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December 23, 2005

Should They Stay or Should They Go

San Diego's Free Agents and Draft Picks

by Bryan Smith

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No team in Major League Baseball entered the free agent season with so much at stake as the San Diego Padres. The club stood poised to lose Brian Giles, Trevor Hoffman and Ramon Hernandez, three of the game's top thirty free agents.

In the end, veterans Giles and Hoffman gave the Padres the "San Diego discount," while Hernandez opted into the richest deal he could find. There are certainly concerns that the Padres let the youngest of the three leave, while investing $43.5 million into two players older than thirty-five. The arguments against these contracts are centered around the fact that the team could have spent its money on younger players, while simply collecting first-round draft picks for their losses.

Historically, however, this would have been the Padres worst move. Not only were Giles and Hoffman two of the best free agents at their respective positions, but also because San Diego has a spotty history at cashing in on draft picks. I went back and looked at the last ten San Diego drafts (prior to 2005, which is simply too recent to judge), in hopes of finding whether Jacque Jones, Bob Wickman, $22.5 million and four draft picks was a better option than the one Kevin Towers took. The findings, to say the least, do not support such a claim.

In the last ten years, the Padres have had three scouting directors in charge on draft day. Current GM Kevin Towers held the position in 1995, his last season prior to taking the top spot in San Diego. Prior to 1995 his drafting had collected the likes of Derrek Lee, Matt Clement and Dustin Hermanson, so his promotion to GM was undoubtedly on merit. When he moved up, the team hired Brad Sloan to take over, who was in charge for five seasons. And finally, in 2002, the team brought Bill Gayton in to man their drafts, who is still at the helm today.

First, I'll take you through a draft-by-draft recap of the last ten seasons (1995-2004), before we attempt to draw a few conclusions.

1995 Draft - Kevin Towers

In Towers' last draft as scouting director, he had his highest choice yet, holding the rights to the second pick in the draft. Before him in the draft were the Angels, who opted into taking the year's best collegiate hitter, Darin Erstad from Nebraska. Towers then jumped on who many believed to be the top high school player, Pennsylvanian catcher Ben Davis. In retrospect, the pick looks foolish, as other first round picks (with number selected in parentheses) included Todd Helton (8), Kerry Wood (4), Geoff Jenkins (9), Jose Cruz Jr. (3), Matt Morris (12) and Roy Halladay (17).

In the second round, Towers went back to the college ranks (where much of his draft came from), and selected shortstop Gabe Alvarez from USC. Alvarez did not make the Majors with the Padres until his second stint with the organization (which lasted 13 MLB at-bats), and appeared in only 92 games in his career. The rest of the top five included just one Major Leaguer, Brandon Kolb, who pitched in 23.2 big league innings.

The best find in the draft, though this says more about the selections than the player, was Texan Kevin Walker. The southpaw didn't make the Majors with the Padres until 2001, but has pitched in five straight seasons for a little over 100 total innings. Towers would also use picks on John Rodriguez (16th round), Aaron Looper (21) and Damon Minor (26), only to watch them not sign. Dusty Allen was chosen in the 30th round, signed with the Padres, and ended his career after just 28 at-bats.

1996 Draft - Brad Sloan

When Towers was promoted to General Manager, the Padres made Brad Sloan their scouting director. In his first draft, the Padres held the fifteenth pick in the draft, and watched such notables as Adam Eaton, Mark Kotsay and Eric Chavez drafted before them. The team decided to use their pick on another high school position player, Virginian shortstop Matt Halloran. He would never slug above .375 at any pro level before quitting baseball in 2001 without reaching the Majors. His selection cost the Padres players like Eric Milton, Jake Westbrook and Gil Meche.

In fact, no one in the Padres first eight rounds would make the Major Leagues. In the ninth round, they selected Jason Middlebrook from Stanford. In 2001, Middlebrook debuted with the Padres, and now has 77.2 career innings under his belt, though it's unlikely he will reach the Majors again. That is also true for every other player that Sloan drafted in 1996.

