This started as a response to notsellingjeans’ excellent fanpost and thread but it outgrew the Reply-stage and became its own thing. Nonetheless, NSJ’s fanpost is a must read because it’s excellent and serves as a primer for what you’re about to read here. I’ll re-cap the relevant points from the previous post but it won’t do justice to NSJ’s work.
FACT: Over the past 3 years the A’s have spent approximately $6.5 million (’09) $5 million (’10) and $3 million (’11) on signing bonuses in the June draft. For a team that entered 2011 with an (at best) middle-of-the-pack farm system, what the Hell are they doing spending so little on the draft? It used to be unheard of to see any team break the 8-figure mark on signing bonuses for the draft but this year, in what was generally seen as an unusually loaded draft crop, 10 teams spent over $10 million in bonus money to sign their draftees. Pittsburg alone spent more money on their 2011 draft class than the A’s have spent on their last 3 draft classes combined! What the Hell is Billy Beane doing?
NSJ and others commented/wished that the A’s had been as aggressive as several other teams in pursuing over-slot (read: high school) talent in this past draft. And as the casual baseball fan gets savvier in the ways of minor league baseball and prospects in general it certainly buys a team a lot of goodwill to make a big splash and invest $10-12-17 million on the draft. And I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have liked to see the A’s spend more on the 2011 draft class; it makes a lot of sense to stockpile on (relatively) cheap young talent like Pittsburgh and several other teams did.
However, the issue of the declining draft bonus expenditures is somewhat misleading. Three years does not a trend make, but since 2009 the A's have spent approximately $70 million annual on the combination of big league payroll and draft/international FA signing bonuses. In 2008 they spent approximately $60 million, with $48 million designated for the big league roster. 2007 had a minimal international flavor yet the A's still spent approximately $84 million ($4 million in the draft) on player personnel. So if you believe in stealing from Peter ('08) to pay Paul ('07) economics than over the past 5 years the A's have averaged approximately $70 million annual on player salaries and signing bonuses. This figure obviously doesn't factor in minor league salaries but that should stay fairly constant year-to-year. Yet $70 million seems to be the budget the A's have to work with given their current economic situation.
So there's some validity to the theme that the $5 million spent on Fuentes this year could/should have gone towards over-slot bonuses and/or international signings. The flip side to that is last year's 81-81 finish with a relatively young team offered the potential for a winning season in 2011. Texas looked to have holes in their rotation and Anaheim had finished a game behind Oakland. The A's had pitching and defense but were in desperate need of offense. Beane made some shrewd moves to acquire DeJesus and Willingham, and then signed Matsui. (Who, it must be pointed out, has out-performed Cust in every facet of baseball this season.)
Because really, what better way to spur MLB and Selig into making a fucking decision about the stadium issue than to field a winning team? Maybe there was some pressure from the Lodge to have the payroll in the mid-60's, but a solid season from Fuentes would make him a potential trade chip come July if things didn't go as planned in 2011. And would we really be griping about Fuentes' salary if it was the A's 6 games up over the rest of the AL West right now? I doubt it.
OK... so some would. But before the lynching of Fuentes begins, riddle me this: Who has done less for the A's this year... Mark Ellis, Kevin Kouzmanoff or Brian Fuentes? Their salaries ranged from $4.75 million to $6 million and one of them has played at a replacement player level for Oakland. The name is here. For clarification, scroll down and find the name here. Anyways, Beane made the decision to go for it in 2011 and emphasized his spending towards the now rather than invest in later. And a strong majority of AN supported Beane's decision to acquire talent that would help in the immediate. Shit happens and we're all profoundly disappointed in this season. Hindsight is 20-20 and all that.
So do we excuse Beane for failing to acquire talent via the draft because he went all in to win in 2011? Of course not… but I bet most folks don’t realize that was a trick question.
I don’t post here much anymore and there are a lot of people that I don’t recognize, so maybe they don’t know much about me either. I’m not a Beane apologist. In fact, I want him fired! Because I want his job; it pays better than mine does and it looks like a Hell of a lot more fun while also not exposing me as frequently to mortal danger. But I’ve always refused to blame Beane for not having more money to spend. He knew that by committing so much money to his big league payroll he would be limited when it came to the draft and thus picked accordingly. There’s something to be said for the strategy of drafting a whole bunch of high-ceiling, pre-college talent that you have no intention of signing… it’s the ultimate in amateur cockblocking! But that can build a lot of bad blood really quick between the A’s and those amateur players, their agents and the other teams in baseball. Not to mention, drafting a dozen guys you know you can’t afford means you’re denying yourself the opportunity to draft players who you can sign and could eventually help the team.
But Beane didn’t try to block high-priced amateur talent from going to other teams. At the same time, Beane didn’t draft a bunch of college players similar to what the A’s went after in the 2002 and 2003 drafts. NSJ invoked Jeremy Brown, and if you’re an A’s fan who doesn’t recognize that name than go read a book. It’s called Moneyball, written by Michael Lewis and fairly well-known. Heck, there’s even a movie coming out based on the novel. Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane… sorry, no idea if Brad’s abs make an appearance.
Oakland’s 2011 draft class doesn’t feature a bunch of misfits no one else wanted and who were willing to sign below-slot deals. They didn’t draft only high-polish/low-upside college players. They went after (and signed) some athletes with tools and upside in Bobby Crocker, Dayton Alexander and Xavier Macklin. B.A. Vollmuth has a chance to stick at 3B and has very good power potential. They drafted a lot of college arms that hit 93-94 MPH. Sure, there were draft picks who are more grinder than All-Star but sometimes those are the guys who turn into Mark Ellis or Dallas Braden. A good farm system features that kind of balance; a blend of what could be and what there is. The A’s have done a very good job in changing their scouting mantra from polish to projection and they deserve credit for that. They didn’t spend a lot on their draft picks this year but they took some chances on projects with good upside. If Oakland can develop that talent than 2-3 years down the road this $3 million draft class could help the A’s win ballgames. And that is how you ultimately judge a draft class… by the wins they create, not the size of their signing bonuses.