August 16, 2007

Drunken Sailors, Ahoy!

Just when you think you know an ownership group, the Lerners go and pay some preppy Northeastern-type roughly $2 million ($1.8M contract + $200K or so for college) not to play college baseball for Stanford. Hell you could probably convince Stanford to ditch their entire football program for $2 million. But that's beside the point. The point is, Hallelujah! the front office got it done. Twenty out of twenty top draft picks signed (the complete breakdown is here), three premium left-handed starting pitching prospects, and an honest-to-God infusion of resources into the minor league system.

As is turns out, maybe there is more to "The Plan" than just the marketing brochure. Relatively quietly the Nats went out and spent $5 million to bring LHPs Ross Detwiler, Josh Smoker and Jack McGeary into the fold. Add in another $630,000 for OF Michael Burgess and $495,000 for P Jordan Zimmermann, and that's 5 top-flight prospects for less that what the Tigers paid their 1st round pick, P Rick Porcello (reported in the $7M+ range.) Perhaps there is a happy middle ground between overpaying for everything just on principle (Yankees) and never ponying up the cash for anyone (Twins).

This year's draft haul was the result of the intersection of multiple factors. A bad 2006 Nationals club snagged the #6 overall pick (Detwiler) and two picks for losing top free agent Alfonso Soriano (Smoker & Zimmermann) plus one more additional pick to compensate for the loss of Jose Guillen (Burgess). But McGeary is a different story. Everyone knew he was arguably a first round talent, and everyone knew he was committed to putting that talent to work for Stanford University. So he slid, out of the first round, through the supplemental round, all the way to the 6th round, where the Nats took a gamble on him. And last night the Lerners made sure that gamble paid off.

Securing 6 of the top 100 picks in one draft requires a combination of good luck and bad baseball. It's unlikely the Nats will see a confluence of events like that again soon (God willing), so they did very well to take full advantage, drafting and signing talented players like Detwiler, Smoker and Burgess. Guys like McGeary though, are available every year, and all it takes is a willingness to do what's necessary to sign them. I'm not saying that we should expect to land a top prep pitcher in the sixth round every year, I'm just saying that Nats fans (and the organization) need to remember that you don't need a half dozen high picks to get premium talent. Not every high schooler who has committed to college is worth a $2M signing bonus, but some are. And if the Nationals can get one, they should take him and sign him. Pay the talent, not the slot.

Pitchers in particular are a tricky bunch. If 3 years we'll probably be lucky if one of our top 3 lefties profiles as a front-of-the-rotation starter. Maybe Detwiler will never be better than a lefty set-up guy. Maybe Smoker's arm will fall off. Maybe two years at Stanford will kindle an unrealized passion for Buddhism and McGeary will move to Tibet and moonlight as a sherpa with a 92 MPH fastball. It's much, much too soon to say. But that's why you need so many talented youngsters, and why you need to take them whenever you find them.

Congratulations to the Lerners, Stan Kasten, Jim Bowden, Mike Rizzo, Dana Brown and the scouting staff for putting their money where our mouths have been for the past two months. Just remember, now that you've done it once, we'll be expecting it every season. At least until you sign Andruw Jones and Johann Santana and bring home that first WS trophy!


Anonymous said...

I get all excited about the draft and now you got me thinking how nice a Santana, Detwiler, Hill, Hanrahan, Lannen rotation could be.

Nate said...

All we need is for 2.5 million of your closest friends to chip in $10 per season for the next six years and we're there!

Anonymous said...

I only have 2 million friends. I knew that would come back to haunt me some day.