Draft-pick compensation makes for tough decisions
When Dustin Pedroia arrived at Coors Field for Game 3 of the 2007 World Series, security officers would not let him in. He didn't have his ID and he didn't look old enough or big enough to be a ballplayer.
Pedroia, who was then 24, announced his presence loudly, according to legend.
"Go ask Jeff Francis who I am," Pedroia said. "I'm the guy who leads off the World Series hitting a homer!"
Pedroia was referencing his here-we-go home run in the World Series opener, which started the Red Sox rolling toward a sweep over the Colorado Rockies. It was a moment that jump-started the career of a guy who few had projected to develop into one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball.
Here's a snippet from a scouting report when Pedroia was a junior at Arizona State: "Pedroia's tools are below-average across the board, but people have learned not to sell him short. ... He compares to Angels shortstop David Eckstein, though Eckstein is a better runner. On tools, Pedroia is not a high-round pick but he's a perfect fit for a performance-based organization like the Athletics, who have four of the first 40 picks."
Boston landed Pedroia in the second round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, with the 65th pick overall. Five other players taken in that round have had long big league careers, including Hunter Pence, Yovani Gallardo and Jason Vargas.
This is worth revisiting as six free agents who require compensation (Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Kendrys Morales) remain unsigned, as Kyle Lohse did until being picked up by the Brewers last spring. That signing didn't come until March 25, with agent Scott Boras essentially running a separate Spring Training program for Lohse as he continued shopping him, and you wonder if anyone will be stuck in limbo that long this time around.
Let's hope not. These are all players who can help contenders; otherwise they would not have been given the qualifying offers they turned down, which would have allowed them to return to their teams for one season at $14.1 million.
But the Draft-pick compensation subsequently attached to them is a serious thing, whether the signing team is one of 20 that would lose its first-round pick or one of the 10 whose first-round pick at the top of the Draft is protected. Those teams -- the Astros, Marlins, White Sox, Cubs, Twins, Mariners, Phillies, Rockies, Blue Jays (who actually have a second protected pick because they did not sign the 10th overall pick last June) and Mets -- will lose a second-rounder if they sign Choo or one of the others.
Choo, 31, is the most attractive guy on this list. One report says he turned down a seven-year, $140 million offer from the Yankees before that need was filled with Carlos Beltran instead, and if Boras is shooting that high with him, it could be a long time before he signs.
This could turn out just fine for Choo, as it would allow teams like the Rangers, Mariners and maybe even the Cubs to bid for Masahiro Tanaka before turning their attention back to Choo if someone else lands the Rakuten Golden Eagles' ace. Remember that Boras got Prince Fielder his nine-year deal with the Tigers in late January two years ago.
Because of his age, Choo could be a fit for a rebuilding team like the Astros or Cubs as easily as a contender desperate to win. I never thought it made sense for the Cubs to chase free agents like Albert Pujols, Fielder or Josh Hamilton. But Choo would be a huge asset in helping manager Rick Renteria and hitting coach Bill Mueller construct the lineup of smart, willing-to-walk hitters that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer envision.
He would be a terrific role model for the outfielders who are coming, including 23-year-old Junior Lake, Cuban Jorge Soler and 2012 first-round pick Albert Almora, and -- assuming he could be signed without no-trade rights -- would make it easier down the road to trade for young pitching.
The Cubs currently have only about $77 million committed to payroll for 2014, and that includes their final $14 million owed Alfonso Soriano. They have only $31 million on the books for '15. And the Astros have done an even better job of clearing the decks.
Owner Jim Crane has said this year's payroll will be at least $50 million, and after signing Scott Feldman to a three-year, $30 million contract, the Astros still have almost $20 million in payroll flexibility. You could do worse than rebuilding around an outfield of Choo, Dexter Fowler and prospect George Springer, who had 37 homers and 45 stolen bases in the high Minors last season.
But for the Astros and Cubs, there's a catch. These organizations prioritize scouting and player development. They value their picks. Plus losing a second-round pick also means losing the slot money that goes with that pick, and that could impact the first round.
North Carolina State lefty Carlos Rodon heads toward the spring as a strong favorite for the first overall pick. He looked big league ready as a freshman and has continued to profile as a high-ceiling, low-risk option. The price tag for him could extend beyond the slot value (which was $7.79 million in 2013, when Mark Appel signed for $6.35 million), and the second-round slot value could be critical to getting a deal done that keeps Rodon from returning for his senior season (as Appel did for his at Stanford when he slid in the 2012 Draft).
Teams do eventually swallow and sacrifice Draft picks to get instant contributors. The Yankees (Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran), Mariners (Robinson Cano) and Mets (Curtis Granderson) have already given up Draft picks to sign compensation free agents. But lasting success is more often found with shrewd Draft choices, like the one the Red Sox made when they took Pedroia.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.