Up until a year ago if a team signed a Type-A or Type-B free agent (which encompassed most quality players), that team would lose a draft pick. And guess what — no one cared. But suddenly everyone is considering draft picks to be the holy grail of building a champion, and teams are loath to give them up. What happened to alter the perception of draft picks?
When the Mets were busy signing players like Tom Glavine, Billy Wagner, Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay, they were not worried in the least about losing all of those first-round draft choices year after year. But last season the thought of losing the pick to sign Michael Bourn was nearly heresy.
This off-season, players such as Stephen Drew and Kendry Morales are having a hard time finding a contract because they are tied to compensation. In years past, they would have been signed by now.
So what happened? Well, under the new rules only a handful of free agents are subject to the loss of a draft pick. Perhaps when so many teams lost a draft pick for signing almost every quality player, it was easier to swallow. Now, teams who sign top free agents are in the minority of losing a pick, so it might be more difficult to accept.
The new rules also put monetary restrictions on a team’s entire draft, and when a team loses a pick, they also lose that monetary slot, giving them less money to spend. And since we all know everything is about money, this could be a major factor.
But here’s another concept — perhaps with the absence of PEDs in the game, players are not lasting as long, and more reinforcements are needed. In the old days, players were still performing into their late-30s and early-40s because of the juice, so younger players were at less of a premium. Now, though, the PED-free players are breaking down at the traditional age of 35, so youngsters are needed to take their place.
Is this new obsession warranted? No, according to Mets special assistant to the GM JP Ricciardi, who last month said, “No one builds through the draft. You add through the draft. You can’t build a team through the draft because they just don’t all work out. But you can supplement your system, and I get all that. But if you’re telling me I have a chance to get Curtis Granderson over a second-round pick I think I’m going to take my chances with a proven major league player.”
He is 100% right. Sure, there are players like Mike Trout and Stephen Strasburg who come out of the draft and re-energize their teams, but cases like that are rare. For every player like that there is a Lastings Milledge or a Fernando Martinez, highly-touted draft picks who never lived up to their hype.
So swap a draft pick for a quality free agent? Every day and twice on Sunday.