The Giants do what they did, which is take the best available player.
The Diamondbacks take Johnson. This eases the sting of never having acquired Jackson and Kennedy in the Granderson trade that didn't happen. Without Santos, Arizona doesn't acquire Orlando Hudson, who plays a key role on the 2007 NL West champion squad.
So instead of Francis and Reynolds, Colorado has Granderson and Longoria. Don't worry, it gets worse.
The Dodgers nail their pick. So do the Giants (again) and Diamondbacks.
Kennedy to the Padres has implications. Is his presence in the 2010 rotation enough of an upgrade over Kevin Correia to push San Diego past the Giants that year? Well, maybe:
They only lost by two games.
Other defensible picks would have been Joba Chamberlain, local product Justin Masterson, Jon Jay, David Freese (whom they took in the ninth round), Kris Medlen, Doug Fister, Brett Anderson... well, it's a long list.
San Diego's pick of Kennedy also ruins the 2011 season for the Diamondbacks, who never acquire him from the Yankees. But then, we already knew that because of the whole Granderson not being drafted by the Tigers thing.
I don't know about you, but I find the idea of Granderson, Longoria, and Stanton in Colorado rather titillating. More titillating than Francis, Reynolds, and Weathers, anyway. The Rockies picked ahead of the Giants in all three of the drafts we've examined and came away with the worse player every time. Again, we're conducting this exercise with the benefit of hindsight, but the Rockies could have been a force by now instead of a team that overpays Michael Cuddyer to play like Scott Hairston.
Arizona ends up with an interesting right-field situation. One of Heyward or Justin Upton moves to the other corner, or maybe to another organization. Given that Upton is the only Diamondbacks first-round pick between 2002 and 2008 who hasn't been traded, I'm betting on the latter.
Also, Parker never ends up in Oakland as part of the haul for Trevor Cahill. Both pitchers enjoyed similar success, although the A's also got Ryan Cook in that deal. In a division that was decided on the season's final day, Cook's absence could have been enough to tip the scales in favor of Texas.
Sabean nailed it. Again. He's 3-for-3. You could make a case for Zimmermann over Bumgarner in a Devil's Advocate kind of way, but whatever.
The Dodgers took Withrow with a compensation pick from Boston for their signing of Julio Lugo. While Lugo produced 0.2 WARP in two seasons and change for the Red Sox, Withrow has been stuck at Double-A for the better part of four years. Zimmermann would fit well on this team.
Sabean also picked Charlie Culberson in the supplemental first round, which is interesting because:
The Padres, who haven't picked a star in the first round since Derrek Lee in 1993 (and haven't had one get more than a cup of coffee with them since Andy Benes in 1988), take Moore instead of Schmidt. This keeps them from acquiring Huston Street and extending his contract. Well, it keeps them from using Schmidt to acquire Street. I'm not sure the Rockies were interested in acquiring Schmidt so much as ridding themselves of Street.
Cases could be made for taking Lucroy, Barney, Brandon Belt, Rick Porcello, Parker, Freddie Freeman, or Anthony Rizzo instead of Moore. Some of these (Belt not on Giants, Porcello not on Tigers) would have implications in 2012.
The Diamondbacks and Dodgers need to “fix” two of their picks, while the Padres and Rockies need to fix all three. The Giants—thanks to Sabean and his brain trust—need no such revisions.
What impact might all this have had on the NL West over the past few years?
Is this exercise without flaws? No. Does it make a lot of sense? Um... Is it fun to consider? Yes.
And if you're a Giants fan celebrating your team's second world championship in three years, be grateful that Sabean knows what he's doing on draft day. Also, be grateful that the Padres didn't take McCann in 2002 or Kennedy in 2006. Or Jered Weaver in 2004 instead of Matt Bush, which is a story for some other day.