The Right and the Lefty

August 18, 2009

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Monday was a national holiday of sorts. It was the signing deadline for most of the players selected in this June’s Major League draft. College seniors (as well as Aaron Crow and Tanner Scheppers, who skipped their senior seasons to play in the independent leagues) were not bound by this deadline, but everyone else was.

My focus on this glorious day was on two pitchers – a righty and a lefty. The righty was top overall pick Stephen Strasburg and the lefty was Tyler Matzek, the #11 overall pick.

Stephen Strasburg

Strasburg has been the subject of much media attention over the last year or so. He has been an absurdly dominant college pitcher, throwing a fastball clocked as high as 103 mph. Superlatives were hurled at him by the bushel. Was he the best college pitcher ever? Surely the best in a decade? Many scouts deemed him to be the best player they had ever seen. To make things even sweeter, Strasburg’s coach at San Diego State – Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn – had made a concerted effort to avoid heaping abuse on Strasburg by avoiding monstrously high pitch counts in games. Many top college pitchers are overused by coaches eager to pad their own resumes with wins, at the expense of the health of their pitchers.

After the Washington National signed him, they bumped into the sticky subject of money. There were initial indications that Strasburg’s agent, Scott Boras, was looking for a deal around $50 million! Many thought that it was a slam dunk that he would hold out for $30 million.

There was a strong possibility that the Nationals would not be able to sign Strasburg, and he would re-enter the draft next year. The Nationals would be compensated with the #2 pick in the 2010 draft (an “n+1” formula is used to compensate teams that are unable to sign picks in the first two rounds, so the #1 overall pick in 2009 would yield a #2 in 2010). The Nationals are also likely to hold the #1 pick in next year’s draft by “virtue” of having the worst record this year. However, they would be unable to draft Strasburg a second time without his consent.

So, what happened? Negotiating went deep into the night, and the sides emerged with a deal that will pay Strasburg a reported $15.067 million and keep him under control of the Nationals for four seasons – at which point he will go into the arbitration system. This sounds like a ton of money (and it is) but I score this as a win for the Nationals. If they can lose enough games to land the #1 pick next year, they could add catcher Bryce Harper to the mix, and have a couple of very nice players for the long haul.

For more on Stephen Strasburg, read my fake interview from a few months ago.

Tyler Matzek

Rockies draftee Tyler Matzek garned a bit less attention than Strasburg. The Matzek selection was noteworthy for Rockies Nation, however. The small market Rockies have typically drafted players who were considered to be “signable” (a baseball euphemism for “cheap”) while eschewing players whose upsides were perceived to be higher.

Matzek, however, did not fit this description. Widely considered to be one of the top pitchers in the draft, high schooler Matzek slid down to #11 due to signability concerns (i.e. he wanted a lot of money), where the Rockies picked him. This move was the complete opposite of how the Rockies have historically drafted. Some observers felt that this was a strategic move by the Rockies. The thought was that they really didn’t want to pony up the money to pay a top pick this year, and would prefer to just take the compensatory pick next year.

For his part, Matzek talked a good game, talking about the opportunity to pitch and play first base for the University of Oregon.

Matzek arrived in Eugene, Oregon on Sunday night, which was not a good sign. However, when reports surfaced that Matzek had not attended Monday classes at the University of Oregon, my spirits soared. This was an indication that he might indeed sign with the Rockies.

In the end, Matzek left behind the world of co-eds and spring break for a reported $3.9 million bonus.

If you wonder what my initial response to the draft was, read the draftermath from June.

Baseball Draftermath

June 10, 2009

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OK, 3 rounds (plus sandwich) in the books.

The draft started very predictably with the National signing San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg, easily the best player in the draft.  The Pittsburgh Pirates made the first “reach” on the draft, taking Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez at #4, far above his projected slot.  This was apparently a case of the Pirates choosing a signable player (there was reportedly an agreement in place before the draft) rather than a player with a high ceiling.  Pirates Nation (if such a term is still accurate) probably let loose a collection groan with this pick.  This is one of the reasons why I wish baseball teams could trade picks.  The Pirates could have easily traded down 10-20 spots and still been able to nab Sanchez.

A few guys slipped more than I expected

Aaron Crow was the first round pick of the Nationals last year (#10) overall and could not agree to a deal with Washington.  He spent a season with the independent Forth Worth Cats and went back into the draft this year.  Some folks had his stock dropping, but I really expected someone to nab him in the top 5.  Instead, he dropped to #12, where he was signed by Kansas City.  This is the second time the Royals have signed a former Cat, as Luke Hochevar followed the same path after he was drafted #6 overall by the Dodgers in 2005 (he was drafted #1 overall by the Royals in 2006).  Contrast this style with the Pirates choosing a lower ceiling player to save money.

A couple other guys were drafted later than I expected due to injury concerns  Pitcher Kyle Gibson of Missouri seemed like a lock for the top 10 before being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his pitching arm.  He dropped to the Twins at #22.  If the Twins can get a good comfort level by the August 15 signing deadline, they could end up with a very good pitcher with this pick.

Perhaps the most intriguing drop was Tanner Scheppers.  Scheppers was a lock for the top 10 last year out of Fresno State before suffering an injury to his rotator cuff and labrum.  He dropped to #48 last year, and the Pirates were unable to sign him.  To be fair to both sides, the negotiations had a risk/reward aspect related to the injury.  This year he was pitching for the independent St. Paul Saints and appears to be fully healed from the injury.  However, some doubts apparently still exist, as Scheppers dropped to the Texas Rangers at #44.  

Scheppers would have actually made a lot of sense at the tail end of the first round.  He is the equivalent of a college senior, and teams would not have been subject to the August 15 deadline to sign him.  They could have waited until right before the 2010 draft to make a really serious offer.  If he was recovered, sign him.  If not, don’t sign him.  Teams who can’t sign a first or second round pick receive a pick one spot lower in next year’s draft (if you can’t sign the #1 overall pick, you’d get the #2 pick in 2010).  Worst case scenario for a team at the tail end of the first round would be not signing Scheppers and getting an equivalent pick in 2010.  The Rangers actually took more of  a risk.  The sandwich picks are not protected.  If they don’t sign Scheppers, they do not get any sort of replacement pick.

How did my Rockies do?  I’m pretty happy.  The Rockies has 3 picks in the top 34.  At #11, I really wish we would have grabbed Aaron Crow.  Instead, we picked flamethrowing high school lefty Tyler Matzek, who already has a fastball in the mid to high 90s.  Matzek has really good upside potential.  The big knock on his was money, as he reportedly wants about $7 million to sign.  At #32 I was hoping we’d go after Scheppers, but took Sacramento State outfielder Tim Wheeler instead.  Wheeler has good speed, and question marks about his power and his ability to stay in center field.  If he can stay in center and show good power, this could be a very nice pick.  At #34, we went for another lefty pitcher with good power, Rex Brothers out of Lipscomb University.  Brothers throws in the high 90s.