1997 Draft - Brad Sloan

Sloan had nowhere to go but up after his ugly debut, but would find himself drafting 27th overall. This time around he would stay up the middle, drafting Stetson University shortstop Kevin Nicholson. Can't remember Nicholson? Well, in a continuing theme, his time in the Majors (before leaving baseball) was no more than a 97 at-bat cup of coffee in 2000.

However, this time around, Sloan's draft had some depth. Four whole insignificant players would make the Major Leagues. Second round pick Ben Howard was once a top prospect, but his stuff never harnessed, and he has the makings of a dominant Triple-A closer. Ninth rounder Junior Herndon had twelve games with the 2001 Padres, and will likely never pitch in the Majors again, nor will Dave Maurer. Shawn Camp, the sixteenth round pick, is now getting time in the fantastic Kansas City Royals bullpen.

1998 Draft - Brad Sloan

After a bad 1997 season, the Padres found themselves drafting back in the top ten. They again drafted a high school infielder, selecting former Little League World Series hero Sean Burroughs. He quickly became a top prospect in the organization, but after being traded away at the past Winter Meetings, has left San Diego with a career .282/.340/.360 line in 1516 at-bats. Considering those drafted behind him (Carlos Pena, Jeff Weaver, C.C. Sabathia), there is no doubt that the Burroughs selection goes down as a bust.

No one else in the first fifteen rounds would make the Majors, though six players drafted in later rounds would reach. The first was Steve Watkins, a sixteenth round choice who pitched poorly in 11 games during the 2004 season. He pales in comparison to the 17th round choice, Northwestern State right-hander Brian Lawrence. The innings-eater was effective in his time with the organization, posting a 4.11 ERA in 933 innings. Like Burroughs, he has been traded away this winter.

It once appeared that a few late-round selections would make good Major League relievers, though that is no longer true. Jeremy Fikac had fantastic minor league numbers, but was ineffective in 110 career innings. Eric Cyr has pitched just six big league innings, a disappointment after being lauded as a prospect. Chosen one round before Cyr, Cliff Bartosh has not made a good LOOGY in each of the past two years. And while not a reliever, 42nd round pick Alex Pelaez was the draft's Moonlight Graham, appearing in just three career games.

1999 Draft - Brad Sloan

This is where it really starts to get ugly. Expectations for a Padres draft were never higher than 1999, as Sloan was handed seven of the first 80 picks. As you might guess, the team failed to meet expectations. A quick look at the seven picks, along with my suggested choices (drafted within 10 slots of the player):

  • Vince Faison: Potential five-tool Georgian outfielder that failed. Soon-to-be 25, Faison has just 30 at-bats above Double-A. Suggested pick: Larry Bigbie.
  • Gerik Baxter: Raw high school pitcher that was just starting to blossom when killed in a tragic car accident. Sad story. Suggested pick: Gerik Baxter.
  • Omar Ortiz: College pitcher with huge command issues, walked 236 in 340.2 innings before leaving pro baseball. Suggested pick: Jerome Williams.
  • Casey Burns: Another college pitcher with poor control that was released in Spring Training of 2001. Suggested pick: Casey Fossum.
  • Mike Bynum: The lone player of the group to make the Majors, with a 7.73 ERA in 64 innings. Suggested pick: Brian Roberts.
  • Nick Trzesniak: An Illinois high school catcher with a career .248 average in the minors. Suggested pick: Carl Crawford.
  • Alberto Concepcion: California catcher that opted for USC rather than the pros. Would have been bad anyway. Suggested pick: Justin Morneau.

One person out of seven made the majors. Only one other player in the entire 1999 draft has made the Majors. But, his talent might be enough to salvage this disaster. Jake Peavy was the 472nd player drafted in 1999, but could turn out one of the best. After some fine-tuning at the Major League level, he is one of the NL's best pitchers.

2000 Draft - Brad Sloan

This would turn out to be Sloan's last draft, and it would end like many of his others. Again, the Padres had a top ten pick. Again, it went wasted, as the team used the pick on Mark Phillips. His best attribute to San Diego was as bait for the Yankees, who acquired him after the 2002 season. His career is likely over, and many wish the team would have selected UCLA's Chase Utley.

