"The Chicago Cubs have traded the 13th pick in the 2006 Major League draft to the Boston Red Sox, in addition to their fifth round selection for the Red Sox 28th and 44th overall picks. With the 13th pick in the 2006 draft, the Red Sox select Daniel Bard, a righthander from the University of North Carolina."
In a perfect world, Bud Selig would have stepped up to ESPN's microphone in New York with those words on June 6. The Cubs would have then gone on to take Jeff Samardzija with the 28th pick, and Tyler Colvin in the 44th slot. Boston, at 27, would have still landed their man, Jason Place.
And you know what? No pundit would have complained.
Thanks to a series of questionable free agent signings the previous winter, the Cubs entered their first Tim Wilken-led draft without a second, third or fourth round selection. The Cubs were staring right at one talented player, and then waiting 136 to start shooting darts at fringe picks.
It is then, you can bet, that Wilken analyzed the market. He realized the player he liked in the first round - assuming certain players didn't fall - would slip: there had been eight million dollar associations with his name. As the draft neared, Wilken realized the player his eyes had fallen in love would be around at 149.
Suddenly, thanks to baseball's lackluster slotting system, the Cubs were eyeing two perceived talents instead of one. Budget concerns would limit Wilken in the 13-hole; he would have to pick a player willing to sign for "slot." The Cubs had set aside quite a bit of money for the fifth round; they couldn't afford top dollar at 13.
As far as slot players, Wilken had a favorite, too. Maybe it's true - that even if money wasn't an issue, Tyler Colvin would have been the Cubs man. But, ignoring that, it's fairly obvious (in hindsight) that a belief in Jeff Samardzija triggered the selection of Colvin. Wilken saw the market, planned for it, and in return, got his men.
The public has torn apart the Cubs draft, both the philosophy behind it as well as the individual players. After recently reading enough to reach my boiling point, I wanted to make one fact clear: criticizing a draft before any player takes the field is laughable. Doing so is to disrespect trained professionals. Scouts know far more in the days before, during and after draft day than writers could ever aspire to.
If a scout takes a player higher than expected, intelligent criticism is usually lacking. A journalist's job, in this situation, should be instead to search for the reason the scout fell more in love with the player than his peers. In a recent article at Baseball America, we find out a snippet of what attracted the Cubs to Samardzija:
Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken indicated the Cubs and Orioles both saw Samardzija at his best in an outing during the Big East Conference tournament. Wilken said Samardzija repeatedly pumped his fastball into the 97-99 mph range, up significantly from the regular season, when he sat in the 91-94 mph range. Samardzija showed a much better slider in that outing, using a higher arm slot to stay on top of the pitch better.
Those that criticize the Samardzija signing likely didn't see Jeff that day. If they did, it was likely without the Stalker radar readings the Cubs had access to.
Frustration about the draft needs to be properly channeled - to those in charge of the process. The way in which the draft is currently run, without any real foresight, is ludicrous. Not only has baseball prolonged an opportunity at a successful venture, but they have made success less likely by creating a poor product. The intrigue of a good draft is in the trades, in the order of the players go ... arranged by talent. Baseball offers no trades, and the draft order is sometimes as dependent upon bonus demands as talent.
Until we see changes -- which might be forced to wait until a commissioner change -- than we cannot properly have a draft day grading system. The readers want it, but to do so would be foolish. In a battle of baseball wit, a scout beats a writer.
I do, however, believe that you can rate a draft as being good. In doing so, a writer should either applaud the philosophy behind the draft, or the selection of certain players due to personal experience. I recently praised the Washington Nationals draft, and have told some I think it's the best draft in the Majors. Am I a big believer in Chris Marrero, Colten Willems or Sean Black? No, not especially. But for the Nats, a team yet to find an identity, a rebuilding process is essential. Spending four picks on players that were considered top round talent, even when calculating their risks, is a smart way to approach the draft.
So they get credit from me. I also loved the Boston Red Sox draft, but for a different reason. I had been present to watch Daniel Bard in his regional start, and afterwards, I believed. Bard threw in the mid 90s with ease that I didn't see in many young pitchers, and his breaking pitch was close. I was bound to like the draft of whoever selected him. When the Red Sox added Masterson, their "grade" was sealed in my eyes. I also believed in Kent Bonham's analysis on this site, and that analysis makes Masterson's case so clear.
Those are two examples of being supportive towards draft classes. In neither case did I disagree with a scouting director, a professional of infinite more training and resources. Clapping your hands at a golf course is acceptable, loudly booing is not.
For the record, I am not a Jeff Samardzija believer. While I understand the praises he draws for his body, athleticism and make-up, that isn't enough for me. I would argue his name has been built up through a football forum, and that besides a fastball that lights up radar guns, he offers little else on the field. And I didn't rank Tyler Colvin in my draft day top 40. Part of it was probably oversight, but there is very little about the outfielder that jumps out at you. Nothing, definitively nothing, screams first rounder.
But, it just doesn't make sense to bash the Cubs draft. Even if you don't believe, Tim Wilken and his staff does. Wilken is among the most respected directors in the business, as much a part of the Blue Jays success this season as any non-player around the team. I don't see Samardzija and think $7.25 million is a sensible number, but under what authority do I have to criticize Wilken? Question the organization, fine, but don't condemn them.
Until baseball makes changes at the top, we can't sufficiently give teams post-draft grades. Simple. I think we can opine who made out the best, but without trades and a more sensible slotting system, we can't pick out the worst.
Scouts have done more for the game of baseball than any other profession. Behind every player is a scouting story, a believer that wasn't surprised the day they reached the Major Leagues. I can rest in my armchair and praise the Giants for grabbing Lance Salsgiver in the 39th round -- I mean, he hit well in the Cape! -- but is it logical to bash 29 other teams for not taking him in the 38th?
Tim Wilken (and co.) made a draft day gamble that Samardzija and Colvin (and trust me, in that order) represent first and second round value. We can disagree, but at some point, you have to respect that they believe enough to back their bet with more than eight million dollars.
It's more likely than not that Jeff Samardzija never lives up to his $7.25 million billing. That the Cubs hear a lot of "I told you so"s for his draft. Until Jim Hendry has the option to trade down, or we have numerical evidence to support it, we simply can't fault his staff for taking the guys they believe in right now.