Is Good Drafting Enough? World Series Edition, 2

This is the follow-up to (and conclusion of) yesterday’s post using the World Series teams to make a point about the “sufficiency” of the draft. But first things first: congratulations to the San Francisco Giants. I’ll freely admit that at the beginning of the season I didn’t see them as a playoff contender, but they made it in and won the whole thing with a mixture of young players they developed and some veteran castoffs that played better for them than most of us would have imagined. That brings me back to the theme of this two-part discussion: the Giants illustrate that while good drafting is essential for most teams to compete, it is hard to come up with examples of teams that managed to do so solely with players they originally acquired. (I used these two teams as examples because they were in the World Series — the 2010 Rockies would have been perhaps a more interesting case; they have a high proportion of drafted players, but imagine them without Carlos Gonzalez, Jason Hammel, Jorge da la Rosa, and Huston Street.) Having covered the Giants yesterday, I’ll briefly discuss the Rangers before offering some concluding thoughts. The World Series is over, but the point of these posts isn’t about the World Series, but rather using two teams (whose 2010 fate every other team envies) to illustrate a point about team building.

The Rangers are a very young team, so initially, one might think they might make a better argument for the relative sufficiency of the draft. However, this is far from being the case. Indeed, out of all the position players that started for the Rangers in the World Series, only Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland were originally drafted and signed by the Rangers. Even seeming Ranger-for-life Michael Young came over in a trade long ago from the Blue Jays.

The improvement of the Rangers’ pitching has been rightly oft-noted, but the final 2010 rotation relied heavily on “outside help.” Cliff Lee came over because the team was willing to trade top first base prospect Justin Smoak (and others) to the Mariners for him. Colby Lewis was actually originally drafted in the first round by the Rangers back in 1999, but as is well-known by now, bounced around both the majors a bit and Japan before the Rangers picked him back up. That’s a display of good scouting of an older player in a different league rather than good drafting. Neftali Feliz is a good young closer (who might still be able to start, according to some), but like shortstop Elvis Andrus, he came to the Rangers in the massive 2007 trade that sent Mark Teixeira to Atlanta.

I realize these two posts have been a bit disjointed, so I’ll summarize in conclusion. This was not primarily about comparing Brian Sabean and Jon Daniels with Dayton Moore or any other general manager or front office, although my introductory remarks from yesterday might have made it seem that way. I used Moore as a starting point because (a) despite all my criticism for his moves on a major league level, I wanted to acknowledge that he’s done a great job of building Kansas City’s farm system into the best in baseball, and I wanted to do so before he starts signing free agents and my goodwill (likely) gets buried; and (b) because the Royals’ front office is an example of a grop who seems to get amateur scouting, but generally struggles (to put it mildly) with making smart major league trades and signings. We all agree that drafting and developing talent is essential for any team (even the Yankees’ two most valuable position players in 2010 — Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner — are from their farm system). Some have pointed to the Rangers as a “homegrown” team, and to the Giants as a team whose drafts have overcome questionable signings. There is some truth to that, but as I hope I’ve pointed out, this isn’t really the case. Both teams had essential contributions from players (who were more than just role and bench players) acquired through free agency or trades without whom they probably wouldn’t even have made the playoffs. This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive study, but rather a reminder that while good drafting is certainly necessary for almost every franchise to compete, it isn’t sufficient to build a contender on its own.

Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

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12 years ago

Perhaps a look at whether one can compete without making free agent signings? You (rightly) point out that Elvis was acquired in a trade but I think a lot of people would associate him as a “draft pick” in part because he wasn’t signed on the open market.

Though I’m sure it’s essentially impossible to win without SOME free agent signings, teams like the Rangers and Rays jump out as clubs winning more through drafting and trading than just signing whomever whenever.

Or on the flip side: how overrated is the draft? The Royals have a stacked farm system yet every fiber of my being says that not a single one of those players will ever develop and be a quality big league player (this is based on, well, it being the Royals). Is it better for a franchise to have a system stocked with B level prospects (yet have a ton of them) or have maybe one or two A level and nothing after that.

(Again, recognizing that every team is different and obviously the Yankees farm can afford to be different than the Pirates.)

12 years ago
Reply to  Mike

This is my take but it seems to me there is no definite answer to your question about being better to have 2 blue chippers or a bunch of bs. Using the Giants as an example they had a relatively thin farm system that was extremely top heavy in recent years with Lincecum, Posey and Bumgarner. All three were A to A+ prospects at some point and they all had huge roles in delivering a world series victory. However sometimes that strategy can crash and burn, see Royals and Alex Gordon, Mets and Milledge, F-Mart, or the like.

However a team full of merely good players but great 5 win players or more also won’t get very far. You might luck and have one blossom out of nowhere into a great player like Granderson for the Tigers but you also might end up with a bunch of mediocre to slightly above average players. I think that prospects are too risky of a proposition for there to be a definitive way to say “this is how to run a farm system.” And I do see your point about all the Royals failing in the majors. Angels 2001 draft is all you need to look at.

12 years ago
Reply to  Mike

Not every Royal prospect has failed, only one of the very most notable ones: Alex Gordon. Zack Greinke and Billy Butler are very good major leaguers. Mike Aviles, when healthy, ain’t all bad. David DeJesus came from their system. I wouldn’t taint the entire system with the Alex Gordon “bust” brush.