Yankees Need More From Draft


“You can’t win your draft in the first round, but you can certainly lose it.”  We’ve all heard this about our fantasy draft.  It doesn’t take a genius to take Adrian Peterson #1, but AP on your team doesn’t guarantee you the trophy.  However, the guy lucky enough to get DeAngello Williams late in the draft probably won your league.  He claims he knew what he was doing; the rest of your league says he was luckier than James Bond hitting a straight flush to beat a full house in Casino Royale.

The theory applies to real life drafting as well.  Any moron GM who watches SportsCenter can draft Peyton Manning #1, but if your team whiffs you end up with Ryan Leaf and your franchise is set back five years.  If you’re like the Patriots and savvy (lucky) enough to find Tom Brady in the sixth round, you can use the money and draft picks you saved to stock up on other positions and build a dynasty.

The point is you need depth from your draft, especially in baseball.  I didn’t use baseball examples because I know next to nothing about the baseball draft.  I doubt you do either.  You’ve heard of Steven Strasburg and his 102 mph fastball, but the Yankees don’t have a shot at him unless 28 other teams refuse to shell out $50 million for a kid who has never thrown a major league pitch.

In doing research for this article I learned the Yankees are looking at position players like California outfielder Brett Jackson, Southern California shortstop Grant Green and Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez.  Fantastic.  I have no idea who these guys are.

The amateur baseball draft generates the least interest of the Big 3 drafts (NFL, NBA, MLB-sorry NHL, I am enjoying your finals but how relevant are you when Game 3 & 4 are on Versus?).  The NFL draft is so exciting because every team feels like they have a chance to alter the course of their franchise with a few good picks.  Look at the Dolphins and Falcons.

I’m a pro football fan first, college second, but I’ve seen enough games and analysis during the college season that I know which players are good, which will be first round picks, and who I want the Giants to draft.  College basketball’s March Madness is a national showcase for the best pro prospects, and basketball is unique in that one guy can make a huge difference at the next level.

The baseball draft is completely different.  There are fifty rounds.  50!!!  I don’t have the attention span for 50 rounds.  The NFL has seven rounds and I barely watch the first.  50??  I’m struggling to finish this sentence I’m so bored.  Besides, college baseball only comes on national television during its World Series, so fans don’t have a chance to get to know the players.

Even if baseball fans get attached to a draft pick, they won’t see him in the majors for a couple of years.  Last season Falcon fans got to watch Matt Ryan lead their team to the playoffs starting in Week 1.   Clippers fans can look forward to Blake Griffin leading their miserable franchise to another disappointing finish in 2010.  Yankee fans won’t see their 2009 #1 in the majors until 2011 at the earliest, if he even comes up at all.

So why am I giving you all these excuses NOT to care about the 2009 MLB draft?  I’ll let you in on a secret: just because WE don’t care about the draft does not mean the YANKEES shouldn’t care.

The Yankees have exactly five players drafted this decade on their active roster: David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain (2006), Bret Gardner (2005), Phil Hughes (2004), and Phil Coke (2002).   Out of over 400 selections over the last nine years, the Yankees have two relief pitchers in Robertson (might be good) and Coke (probably not), a part time centerfielder in Gardner, and two high upside starters in Hughes and Chamberlain.  A 1% success rate isn’t a recipe for success.  Name one other job you can keep while being wrong 99% of the time.  Professional Lottery Player?

One of the reasons the Yankees won their titles in the late 90s was the infusion of young, energetic talent they were able to bring up from their farm system.  Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, and Rivera are all products of the Yankees minor leagues.  Bernie Williams was also home grown and entered his prime during the World Series run.   These players are All Stars and Hall of Famers, not just starters and role players.

As Yankee fans we’re all acutely aware of what a strong farm system can do for a club.  We saw it in-house a decade ago, and now we’re seeing it in Boston with guys like Youkalis, Pedroia, Ellsbury, and half a dozen young flamethrowers.  Not only are those guys contributing, but they give the Red Sox bargaining chips to go out and get somebody if they have a hole.  If the Yankees continue to improve their club by signing the best free agent available to a giant contract, they won’t have any trade bait, let alone guys they would actually want to keep.

Tim Kurkjian wrote a fascinating article about former Yankee reliever Ross Ohlendorf on Saturday.  Ohlendorf is a Princeton graduate and according to Timmy he may be the smartest man in baseball.  Ohlendorf wrote his senior thesis on the amateur draft:

"Ohlendorf examined the top 100 picks from 1989 to 1993, tracked the progress of each player for a 12-year period, starting with the draft, to determine the value of the picks. Ohlendorf studied the investment (signing bonus) and the financial return from signing the player. What were his findings?  “On average,” Ohlendorf said, “the player brought twice the return.“When looked at as a group, the internal rate of return on all the draft picks in the study was 60 percent. This is an extremely high rate of return. It is saying that if you invest $1, it will grow to $1.60 after a year and $2.56 after two years, and so on … I believe the stock market has had a historical rate of about 7 or 8 percent, prior to the last year. So even though many of the investments did not work out, the upside on those that did was so great, signing the high picks to large bonuses appears to have been a very smart investment.”Ohlendorf determined that the average signing bonus during those years [1989-1993] was $210,236, and the average return was $2,468,127."

Ohlendorf is telling us the Yankees have a backward approach to baseball.  Instead of investing heavily in “proven” free agents, the Yankees should be spending their money on prospects.  It’s the Hugh Hefner Method.  Hef learned that the rate of return on marriage was pretty low.  He spent a lot of time and money on one woman with the knowledge that her value would diminish as she aged.  So he changed his thinking.  He spent the same amount of money on several young talents knowing some of them might not work out.  Those who did succeed stuck around and generated 3 or 4 times the production of 1 wife.  Sure, some of the money was wasted on chicks that wouldn’t get down, but the end result justified the spending.  Who would you rather have: 1 Kimberley Conrad forever, or 1 Kendra, 1 Holly, 1 Bridgette…then 2 twins and a 3rd random playmate?  The Marlins caught on to this and won two World Series titles with it; invest in the young, win it all, dump them before it becomes too costly.  The Marlins GM should write a thank you card to Hef every time he so much as looks at those banners.

I’m not advocating the Yankees never hand out another $100 million deal.  They needed to get an all around slugger like Teixeira this winter, and they needed an ace in the (large) mold of CC Sabathia.  But it’s more cost effective and ultimately a smarter investment to put money into the farm system.  Who would you rather have, Carl Pavano for $40 million or Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes for a tenth of that?

The Yankees need to spend money on better scouts and they need to spend money to sign the prospects they want.  They cannot continue to be apathetic about developing minor leaguers.  George Steinbrenner didn’t help the situation and frequently gutted the farm system in favor of high priced free agents.  Now that King George has vacated his throne, Brian Cashman needs to prove he’s a good GM by churning out some players.

Baseball’s financial system is structured to favor large market teams, and there is no bigger team in a bigger market than the New York Yankees.  Cashman has a near limitless payroll that only a handful of teams (Red Sox, Mets, Dodgers, Cubs) can compete with.  This means Cash should have no problem attracting the best scouts, who will in turn go out and discover the best talent, who will in turn be signed to deals that will keep them in pinstripes.

I realize identifying baseball talent is more difficult than the other major sports.  Albert Pujols was drafted in the 13th round.  The Yankees have the resources to overcome that.

You might not tune into the MLB Network on Tuesday to watch the first round of the draft.  I doubt I will.   Whether or not fans care, the Yankees need to pay attention.  Apply the Hugh Hefner Method.

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