What “If” Arte Went Big on This Year’s Draft

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Dave Saltzer

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By @Dave Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer

I’ve read the same articles that you have about the Angels cutting scouts prior to the draft, and frankly, have been rather upset by that decision. I think it’s a bit penny wise and dollar foolish.

So, I’d like to present an alternative idea that I would implement if I ran the Angels. If it were my team, I’d see this year’s draft as a major opportunity to boost the team for the long term, and not a financial drain and would invest heavily in this year’s draft.

Throughout this pandemic, I’ve one heard one voice loud and clear. And that was the voice of my dad. His favorite poem was “If” by Rudyard Kipling. For those who are not familiar with it. It starts off with “If you can keep your head, when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you . . . “

Throughout the shutdown and recent wave of violence and protest, too many people and leaders have been losing their heads. This is not the time to do so. Wisdom says that when others are in a panic, take a breath and look for clarity as to what to do.

For the Angels, we should be keeping our eyes on the goal—winning several World Series, especially while we have Mike Trout in his prime. To do that, we need to provide a steady flow of talent to the Major League club from the farm, either directly, or through trades using prospects within our system.

This year, in order to save money, baseball, has cut the draft to just 5 rounds. In a panic, many owners decided to “save” money by not spending it. However, they have allowed teams to sign an unlimited number of players to a maximum of $20,000 each. These signing bonuses do not count against the amount a team can spend on its official picks during the draft, so, they are like undrafted free agents. A team can sign as many of these players as they wish.

While on the surface a $20k signing bonus doesn’t sound like a lot of money to woo a player away from college, either as a high school senior or a college junior who can return as a senior, I disagree. I have taught many high school baseball players who eventually were drafted and signed. While all of them had signed letters of intent, most never intended to honor those commitments. And this year, I think many more will not honor their commitments if a team made a legitimate offer as I will outline below. The simple reason for it is that many colleges are not likely to have a fall baseball program, and may not even have a spring baseball program. California public colleges have shutdown their fall sports programs, especially for baseball. The coronavirus has many colleges in flux regarding sports, and it is not at all certain how that will affect player development.

Athletes have limited shelf lives. Human biology limits the timeline for peak performance. There is no way to regain a lost season or two. Since baseball relies so much on skill development, losing one or two seasons of development could be career ending. And, unlike most other sports, baseball requires team play in order to get the most skill development. Younger athletes, who did not lose out on critical skill development in high school and college will surpass present players who did miss these critical years.

So, what if Arte went big on this year’s draft. I’m not just talking about our allotted draft picks. What if after drafting our top picks, Arte went on to sign 50-100 players for a maximum signing bonus? What if Arte retained the scouts to identify those players who would be likely to sign for the maximum bonus and had the connections with those players to close the deal? That would cost between $1-2 million dollars, or the amount we won’t be spending on the second round because we lost that pick due to signing Anthony Rendon.

What if after signing these players, Arte committed to paying them to workout and play in a state that is open, such as Arizona? With most teams not having Minor League teams play, Arte could easily get a large amount of coaches to provide much more focused instruction for those players. He could easily bring in our other Minor Leaguers to continue to develop them. With that many players signed, those players could not only have focused daily drills, but could easily be divided up into teams to scrimmage against each other for in-game experience. Arte could easily spend about $500k to fill out a very robust coaching staff for these players.

With those kinds of commitments in place, I think that there would be plenty of players who would have to think heavily about signing as an undrafted player with the Angels. Players would have to realize that the real opportunity to grow and develop skills would be much greater than the chance of getting developed next year with the potential for future shutdowns.

Furthermore, most players will realize that drafts for the next few years will be much more competitive as there will be plenty of undrafted and unsigned players swelling the draft class.

That means the road to a higher signing bonus will be much more difficult, and more players are likely to get less. All of a sudden, an offer like what I’m proposing looks much more like a good “bird in the hand” over all the uncertainty in the future.

Finally, any athlete in this year’s pool will have to realize that over the next few years, the drafting philosophy will shift. If MLB returns to a more regular draft in the future (which is not entirely guaranteed, meaning that this year’s draft style could become the “new norm”), most teams will probably overspend on their top five picks on those players who were able to develop and showcase their skills (most likely high school players) and fill out the remaining rounds with underslot bonuses (most likely college seniors who returned for the draft). When looking at that potential, a $20k signing bonus doesn’t look like such a bad deal, especially when coupled with the opportunity to continue to develop this year.

Having taught many athletes over the years, I am willing to bet that there are plenty who would readily take the guaranteed offer to develop as I have outlined. While we might not be able to sign top-tiered talent, we could easily get plenty of Major League potential players. We could easily land players who don’t project to go in the first five rounds or so, but nonetheless still will make the majors. Every team has plenty of players who fit that bill. Some have even blossomed into stars. And, every team needs a steady flow of players like that every season to fill roles, replace an injured player, or who might blossom into something greater to help sustain them.

With the present cost for 1 WAR on the free agent market being somewhere around $8 million, the strategy that I’m outlining does not sound at all financially foolish. Let’s say Arte truly went big on the draft and spent an extra $2 million to sign 100 players and an extra $500k on the scouts to find and sign all of that talent. Let’s say the cost to operate the Tempe Stadium, to hire a robust coaching staff, and to pay all the players would be an addition $1.5 million. That would be a total expenditure of $4 million, or about half the cost of 1 WAR. I would easily bet that spending that money would net the Angels more than 1 extra WAR over the long term.

More important, it would continue our pipeline to develop the players we will need to maintain a championship caliber team. While other players in other organization will lose developmental time, our players would be gaining skills on their peers. The players that we will develop out of such a scenario would be better than their peers from the same time span. They would have more experience and direct coaching. That would give our team a true competitive advantage. And, that’s how teams build championships—taking advantage of the situations that they are given and not losing their heads while all others are.

Again, I’m under no delusion that Arte will do this. I’ve read the same reports that you have. I just want to pose an alternative scenario to show what I would do to take advantage of the current situation. And, I am writing this to ask what “If” Arte went big on this year’s draft because I believe if he did, he would be like the ending of the poem “If”, and would do a lot to elevate this team to a championship level.

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