Since 2012, teams have been subject to hard signing bonus pool spending caps for the MLB draft, and it's changed the way the draft is conducted. Whereas previously teams could just draft the player they liked best as long as they were willing to meet his demands, there's now an opportunity cost attached to handing out dollars. Going above the slot for draftee means finding slot room elsewhere, which usually means either punting a pick or picks in the top 10 rounds, or not taking a best player on the board.
In other words, the key now is value - the intersection of talent and cost. Kendall Graveman has been an outstanding 8th round draft choice, the fact that he signed for just $5,000 which freed up $150,000 that could be allocated elsewhere makes it even better.
To complete the look back at the 2016 draft before turning fully to the 2017 draft, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to try and put together an alternative draft, now knowing the ultimate costs for most players, that woudl represent more total value. This isn't really about hindsight with an year of critical pro information, so much as it's about the tradeoffs in realizing value.
To prevent hindsight bias, ideally this type of exercise would be done right after the signing deadline, but I'll do my best to ignore the new information and go on what I thought at the time. As such, I'll defer to the what selections except where I felt very strongly. I intend to do something similar with this year's draft after the signing deadline, where this will essentially not be an issue.
Here are the rules I'm using for this exercise:
- Keep the total spending as close to the Jays actual total as possible (they went about $100K over slot), but in no event exceeding the 5% threshold over the total slot/pool allocation
- Can only substitute players who were still on the board where the Jays picked (no assuming they could maneuver players around)
- Assume it would have cost a little more than the actual bonus, as a general rule of thumb 5% but varying depending on the circumstance.
- Keep all the players the Jays signed after rounds 10 to bonuses above $100,000 that counted against the draft pools.
With those parameters in mind, below is a summary of some of the areas where there were obvious strategic forks in the road to take, or where I'd have looked to do things differently.
- I didn't have strong conviction on this pick at the time, with several players I really liked going shortly before. T.J. Zeuch was a completely reasonable pick, so I'm loath to change this pick. Previous Jays picks Eric Lauer and Dane Dunning went shortly after, signing for a little less ($2,000,000) and would likewise have been reasonable options, but neither was or is obviously more compelling.
- The bigger audible here would have been to go for one of the number of highly ranked high school arms still on the board who would have required going significantly overslot: Joey Wentz ($3.05M), Kevin Gowdy ($3.5M), and Kyle Muller ($2.5M). They went to Atlanta and Philly, who freed up money up top and that's at least part of the reason these guys were available, if the Jays were willing to meet or exceed the numbers, there's no reason it couldn't have got done. Jim Callis mocked Wentz to the Jays a couple weeks before, so he was seen as a fit at the time. Gowdy's bonus would have been next to impossible to fit in.
- J.B. Woodman was a surprising/controversial pick at 57th overall, after a hot month sent him up draft boards, especially with Bryan Reynolds still available. I wasn't wild about Reynolds being mocked to the Jays with their first round pick, but the risk/reward was much more compelling in the second round, especially since he didn't require hugely overslot money. The other guy I'd consider is Jon Duplantier, a college pitcher who went for slot in the third round and I thought was great value. This would be an option to save significant slot money.
- Bo Bichette isn't going anywhere. Another guy mocked to the Jays in the first round, it was a solid pick at the time and of course he's done nothing but mash in the year since (which we pretend didn't happen...of course)
- Not going to change the picks of Zach Jackson, Joshua Palacios and Cavan Biggio. None were crazy picks at the time, and there's no one else who sticks out to me as clearly more compelling (without it being purely or largely hindsight)
- D.J. Daniels was an off the board, a pure bet on an athlete with raw tools. I'm loath to change this pick given his huge struggles opening a charge of hindsight, but as I detail below, there's a player I really want instead.
- Andy Ravel and Kyle Weatherly were both reasonable picks and value, so no changes.
- Conversely, I didn't like the value on Nick Hartman and Kirby Snead in the 9th and 10th round. At the time, I thought the idea was to open up slot room to use elsewhere, but they both got substantial bonuses. Therefore, neither will feature in my alternative drafts.
Alternate Draft #1
The big change at the top here is Reynolds instead of Woodman, which requires finding savings later. That is largely accomplished by replacing the almost $290,000 spent on Snead and Hartman with $40,000 on a couple of college seniors. Boomer White, the 2016 SEC Player of the Year after hitting .411, went in the 10th round and the track record alone is enough to make him compelling; he's struggled in pro ball so this is not hindsight. I also considered Blake Fox, a senior lefty from Rice who signed for $10K in the 10th round too. Dustin Beggs signed in the 16th round, again, a money saving pick with an interesting college record.
The other change here is Sam Tewes in the 6th round, whom the Jays drafted in 2013 out of high school (22nd round). He actually went to the Cardinals in the 8th round for $100,000 after having Tommy John surgery a couple months before. I simply love the risk/reward here. The total spend on this draft here less than $30,000 above what the Jays actually did.
Alternate Draft #2
The big difference here is grabbing Wentz in the 1st round, just under $1-million more than Zeuch actually signed for. Muller would be more affordable, but Wentz was actually linked to the Jays, and was ranked higher, more mid-first round than late first round.
To free up the money, I go with Duplantier in the 2nd round, saving $250L over Woodman. White and Beggs again save about $250K. In this scenario, there's just not enough to keep Weatherly, so Tewes slides in there saving $125K. In the 6th round, another $100K is saved going with Jacob Robson (a Canadian who went to Detroit in the 8th round). That gets me just under the 5% hard cap.
I took a quick look past rounds 10, but no obvious overslot options jumped out to me - but I may have missed some. These alternative drafts necessarily end up a little more college heavy, but I think I'd prefer either to what the Jays actually did. Let us know in the comments what you think, or what you'd do differently.