With just a month to go until spring training kicks off, the free agent market is still pretty stagnant. Part of the reason, of course, is the reluctance that teams have in parting with first-round draft picks as compensation for signing certain players, who come with that price tag attached.
That made me wonder how valuable first-round picks really actually are. I took a look at three teams, one top dog, the New York Yankees, one middle-of-the-road club in the Toronto Blue Jays and one team generally at the back of the pack, the Chicago Cubs.
Since the amateur draft began in 1965, the Yankees have chosen 51 players in the first-round, including supplemental picks. Twenty-seven of those spent some time in the Bigs and 24 didn't make it. The success rate is 52 per cent and this is a team that usually picks in the back end of the first round.
The Yankees' best first-rounder, without question, is Derek Jeter, taken at number six overall in 1992. The Yankees have done alright with compensation picks for losing free agents, as well.
In 1996, they got a quality lefty in Eric Milton for losing infielder Randy Velarde. In 2004, they chose right-hander Phil Hughes when Andy Petitte jumped ship to the Astros before ultimately returning to the Yankees where he finished his career. In 2006, they chose righties Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain upon losing curveball specialist Tom "Flash" Gordon.
You might think the Cubs would have far great success with firsts than the Yanks because they miss the playoffs so often. However, the gap is only five per cent on the success scale. The Cubs have drafted 61 players in the first round since 1965 with 35 making it to the Majors. In other words, a percentage of 57 versus the Yankees' 52 per cent.
The Cubs' top picks over the years have included Joe Carter in 1981, Rafael Palmeiro in 1985 and the flame-throwing Kerry Wood in 1995. In 2007, the Cubs used a supplemental first-round pick to take Josh Donaldson, who has since blossomed into a very good player with the Oakland Athletics. The only other supplemental pick of note made by the Cubs was Palmeiro, whom they were able to select for losing reliever Tim Stoddard to free agency.
The Cubs made, without a doubt, the worst decision in the history of free agency when they allowed Hall of Famer Greg Maddux to walk away to the Atlanta Braves after the 1992 season. The Cubbies got two draft picks in return, which they used the following June to take pitcher Jon Ratliff and infielder Kevin Orie. In the following three seasons, Maddux won three Cy Young Awards and helped the Braves to a World Series title in 1995. Ratliff and Orie quickly faded into obscurity.
Where do the Blue Jays fit in? Well, since they came in the American League in 1977, they have made 64 first-round picks and 36 have seen time in the Majors, good for a 56 per cent success rate.
The Blue Jays have had pretty good success with first-rounders over the years, including Lloyd Moseby (1978,) Ed Sprague (1988,) Shawn Green (1991,) Shannon Stewart (1992,) Chris Carpenter (1993,) Roy Halladay (1995,) Billy Koch (1996,) Ricky Romero (2005,) Brett Cecil (2007) and J.P Arencibia in 2007...oh, well on that one. Righty Dustin McGowan (2000,) who's battled through a myriad of injuries, is still around as well.
The Blue Jays have greatly utilized their supplemental picks and, well, you really couldn't do much better than they have. When lefty Bud Black, now the manager of the San Diego Padres, signed with the San Francisco Giants, the Jays used the pick they received to take Green. When knuckleballer Tom Candiotti left for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Jays wound up with Stewart and when the "Terminator" Tom Henke returned to the Texas Rangers after the '92 World Series triumph, the Blue Jays used their pick to select future Cy Young winner, Carpenter.
Of course, there a few in the not-so-good category, too. When Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar left for the Baltimore Orioles, the payback was Joe Lawrence. I guess the bottom line is that there are no sure things, but if you have a top-notch scouting staff and good development staff, you can risk losing those good, but not great free agents. But the ones you target as stars, you can never let walk away.
- ESPN came out with its annual top 100 list of All-time Major League greats. Roy Halladay and Dave Winfield fell within the top 125 and received honorable mentions. Five players, though, who wore the Blue Jays uniform (albeit, briefly in some cases) cracked the top 100. Knuckleballer Phil Niekro was number 100, Paul Molitor came in at 78, Roberto Alomar at 74, "The Big Hurt" Frank Thomas at 70 and Rickey Henderson at number 14.
Of the seven in total, Halladay was the only one drafted and developed by the Jays. Does that make him the greatest Blue Jay of all-time? It's a great argument, but my vote is still with Alomar, even though he only spent five seasons in Toronto, and my top Blue Jays pitcher, though just by a hair, is Dave Stieb.
- It's great to see former Blue Jays fan favourite John McDonald signing a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Angels with an invitation to spring training, but sad to see Vernon Wells get released by the Yankees after being designated for assignment.