Instead they took a college player in the second round, landing Xavier Nady with the 49th selection. His powerful bat provided a quick trip to the Majors, as he slugged .525 in 378 minor league games. However, in 775 Major League at-bats, Nady has slugged just .414. His weak bat and little defensive value commanded a trade to the Mets for Mike Cameron this winter.

Their next Major League player came in the 13th round, where the team took Justin Germano. The right-hander's great control should make him a good Triple-A player, but his lack of stuff has defined his Major League career: 8.86 ERA in 21.1 innings. The only other big league player was 22nd round pick J.J. Furmaniak, a shortstop who had a bad cup of coffee with the Pirates in 2005.

2001 Draft - Bill Gayton

With the exit of Sloan came Gayton, and he brought a more college-oriented philosophy. In his first draft, he had the 14th pick, and in a Padre tradition selected yet another infielder. Tulane infielder Jake Gautreau was selected, who is starting to become more famous for being mentioned in more Rule 5 Previews than any other player. In reality, after a mediocre Triple-A season, it's unlikely that he will ever make a substantial splash at the Major League level.

That should be true for much of the draft. Fourth round pick Josh Barfield has yet to play in the Majors, as the Padres have carefully promoted him. However, with Mark Loretta's exit, Barfield could conceivably be the second baseman next year. Over at shortstop, albeit in a different organization now, is Jason Bartlett. It remains to be seen if Bartlett can be effective in the bigs, since his first 236 at-bats have gone poorly: .233/.308/.322. No other player drafted has, or profiles to, have anything resembling a Major League career.

2002 Draft - Bill Gayton

The Padres were determined to find success in using their first round picks on infielders. This draft was no exception, as Gayton used the 13th overall pick on the 2002 Golden Spikes winner, Khalil Greene. The choice is starting to pay dividends, as 2005 was Greene's second straight season as the Padres shortstop. His future is bright, and in 985 career at-bats, his .259/.321/.437 line ain't too shabby.

Unfortunately, the draft will likely not have much depth. The only other player with Major League experience is Paul McAnulty, a twelfth round choice from Long Beach. McAnulty has good minor league numbers, but his problems in the field should keep his career relatively quiet. He has potential on a bench. Two other possible future Major Leaguers are George Kottaras--a top 100 prospect at catcher--and Jared Wells, a pitching prospect with an upside of Ryan Franklin.

2003 Draft - Bill Gayton

With this draft, each of the three scouting directors we have looked at had a top ten pick. Gayton's choice was the fourth, where he was handed Tim Stauffer. Stauffer's rookie season was a disappointment, as he had an ERA+ of 72 in 81 innings. But a good minor league record, and command of three good pitches, provide evidence that his career has positive signs.

However, beyond Stauffer, the draft offers very little. No other player selected was in Baseball America's top ten prospects, and the ceiling looks to be a few relief and bench cups of coffee. Look for, at some point, Colt Morton, Fernando Valenzuela Jr. and Leo Rosales to get a taste of the Majors, if nothing else.

2004 Draft - Bill Gayton

Realistically, it's too early to talk about this draft. Few players from the entire draft have reached the Majors, and many are unlikely to have shown their true colors. But when a team holds the rights to baseball's top choice, expectations are high. Logic is defied, and criticisms come quickly. This is what the team has seen from their Matt Bush selection, as few will ever understand why the team took the local shortstop before Stephen Drew or even Jered Weaver.

Thanks to Bush, and the lack of a second-round pick, this draft has little chance to be considered a success. Bush will probably reach the Majors, at some point, if only because of his draft status, but should be a sixth infielder at best. No one else from the draft impressed in 2005, which should put Gayton on thin ice. Next June will be Gayton's fifth draft, and the accomplished Grady Fuson is now waiting in the wings.

Since 1995, the Padres have turned 27 draft picks into Major League players. This is not a horribly damning number, but looks worse after saying that nineteen of those players will likely never surpass a WARP (Wins Above Replacement Level) of 3.0. Only three currently have a WARP above 10 (two of which were late draft picks) and only another two or three are likely to reach that number.

