I had a conversation with my brother eight years ago that I've been pondering ever since that might be appropriate here with the draft next week. Why eight years ago? That was the summer of 2004, when I was able to attend roughly twenty Fresno Grizzlies games in about a two month span. It was a glorious summer where I got paid to watch and keep score at baseball games. Everyone's dream, right?
As the Giants' triple-A club, the Grizzlies hosted plenty of top tier and not-quite-so-top-tier talent. The names I remember most from that season are Chris Burke, Xavier Nady, Todd Linden, and a slew of other Giants prospects that never quite made it, but the conversation I've been thinking about for eight years was about then-Sacramento River Cat Nick Swisher.
My brother, who had read Moneyball, was excited to hear about Swisher—you know, in the "amateur scouting report" kind of way. I can't say how the conversation reached this point, but I remember saying something along the lines of: "Maybe he'll never be a superstar or anything, but I bet he ends up having a nice productive career. Something along the lines of Ryan Klesko, maybe. Which, when you think about it, isn't all that bad of a return on a first round draft pick."
Klesko, a fifth-round draft pick, played in parts of sixteen seasons, but really only played in anything close to a full season thirteen times. In his career, he hit 278 home runs, slugged an even .500, and accumulated 23.4 WARP. It's a career Klesko can be proud of. Now in his ninth season, Swisher is set to pass Klesko on the WARP charts, having already accumulated 23.0 WARP for the A's, White Sox, and Yankees. That might mean my prediction was a bit off, but the question it raised is still worth debating.
If your favorite team could guarantee a specific return on their first round pick every year with the caveat that the return would never be higher than that level, where would that level have to be in order for you to be happy? Basically, if you could guarantee that your favorite team would get a Ryan Klesko career out of their first round draft pick every single year – no better, no worse – would that be enough to forego the potential of drafting, say, an Alex Rodriguez or Bryce Harper? Remember, it would also mean that you would never have to worry about the team drafting a Matt Bush or Brien Taylor either. And if Klesko is too high of a bar to set, where should it be? Mark Ellis? Mark Kotsay? Or is it higher? Would you require a Mike Mussina or Roy Halladay every year to make that deal? Somewhere in between, like Barry Zito or Bobby Abreu?
I honestly have no idea where I'd set the bar. I would probably want someone who could flirt with the All-Star level every now and then. Who would that be? Melvin Mora? Ben Zobrist, maybe? Rafael Furcal? Even saying those names, I feel like it should probably be better, but it's easy to set the bar too high. Carl Crawford or even Jason Bay are just too much.
What would you say the level should be?