Monday, June 27, 2011

Keith Law Breaks Down the Expansion Draft

The kind and generous Keith Law is the ESPN draft and prospect wizard, whose wonderful work on The WWL can be found here.  Keith is also an integral part of ESPN's Baseball Today podcast, usually with Eric Karabell.  And, of course, he is a chat superstar and king of all snark.  If your KLaw needs are not met by the incredible volume of baseball writing he does, you can also enjoy his personal blog, The Dish, where he writes about food, board games, books, film, and probably other things that we're missing.  Finally, you can enjoy his snark in bite-sized chunks on Twitter.

Keith enthusiastically agreed to donate some time to help us figure out exactly how we did in this expansion draft, picking a "winner" and explaining where and how we could have done better.  As a bonus, he also offered some comments regarding the "protected lists" submitted by our friends and colleagues at the SweetSpot Network.  Take it away, Klaw:

TCM's roster seems to focus on low-upside major leaguers who have outperformed their skill set recently. This might provide the illusion of trade value, but I think the MLB trade market is efficient enough that players like Chris Johnson, Jeff Karstens, Kevin Correia, and Mike Morse would bring in limited returns – less than TCM could have gotten with those initial picks in the expansion draft.

Bill's bullpen could probably be MLB-average in 2012 with a chance to be better than that – but it's light on starters and in up-the-middle position players, the types of players around whom you can build a competitive roster or whom you can flip for multiple pieces. Both sides went for out-of-favor players – guys who are hurt or in the middle of down years or otherwise undervalued – but I think Bill did more of that, and gave himself a better chance to find unexpected gains in 2012, either on the field or in the trade market. Among these two rosters, I'd give him a slight edge.

Other random thoughts:

* Arodys Vizcaino with the seventh overall pick might be my favorite of this draft – a guy who can touch 99 in short outings and has a clue where it's going probably should be picked first or second. I thought Christian Bethancourt would go somewhere in the second or third rounds as a true catch-and-throw guy who's shown a little ability with the stick.

* The omission of James Shields from both rosters is a pretty significant one (I'm having a very hard time understanding why he wasn't protected over Matt Joyce, Robinson Chirinos, or Brandon Guyer … and wasn't pulled back in the next group … or the group after that). Upton is at least a big upside play, but as much as I like Tim Beckham, whose defensive improvements this year probably push him back into my global top 100, Shields has present-day value that Beckham can't touch.

* I can't see protecting Collmenter or Ryan Wheeler over Goldschmidt – that's a strong overreaction to a small sample by Collmenter that is not going to last. Also very surprised to see Reese Havens unprotected while Josh Satin, a 26-year-old positionless player in AA, was pulled back in the third round.

* Jeremy Jeffress was also never selected and never protected; he's risky, for rather obvious reasons, but exactly the kind of high-risk/high-upside gamble an expansion team should be taking.

* TCM took Neil Ramirez with Adrian Beltre available … considering Beltre's contract, age, and current performance, I understand the logic. But last year Beltre was a legitimate MVP candidate and there's a lot of need at third base around the majors. He might have more asset value, even though I do like Ramirez long-term and would have had him on my short list for guys to take from Texas.
Who are we to argue with the great Keith Law?  Missing out on James Shields was inexcusable, and TCM had some questions about whether he should have taken Beltre in Round 1.  But in our defense, this was really freaking hard.  And it underscores the fact that, while we bloggers are awfully quick to criticize opposing GMs, their jobs are ridiculously difficult, given all the players they have to keep track of around the game.  It also speaks to the importance of building a strong organization who can advise the GM on guys he simply does not have the time to look into. (Also, those guys have weeks or months, working full-time, to prepare for stuff like this. We had a couple free hours here and there.)

It's worth pointing out that, under the previous rules for the expansion draft, it would be unbelievably hard for new teams to build a strong team through the expansion draft.  The best and youngest prospects are protected, and teams are able to use the impending free agency of guys like Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins to protect even more players.  And finally, the restrictions imposed on expansion clubs during the draft, that they can (and must) select just one player from each organization per round, makes it incredibly hard to get good players toward the ends of each round.  If baseball wants to have solid franchises in new markets, they need to revise these draft rules to allow clubs to build strong foundations of talent with which to move forward.  Also, MLB needs to clarify what to do about international players from Japan and Cuba who sign Big League deals and go straight to the Majors with a minimum of time on the farm.

Finally, a programming note, as Bill and The Common Man will be back tomorrow with a final look at their rosters, and some additional strategizing about how to approach their first official offseason as a ballclub.  Update: If you want to get a sense of what the teams might reasonably look like in 2012, check out the Brooklyn Hipsters here, and the Portland Webfoots here.

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