Here is a look at the 27 players drafted, in order, with their current career WARP numbers:


Player              Yr          WARP
Ben Davis           1995        10.4
Gabe Alvarez        1995        -0.9
Brandon Kolb        1995        -0.2
Kevin Walker        1995         2.2
Dusty Allen         1995         0.2
Jason Middlebrook   1996         1.3
Kevin Nicholson     1997         0.5
Ben Howard          1997         0.7
Junior Herndon      1997        -0.3
Dave Maurer         1997        -0.2
Shawn Camp          1997         2.2
Sean Burroughs      1998         9.1
Steve Watkins       1998         0
Brian Lawrence      1998        20.2
Jeremy Fikac        1998         2.3
Eric Cyr            1998        -0.3
Cliff Bartosh       1998         0.7
Alex Pelaez         1998         0
Mike Bynum          1999        -0.8
Jake Peavy          1999        20.7
Xavier Nady         2000         3.4
Justin Germano      2000        -0.8
J.J. Furmaniak      2000        -0.1
Jason Bartlett      2001         2.5
Khalil Greene       2002         8.1
Paul McAnulty       2002         0
Tim Stauffer        2003         0.8

An ugly list. My guess (which we will have to explore at a later time) is that no other Major League franchise can claim such futility since the 1995 draft. I also asked BP draft expert Rany Jazayerli to compare the discounted value (DV) of the top 100 picks from 1995-1999 (the seasons for which he has data) to their expected value (XV). His findings:

Yr   Rnd  Num   Player                DV      XV        Diff
1995   1    2   Davis, Ben            6.195  11.573    -5.379
1995   2   32   Alvarez, Gabe         0.000   2.766    -2.767
1995   3   61   Vandeweg, Ryan        0.000   1.549    -1.549
1995   4   89   Kolb, Brandon Charles 0.198   1.097    -0.899
1996   1   15   Halloran, Matthew D.  0.000   5.869    -5.869
1996   2   50   Maxwell, Vernon       0.000   1.596    -1.597
1996   3   80   Workman, Widd         0.000   1.118    -1.119
1997   1   27   Nicholson, Kevin      0.311   2.776    -2.465
1997   2   78   Howard, Benjamin R.   0.648   0.972    -0.325
1998   1    9   Burroughs, Sean       4.905   5.313    -0.408
1999   1   20   Faison, Vince         0.000   2.404    -2.404
1999   1   28   Baxter, Gerik         0.000   1.613    -1.613
1999   1   29   Ortiz, Omar           0.000   1.531    -1.531
1999   1   41   Burns, Casey          0.000   0.915    -0.915
1999   1   49   Bynum, Mike           0.078   0.837    -0.760
1999   1   51   Trzesniak, Nicholas   0.000   0.818    -0.819
1999   2   79   Concepcion, Alberto   0.000   0.587    -0.588

As you can see, of the seventeen players that fit the criteria, not a single player performed above the expected value of the slot for which he was drafted. My guess is that when we go back in a few years and evaluate the same for the 2000-2004 drafts, only Xavier Nady and Khalil Greene will have surpassed their statistical expectations.

While late-round steals like Jake Peavy and Brian Lawrence might help make up for the futility of the San Diego drafts, a scouting director's job is most centrally focused on the performance of his early-round picks. And in that regard, we can definitely claim that from 1995-2004, the Padres organization has miserably failed at drafting.

There is good news on the horizon for Padres fans, as the team brought in Grady Fuson since the 2004 draft, one of the best scouting minds in the game. His presence is likely part of the reason for why many, myself included, have graded the Padres' 2005 haul so well.

However, that draft is far from convincing me that the Padres would have been better off with four extra draft picks in 2006. Brian Sabean of the San Francisco Giants has been criticized far and wide for intentionally forfeiting first-round picks during the free agent process. But after reviewing the Padres' results in the last ten years, I'm left wondering if Kevin Towers isn't better off following Sabean's lead.

Giving picks away, rather than collecting extras, might just be the Padres best strategy.

Bryan Smith is co-writer and proprietor of the Baseball Analysts, where he focuses on minor league and college baseball. He welcomes any feedback through e-mail.

Bryan Smith is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bryan's other articles. You can contact Bryan by clicking here

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